Employee Recognition: Going to the Dogs

Guest author Elizabeth Creith compares on-the-job recognition with successful dog training – consistent, regular, real – and costly if you don’t do it.
Dog Training
In the last post I talked about giving out biscuits as a way to improve work performance. But what constitutes a biscuit? And how can you use them both effectively and affordably?

Let’s continue the dog biscuit analogy. If you give your dog a biscuit “just because”, then there’s nothing associated with it to let the dog know why she got it. If you give her a command and reward her with a biscuit for doing it, it makes a pleasurable connection in her head.

“Aha!” she thinks. “I sit down when I hear that word and I get a biscuit! Awesome!”

Similarly, biscuits for employees must be meaningful rather than random. This means that they need to be handed out in such a way that the employee is rewarded consistently for something specific. Any reward with a chance or random factor (prizes awarded by draw, for example) is not as effective. Customer or client praise is also a matter of chance. You can’t rely on customers to notice when your employees have done something unusually good, or to praise them for it.

This means that you have to watch what your employees are doing with an eye to seeing their good performance as well as their mistakes. You also have to give a clear, specific signal about what was right.

Because people have a longer attention span than dogs, you don’t have to leap right in with the reward that minute. But you must give it, and sooner is better. Perhaps at coffee break, or at the end of the day, you can say, “I can’t believe how picky that woman was about her neon tetras. You were so patient with her!”

Keep in mind that training requires more, if smaller, biscuits. That’s where attention and specific praise can be put to best use. Nobody minds hearing that something they did was done right, especially if they’re still learning to do it. Keep those little biscuits coming, Save the bigger rewards for special effort or extraordinary achievement.

A blanket, “Good job, people!” isn’t helpful – in fact, the reverse. If they did a good job, they know you didn’t see anything extraordinary they put into it. If they skimped, they know you didn’t notice that, either.

Attention and honest, prompt, specific praise are effective and don’t cost money. But there are also inexpensive tangible ways to reward good work. If you can afford to put aside five dollars a week for bigger biscuits, that gives you $250 a year to spend on small tangible rewards.

Coffee is a small luxury item. Getting it right (mochaccino with soy milk? Green tea? Or a Tim’s double-double?) is what makes it a specific “thank you”. A gift card for a local business gives you a lot of leeway in variety and can be as small as five or ten dollars. We used to give our volunteers a ten-dollar gift card for a bookstore. The delight they showed was far out of proportion to the money we spent.

Yes, handing out biscuits will cost you something, even if only in attention and timely words. The effects in morale, in loyalty and in good work, willingly done, will repay your effort and the money you invested.

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