Simple recognition builds strong teams

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“How’s your job going?” I asked a young member of my church.

“Well, I try to go the extra mile, just like you’ve told me,” he answered, “but I don’t think my boss pays much attention.”

Still wanting to encourage him, I offered: “You just keep doing your best job all the time, even when you don’t think anyone sees it, and I promise it will pay off down the road.”

But the fact that he didn’t think his boss noticed reminded me of a recent Harvard Business Review article I enjoyed by David Novak, author of “O Great One! A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition.” He begs the question: When was the last time you told your colleagues how much you value them?

It sounds like a trivial thing in the middle of today’s never-enough-time running of a dealership. But as Novak discovered during real-world experiences at Pepsi and Yum! Brands, it can make a dollars-and-cents difference when people see that someone important notices their contributions. Novak emphasizes that recognition isn’t just about implementing employee programs to check them off a list; it’s about bringing out the best in people and improving your company’s bottom line.

Novak labels it a “recognition deficit.” And this deficit is especially bad for people who might be in the more “mundane” positions that likely never gain direct appreciation from customers or others, even if the boss is clueless.

But there’s good news in this blog today. It’s both simple and inexpensive for managers to solve the recognition deficit in their dealership. Here are some samples of key strategies that worked well for Novak:

1) Remember, it’s a fact that the overwhelming majority of employees aren’t simply motivated by a paycheck. They want to work hard and contribute and be noticed and respected for their efforts.

2) Show respect by sharing as much information as possible. Novak cites Sam Walton’s words: “The more they know, the more they’ll understand. The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there’s no stopping them. If you don’t trust your associates to know what’s going on, they’ll know you really don’t consider them partners.”

3) Celebrate first downs, not just touchdowns. Publicly recognizing and rewarding small wins keeps everyone motivated over the long haul. Don’t be the Negative Nelly who says, “Well, it’s great that you just closed that new sale, but we’re still $5 million behind budget this year!”

4) This isn’t drudgery, so have some fun with it. You can take selling boats seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Through the years, Novak gave out rubber chickens and plastic chattering teeth to recognize contributions. He reasoned: “Which do you think people are more likely to display and tell their friends about — a rubber chicken or a fancy pen?”

5) Be timely. We’re not talking about waiting for monthly meetings or annual performance reviews. Good things are happening all around you; notice them and seize any opportunity to acknowledge them, Novak says.

6) This might be the most important: make it personal. In research Novak has conducted, he found that 76 percent of people actually save a handwritten thank-you note. How easy is that? Or a customized, thoughtful gift will always have a bigger impact than something mass-produced, regardless of the price tag.

Finally, recognition is a privilege, not just another item on some to-do list. Look, as a manager, you have the privilege of feeding people’s souls and helping them feel great about themselves. And by feeding their souls, you’ll feed yours in return, Novak says.

To that I can only add — very well said.

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