George and Mary Lou were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. A reporter, noting that so many marriages end in divorce, wondered what secret had enabled them to keep their relationship strong for fifty years. “What is your recipe,” the reporter asked George, “for a long, happy marriage?” George answered that just after his wedding, his new father-in-law pulled him aside and gave him a gift. It was a gold watch, one that George still wore all these years later. He drew up his sleeve to show the reporter. Imprinted on the face of the watch were the words George had read several times each day for the last five decades: “Say something nice to Mary Lou.”3
A simple reminder of our appreciation for someone else—especially when it’s sincere and repeated often—can be incredibly powerful. It can be the glue that holds a marriage together. It also can be the spark that inspires a team of employees to reach for new levels of success.
In your role as leader, it’s a great idea (when it’s deserved) to give a team member who has not asked for one a raise or bonus. The rest of your staff will likely try just a little bit harder if they know the same might happen to them. Most Boomers understand this approach. For them, a steady paycheck was what counted. It motivated them to do their best. While helpful, however, money is not always the primary inspiration for many of today’s employees. Instead, they’re looking just as much for positive reinforcement and relationships.
A recent survey of modern employees supports this idea. Number three on the list of motivating factors is “assistance with personal problems.” Number two on the list is a feeling that they are “in on things.” And the number one motivator for employees is “full appreciation for work done.”4 These are not expensive, time-consuming measures to implement. It doesn’t take that much effort to check in with your team and find out how they’re doing on a personal level. If they’re dealing with a sick child or other difficult situation at home, your willingness to temporarily allow them a flexible schedule can make all the difference to them. By simply by asking the question and listening, you may help them get through a hard time—and help them perform better while at the office. It’s also not that tough to keep your team up to date on what’s happening on your project and with the rest of the organization. Through meetings, messages, and conversations, make sure you give your employees more than what they need to accomplish their tasks. Sharing information shows you trust and value your team.
As for that top motivator—appreciation for work accomplished—you’d better make it a priority if you want to be an effective leader. A failure to acknowledge good work is one of the quickest ways to lose your best people. Follow George’s example and say something nice.
Adapted excerpt from: “Inspired People Produce Results” – Jeremy Kingsley, McGraw-Hill (2013)