Never underestimate the value of a simple “thank you.” This golden rule can apply to any human interaction or relationship – from the barista at your local coffee shop to your closest friend. But within the context of the workplace, there is a compelling business reason for leaders to praise, reward, and recognize often, says Leon Adato, head geek at SolarWinds – there is no better motivator for employees.
“Positively motivated employees and teams are engaged, thoughtful, and ultimately drive the business to succeed and thrive. Ones that aren’t, don’t,” says Adato.
Of course, there’s another reason to show appreciation for your team: It can be among the most rewarding aspects of a leader’s job. From hand-written notes to team celebrations to peer-nominated awards, both small and large acts of appreciation are what connect teams and build strong cultures.
[ How does your EQ stack up? Read also: Emotional intelligence test: 5 self-evaluation tools for leaders. ]
In honor of Thanksgiving Day, we asked IT leaders to share the unique ways they go beyond a simple “thank you” to show gratitude to their teams. Dig in for ideas you can use all year long.
1. Find small ways to make people smile
“I try to start every meeting with my team with something that makes them smile, whether it’s a fun fact, a story, or kudos, or I ask the group to share something they are proud of. I also hold a birthday event each month for all team members who have a birthday that month. As a group, they get to choose an afternoon dessert spread with S’mores or a chocolate fountain, or a breakfast spread where I make everyone omelets and waffles. I also make an effort to meet quarterly with every member of my team for one-on-one time for at least thirty minutes. This allows us to touch base and ensure they are recognized in detail for their achievements, and we can discuss their ideas and/or questions without a group setting.” – Kassie Rangel, senior director of IT, HealthMarkets
2. Be authentic
“It’s valuable to take a moment and think about what creates the best positive motivation. For instance, people are less motivated by a once-in-a-decade windfall than they are by knowing their good work will be noticed and recognized reliably and consistently. Don’t offer a reward that’s not a reward. A $100 bonus sounds nice, until it shows up on the paycheck and is taxed into oblivion. A water bottle, backpack, or power bank that was obviously a giveaway from a conference is not a reward, it’s a hand-me-down."
“What does motivate people is surprisingly simple. Do something that shows you see them and know them beyond what they’ve done for you lately. Demonstrate awareness of their culture, religion, and family dynamics when they’ve shared those details with you by, for example, wishing people greetings appropriate to their culture/religion or bringing in food to meet a team member’s dietary needs.” – Leon Adato, head geek, SolarWinds
3. Recognize great work widely
“It is important to make sure the wider organization is aware of the great work going on within the IT team. This will positively impact the business environment. We publish an IT Insider email each month to give others in the organization a taste of our toolkit changes and showcase the IT team’s good work. It’s not just about saying thanks, but ensuring that great work is recognized across the whole team. I use our quarterly all hands meetings to draw attention to great work by giving individuals or teams a shout out at the start of the meeting. We also have a recognition tool that allows us to give monetary rewards for individuals or teams that have made a significant impact to move our team or business forward.” – Chris Fielding, CIO, Sungard AS
4. Make peer recognition part of the culture
“We celebrate others in three different ways – kudos, acknowledgments, and LS Champions. Kudos is an employee-built Slack bot that makes it easy for LightSteppers to give thanks for whatever positive, helpful, or awesome things their teammates have done. They celebrate daily wins ranging from a thoughtful cup of coffee to day-to-day work and are displayed in a public channel for all to see."
“Another way we celebrate teammates is with acknowledgements at all-hands meetings each week. These offer employees a chance to highlight a teammate’s hard work in front of the company. We reserve five minutes each week for employees to come forward and talk about their colleagues and how their work helped the company."
“The highest form of recognition at Lightstep is our LS Champion program. This is a nomination-based level of acknowledgement for managers to showcase excellence. Managers nominate and vote on two or three employees that have gone above and beyond with their work each quarter. Managers then spend a few minutes at our all-hands meeting talking about each champion’s contributions to LightStep. Each LS Champion receives a stipend toward an experience of their choosing.” – Chloe Bosmeny, workplace and culture manager, LightStep
5. Consider non-monetary rewards
“Recognize that value means different things to different people. The opportunity to work remote from time to time is an amazing reward for many IT pros, as well as a huge productivity booster to the team. Some IT folks value hardware over cash. A new monitor, NAS, Raspberry Pi, or gaming keyboard may be more of a reward and motivator than the equivalent cash would be. Simply having a level of autonomy – to have their pick of upcoming projects, to help set the deadline for a deliverable, etc. – is a deep motivator for many IT folks who feel like they have little control over their workflow."
“Also, don’t discount the idea of personal interactions as reward. Offer to include this person in the next management meeting where they can offer their perspective, set up a mentoring session where they can really dig into their career path with someone who can facilitate their growth, or allow them to spend time with another team so they can learn more about another area of the business or tech sector.” – Leon Adato
6. Reward behaviors, not just outcomes
“We rarely reward outcomes. Instead we measure and reward cultural behaviors that we hold important. Our belief is that when the behaviors and culture are right, the results will follow. We measure the behaviors that we think are representative of great IT people – customer touches, enabling fellow team members, etc. The people who are at the top of these cultural indicators are the ones who are rewarded. Not surprisingly to us, the correlation between the people with the highest cultural markers and the best results is extremely high.” – Kumar Ramachandran, co-founder and CEO, CloudGenix
7. Small, meaningful gestures go a long way
“We dedicate the month of November to spend a little extra time showing our employees we care – with action. Whether it’s surprising an employee with their favorite snack, or a simple handwritten note of support and appreciation on a Post-it, when it comes to employee gratitude, a little goes a long way. The key is to make it personal and meaningful. Listening, acting, acknowledging, showing gratitude, and fostering growth is how to operationalize care as a company.” – Dr. Laura Hamill, chief people officer, Limeade
[ Do you make thoughtful decisions? Read also: 4 styles of decision-making: A leader's guide. ]
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