American workplaces are experiencing a severe recognition deficit. According to a survey by OGO, 82% of employed Americans don’t feel that they are adequately recognized for their work by their supervisors. With such a high number of employees feeling like their work is not appreciated, it isn’t any wonder that such large percentage of them are not engaged in their work. The good news for small business owners, is that creating a culture of recognition at your organization does not have to be expensive or time consuming and can give you a distinct competitive advantage when recruiting and retaining your best employees.

In a recent article for Harvard Business Review online, David Novak co-founder and retired Chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands gives some great advice about how he was able to create a culture of recognition in a global company.

  • Understand that employee motivation is not one size fits all. Working with small businesses for the last 26 years, we have seen so many of them fall into the trap of assuming that paying someone more money will keep them happy. Employees are motivated by any different things. Often simply showing your genuine appreciation for your employee’s work will help more than giving a raise.
  • Be as transparent as possible. You will gain the trust of your employees if you share as much as possible about the company’s motivations and decision-making process.
  • Ask lots of questions. Encourage employees to make suggestions. Ask what they would do if they were CEO for a day.
  • Celebrate little wins. Don’t; wait until you have reached your biggest goal to celebrate success. Find ways to celebrate the little wins along the way that keep everyone motivated to push forward.
  • Make recognition fun. Rewards don’t have to be expensive or stuffy. Think about fun things you can do to remind employee how important they are to your organization.}
  • Keep it personal. A handwritten thank you note from the company owner or CEO often has more impact and is more memorable than an expensive gift.
  • Don’t think of recognition as just another thing on your to do list. If you do you will lose the spirit required to create a recognition-rich culture. Make sure your employees leave at the end of the day better than when they arrived. As Novak says “As a leader you have the privilege of feeding people’s souls and helping them feel great about themselves. And by feeding their souls, you’ll feed yours in return.”

For more ideas, download our free Employee Recognition Toolkit.