Thursday 22 March 2018

Making staff feel special can bring real rewards

Gina London
Gina London

Gina London

I was chatting to John, one of the fine concierges at the Westbury last week, when a couple of other guests walked by the reception desk of the downtown Dublin hotel and called my name.

I looked up and recognised the managing director and human resource director of a leading beverage company I had previously trained.

They were in town for their annual sales meeting in which hundreds of employees gather together to be motivated for the year ahead.

In the business world, January is known for its many sales kick-off events and team-building retreats.

There are as many different themes and approaches to them as there are off-site arenas and hotel conference rooms.

But one thing they should all have in common is that they should strive to make employees feel special.

More than salary and benefits, people say again and again in employee satisfaction surveys that the number one thing they look for in a company is a sense of well-being.

Including an awards ceremony to honour extra-hard-working team members in your kick-off meetings is an effective way to show you value your standout performers and encourage others to do the same.

Take, for instance, Gerard Graham. He's an Irish Rail train manager I see regularly on my frequent trips between my home in Cork to my many work gigs in Dublin.

(Note to Irish Rail: when you come out with your loyalty cards, 'Take Nine Trips and Get Your Tenth Free', let me know. Really. I'm serious.)

Ger is about to retire, "Just as soon as they find my replacement", he tells me, after working for Irish Rail for 22 years.

But, before he takes off his navy jacket and green-and-blue striped tie for the last time, he shared with me his exuberance at winning the company's customer service award for the year.

It's likely you have attended or even presented an award at an event like this.

How did you feel?

Are you enthusiastic or have you been through so many of these that the emotional lustre is a bit worn off?

Using Ger's vivid descriptions, I hope I can remind you how much we still appreciate it when we're told we're appreciated.


1 Make it a party: "It was at the Shelbourne and there were loads of balloons and coffee with cream", Ger recounted about his own award ceremony.

Likewise, as with the managers of the beverage company I mentioned earlier, it's important to create a festive atmosphere when you bring employees together.

You can take your team somewhere luxurious like Dublin's five-star historic Shelbourne hotel or you can festoon your meeting room with jovial decorations.

But do something to generate a celebratory mood.

2 Make it meaningful: Ger was nominated by his managers and his peers. It's often more satisfying to have your colleagues recognise you than a more distant supervisor or department head.

Design your award programme to include this sort of recognition. Ger was very proud that his teammates were inspired enough by him to put his name forward for the award.

By the way, Ger laughingly admitted he wasn't like this when he started out.

He had served in the armed forces as a soldier before his mother talked him into going for the job.

"I was offered the job on the spot, but I was just another ordinary Joe. I had to make an effort," Ger said. "Leadership isn't something you're born with, it's something you have to work at."

3 Make a keepsake: Ger's face lit up when he told me about the award itself. "It has my picture on it. The seal has three different colours and it's about this big", he enthused as he stretched his arms out wide.

Maybe you're not accustomed to handing out plaques. Perhaps you take a high-performing employee out to dinner or lunch. That may work for you, but consider the impact a real souvenir or token of the honour may provide. It doesn't have to be big or expensive either.

Two years ago, I trained a group of top architects in New York. At the end of our sessions, I held a competition and handed out small, plastic, solar-operated figurines of maneki-neko, the Japanese lucky cat, to the winners.

I had forgotten about them until this year when I returned to lead another round of training programmes.

One of the previous winners marched into the conference room.

He plonked down his plastic cat trophy before the other participants as a hilarious and triumphant show of past glory and challenge to the newcomers.

Don't think the trophies and plaques don't matter. Of course they do. They're another way to show you value your employees.

In-between making sure the other passengers on our train car were cared for, Ger described the moment he won his award with sincere passion.

I felt as if I was in the room with him.

While I listened, it became clear how important this was. In some ways, as he prepares to retire, this reward is the visual representation of his life's work.

Recognising employees helps us become more motivated, more engaged and more inclined to do better.

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Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon

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