The Greatest Gift Any Employer Can Give

By on December 20, 2017
The Greatest Gift Any Employer Can Give

“With tears in his eyes, he said to me, ‘This is the first time in over twenty years with this company that anyone has asked me what I think.’”

As I thought about the kind of gifts that Dolores and I gave to our children and grandchildren during this season of gift giving, for some reason I recalled this comment made to me by a line worker named Charlie over fifteen years ago. Remembering what he said gave a sharper focus in my mind on what it is that makes some gifts so memorable and why it is that some forms of recognition in the workplace are so incredibly powerful.

And what is this? It’s something very simple: Letting individual employees know that they are respected and that the company depends upon their individual knowledge and creativity.

This is the greatest gift that any employer can give to an employee. It’s a greater gift, a more powerful gift, than money or “stuff.”

Like most of you, I’ve worked for companies that gave me baskets of fruit, tickets to hockey games, logoed merchandise, and all manner of “stuff” during the holidays. All of them were nice to get and, at a personal level, relatively meaningless.

But when I got face to face “thanks for doing a great job” from people I worked for, this simple message had a profound impact on me and on my determination to do good work. It had a very powerful impact on my dedication to quality. It made me feel connected at a very personal level to the company. And I strongly suspect that experiences like this had the same impact on you.

I’ve had conversations with many managers who think that money is a great motivator. It isn’t. If money bought top performance, most employees would be performing at the top of their game. It isn’t and they aren’t.

So what are some very simple and very powerful ways of giving the gift of personal recognition to your employees?

  • Send handwritten notes to employees at their homes thanking them for the contributions they’re making to the company. These notes will be even more powerful if they refer to a specific contribution the employee made to the company’s success. When your letter gets opened at the employee’s home, it’ll be shared with wife, husband, children, or significant other and it will be kept! And it will be looked at from time to time and it will have a powerful impact on employee performance.
  • Walk around through work areas and interact with line employees. Ask them what some of the challenges are that they face and let them know that you and your management team are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to make it easier for them to do good work, to take the struggle out of work. Most importantly, ask them if they have any ideas about how to improve the productivity of their areas. And listen to their responses. And thank them for their ideas. “This is the first time in over twenty years with this company that anyone has asked me what I think.” Asking this simple question is one of the greatest gifts that can be given to any employee.
  • Recognize individual employees as “Star” performers. Present them with a “Star” award at their work site. The “Star” award can be a simple document with the employees name, a description of the exemplary work for which they’re getting the award, and a short description of how their work helped the company. Have a photograph taken of the award being presented and post this photo, coupled with a short description of the work the employee did, and post it in the employee breakroom or show it on a video in the breakroom.
  • Ask line employees to serve on teams focused on improving productivity and product quality. If your company is engaged in a Lean transformation and is implementing the foundational tool of Lean, the 5S System, asking line employees to serve on the 5S Core Team is a good way of giving line employees a powerful confirmation of the way the company values their knowledge and creativity.
  • And finally, as you walk around the plant, or the office, or the warehouse, periodically stop and talk with individual employees, look them in the eye, shake their hands and tell them that you really appreciate their being on your team. Of course, when you say this, you have to believe it. If you do, they’ll never forget what you said.

Giving the gift of personal recognition is the most powerful gift you can give. It’s simple. It’s inexpensive. It will never be forgotten. “Charlies” shouldn’t have to wait for twenty years to get this gift.

And our wish for you from St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group is that the coming year will be one that brings you personally the joy that comes from having a high performing team of motivated and happy employees.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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