Executives and managers seeking an effective, low cost way to motivate their employees don't have to look too far. Often overlooked and dismissed as an ineffective or short-term fix is "employee recognition."
It must be understood that people don't work for money alone. Yes, there's no denying that the principal reason for going to work is to earn a living. But there are many ways to earn a living, and many places to satisfy that requirement. Plus, we want people to excel, not just do the minimum. So, obviously, we need to be creative in our approach to gain that "extra effort."
Although motivational theories abound, and everything from pay to "perks," to "Theory X" controls and prodding has been tried, simple recognition of desired behavior and accomplishment is a powerful incentive. Leaders seeking performance improvement must rely on "soft skills," essentially human interactions, to advance their agenda. This generally translates into meeting your employees' needs through a variety of approaches which increase the incumbent's desire to perform. Only when both sets of needs - the employer's and the employee's - are met does the employment "contract" make sense.
There are many obvious and compelling advantages to recognition as a means to reinforce superior employee performance. First, it is straightforward: You show appreciation for the efforts and results you like to see. Second, it is inexpensive. It can be practiced at no cost or little cost. Simple comments, commendations, public accolade, and the like, are effective. Third, it is consistent with motivational theories (e.g., Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs," B. F. Skinner's "Reinforcement Theory," Goal Theory, Equity Theory, etc.)
Many companies have formal employee recognition programs and/or policies, but some do not. However, there are always opportunities to show appreciation and recognize high performers.
There's an old song called "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover," (by Paul Simon, 1975) -- and there are probably many more. Likewise, there are lots of ways to recognize your employees. Here's a few for your consideration:
Formal commendations, plaques, certificates, awards, "pat's on the "back," public praise, lunch, luncheons or dinners, donuts or bagels in the morning, letters of appreciation, time off, reserved parking spaces, employee of the month or year designation, appreciative comments, gift cards, parties, bonuses, pay increases, performance evaluations, promotions, cards, observations of significant occasions, "we missed you" comments, genuine smiles and enthusiasm, special projects or choice assignments, a chance to "shine," small gifts, introductions to key individuals, spending time with the employee, encouragement, positive feedback, conference attendance, workshops, training, celebrations, etc.
Good managers are a reflection of high caliber, motivated employees, and vice-versa. So go ahead and apply some, or all of these techniques, and perhaps you already do. Just make sure that what you do is deserved and consistent. Unfair treatment and undeserved recognition may, in some cases be worse than no recognition at all, and can have a demoralizing effect on other employees. Get started-- practice employee recognition techniques skilfully and frequently to develop a happy and motivated workforce.