Military leaders, government officials, and even ancient business owners have been trying to motivate people for thousands of years. In the previous two blogs “Driving Remote Employee Engagement” and “Driving Remote Employee Engagement: Know Your Employees,” we discussed the importance of Employee Engagement and how getting to know your remote employees drives motivation and increases commitment, in this blog, we will take a closer look at the importance of recognition and appreciation for motivating remote employees.
The theory on recognition came into the spotlight when motivational theorist B.F. Skinner studied Operant Conditioning (positive VS negative reinforcement) in 1938. His work was based on earlier work done by Thorndike in 1898 on the law of effect. He studied how behaviors that create positive reactions are more likely to be repeated. These positive recognitions actually release a chemical (Dopamine) in the brain that makes you feel good. Today, platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Instagram keep people using their platforms by tapping into this chemical reaction. In fact, every time someone gets a “like” or “view” it uses the same chemical circuitry in the brain used by slot machines/gambling to addict people. Therefore, people can actually become addicted to social media platforms.
More than ever people want to be recognized. While we do not want to “addict” people, today leaders can use operant conditioning in a positive way to motivate their remote employees. Awards, certificates and badging are all examples of how employers are utilizing operant conditioning by appealing to the employees’ need for recognition and appreciation.
The danger of recognition is that it can come off as insincere, sarcastic, and in some cases even drive animosity between team members if the same people are always recognized. Generational and cultural differences can also impact the effectiveness of recognition. Leaders must use some emotional intelligence to know if someone on the team is recognized too much in public to give them praise in private and if someone is never recognized that they should take the opportunity to recognize them in front of the team when the occasion arises.
In order to make sure recognition comes off as sincere and drives positive behavior, use the following 4-step recognition system:
- Recognize. Acknowledge specific behaviors, values, accomplishments, successes, qualities, or attributes that you sincerely appreciate.
“Brett, I am impressed with your dedication to the team.”
- Reference. Describe a specific example of when they demonstrated the trait you are recognizing.
“The reason I say that is that I have noticed you put in extra hours this week to make sure the Jefferson project was finished on time.”
- Relevance. Explain the relevance of how this helps the individual to achieve their goals, helps the whole team, or impacts the company. “Because of this, the company delivered on time and the customer gave us additional projects.”
- Reinforce. Encourage the employee to continue the trait recognized. “Your dedication to the team will help you succeed and allow you to continue to grow with the company.”
Many managers I have met over the years say that they don’t have time to go around recognizing employees. The recognition described above takes 30 seconds or less to deliver to an employee. This type of recognition creates a “happy moment” for the employee by releasing Dopamine into the brain thus motivating the employee. Motivated employees are more likely to be engaged employees.
With more and more people working remotely, it is important for managers to tap into available motivational tools to keep employees engaged. Engaged employees are more productive, help the team reach its goals, and become a positive advocate for the organization.