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Th!nkFM: Praise your employees – it’ll pay off

19 June 2012

All organisations want a motivated workforce, but the vast majority of businesses have management geared towards catching people doing something wrong.

This is a de-motivating environment, said Derek Williams, chief executive of independent motivation consultancy The Wow! Awards at his session 'The Customer is King of Motivation'.

“So what would happen if we concentrated on catching employees doing the right thing,” Williams asked delegates.

There is a lot at stake. Williams said research has found that a quarter of management time is lost to conflicts and resolution issues. Also, 70 per cent of employees leave their job because of personality issues.

“But my belief is a great place to work is a great place to be a customer,” he said.

In fact, this positive reinforcement culture should be extended to the customers of a company, said Williams.

“It’s a simple idea, but makes it easy for customers to send in positive feedback as well.”

Praise needn’t always take the form of money – something done too often in our business culture, said Williams as he tossed sweets to delegates as a thank-you for participating.

There is also a misplaced belief verging on fear, he believed, that to be seen as being soft on employees is a sign of managerial weakness.

Perhaps we have misjudged what motivates employees, he said, citing research that found all car salespeople in a particular study said “being respected’ was the highest motivator for them.

He urged management to look beyond their fear of being soft or too gentle on employees and let customers "do the catching". If an employee has not performed, then the customer will let them know and that is something to then act upon.

The Wow! Awards acts as a third party to pass on compliments from a client’s customers to that client. Even in organisations with macho cultures, employees still like compliments, said Williams.

For example, while a police officer is not likely to get praise from someone for arresting that person ‘nicely’, the public have praised police for their sensitivities in handling delicate emotional situations.

Williams said his organisation’s experience with the Green Bay Police force in Wisconsin, US, showed that even these tough cultures can be made more responsive to customers’ compliments. The force eventually welcomed compliments from members of the public praising them for their handling of difficult situations and officers didn't see it as a sign of weakness.