Workers Want Recognition!

I spent a long part of my career working for a company whose CEO was huge on the power of recognition. (He even has a new book out about it. And it’s true; you can’t get very far if you don’t give your workers the recognition for doing a good job. Unfortunately, for knowledge workers, being recognized for stepping up to the plate to hit a home run is the tip of the iceberg. Recognizing someone for doing a good job is nice, but isn’t the expectation that workers will do a good job? Why are you still paying workers if doing a good job isn’t an every day occurrence?

Ok, maybe you are recognizing people for doing a “good job” but a great job. You’re still on a hedonic treadmill here. If a “great job” is truly exceptional, then you aren’t rewarding your employees that often. When a “great job” is routine, then why aren’t you shifting your expectations and paying accordingly?

Spot rewards are nice, but can be demotivating

There is nothing like found money (or praise), but it generally is spent quickly. (Unless your spot rewards are allowing the employee to take a year off or retire, but that would seem to defeat the purpose.)

If you’re leaning on spot rewards, then you may be training your employees to set gradually lower expectations, then beat them for rewards. Oh, no raises this year? Well, I can always game the rewards system!

Invest in people

Make permanent commitments to the reward you’re giving by delivering a raise and higher expectations. This is excellent, and I would like to see this continue… in expectation of this continued performance, here’s a larger financial commitment from us.

Give your people whatever tools they need to perform at a higher level. Offer the training. Provide educational resources. Send them to conferences. Allocate time for them to develop themselves. If you can’t afford a 2-5% contribution to potentially improve an employee by 10%, then you may not have any idea what you’re doing with that employee. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the business of employing those people and should find someone else to hire them and pay that company for effective use of those resources.

Invest in capacity

Stop skirting by just barely making your commitments. If you don’t have excess capacity, the minute something goes wrong, you’re in trouble. The alternative is depending on heroics from your employees. Heroics are like firefighting: Yes, they put the fire out, but now everything is water-damaged, and your firefighters will get sloppy and exhausted if used too often.

Invest in figuring out what is reasonable to do

Yes, you are in competition with everyone else who wants to please your customers, but all those customers you’re gaining are going to bail if your people break down and can’t perform.


You cannot put a price tag on trust.

Trust your employees to:

  • appreciate the capability you’ve given them.
  • be capable of working wherever.
  • work whenever they need to.

If you don’t know what results you want or the value of those results, keeping employees in the office from 8 to 5 is an expensive way to hide that fact. If you can’t trust an employee to get things done, then it doesn’t matter where they’re working, they’re going to make a fool of you at some point, and it will probably take you longer to figure it out if your measure of productivity is whether they’re in the seat or not.

Risk vs Volatility

As Taleb mentions in Black Swan, there’s a difference between risk and volatility. Trusting your employees seems like a risk, but you’re really lowering volatility of bad experiences near term in exchange for systemic risk of trust issues. So are all these other investments in your employees. Not making the investments may be penny-wise, but they’re pound foolish.