Plan for Spontaneity

bob's Blog Dr. Bob Nelson

Most people think spontaneity means acting without planning, yet it is very possible to plan for spontaneity.  When it comes to employee recognition, in fact, the better you plan, the better the chance that you will be able to take advantage of recognition opportunities as they arise – rather than thinking weeks or months later that you “probably should have done something.”  Here are some items to consider when you are planning for recognition:

Discussion.  By talking about recognition you increase your understanding of what it means to your employees – individually and as a group.  You can do this is a general way by asking people what motivates them one-on-one or have them share items in a group, thus allowing for a broader range of people knowing how to thank each person when desired.  You can rotate the responsibility for recognition among individuals on your staff, as they’ve done at the Hyatt Corporation.  Or you can be more specific by asking, “If we attain our goals (finish this project, etc.), what would be rewarding to you (or the group)?”  If responses are light, offer up some potential ideas or categories for discussion.

Recognition tools.  Whether it’s thank you cards, tokens, pins, certificates, pass-around trophies, mementos, gag gifts, gift certificates, discount coupons, movie passes, or on-the-spot awards, you need to have some quick-and-dirty ways to thank and acknowledge people that are simple and fun, with minimal administration and evaluation.  These can be available to all managers or customized to a particular area of the organization, such as the personalized “Applauz” card that is used by the Medical Products Division at Johnson & Johnson or the “Thank You” tokens used with employees at Busch Gardens.  Have thank you cards ready to go on your desk and plan on taking a few moments to complete and send a few out at the end of each workday.  At Chevron they’ve used a “Treasure Chest” that supervisors can unlock to allow a performer to select a gift on the spot.  A variety of recognition tools serves as multiple reminders to do the activity and keeps any single form of recognition from becoming stale.

Communication.  How you communicate, the channels in which you communicate, and taking advantage of the opportunities you have to communicate, can greatly enhance motivation for your employees.  Plan to use some time at scheduled meetings to talk about group and individual successes and who made them happen, as is done at the Xerox Corporation. Leave positive voicemails for those individuals whose work have stood out and pass positive emails on to others.  Ask an executive to call an employee to thank him or her for doing a great job.  Interrupt others to share good news – especially as it involves them.  Every time you communicate is a chance to motivate, recognize and inspire others in your work environment.

Celebrations.  Have the resources ready for spontaneous celebrations:  party supplies, confetti, balloons, chilled champagne or phone numbers for how those things can be quickly obtained.  Consider hosting an ice cream social, a pancake breakfast, a barbeque or potluck lunch on short notice to celebrate a milestone or group success.  Have management make or serve the food and use some of the time together to talk about the success and identify and acknowledge individual efforts that made the success possible.  At Disney’s Swan & Dolphin Resort in Orlando, they bring in donuts and balloons for employees in the registration area on especially busy days, or they host a spontaneous employee recognition celebrations in the employee cafeteria.  Or host a bragging session, in which everyone is free to tell success stories.

Fresh ideas.  Do something different than you’ve ever done before.  Fresh ideas in and of themselves add energy and fun to the work place.  Brainstorm possibilities or pass a copy of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees around to your staff and ask people to initial ideas they personally liked.  Use the company’s newsletter to share recognition ideas that have worked with employees from other parts of the organization.  Consider hosting a recognition sharing conference as they’ve done at Caterpiller or Sears.  Get in the habit of exchanging ideas that have worked with your employees in department or company-wide meetings.  

A key to making recognition an integral part of your culture is to increase the number of people who use recognition in a timely way to reinforce desired behavior and performance in your organization when it occurs.  By planning for spontaneity, managers -- and employees -- can be ready to act on a greater number of recognition opportunities when those opportunities occur.

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