Building and Engaging
Workforces with R-E-S-P-E-C-T
By Dr. Paul Marciano
Despite 40 years of research on employee
motivation, organizations continue to
waste resources on traditional reward
and recognition programs that are not only
ineffective, they actually decrease the overall
productivity of a workforce. A few of these
reasons are cited below.
1. Programs fail because they are programs.
Reward and recognition programs fail for
the same reason that diets fail — because
they are programs! Programs don’t
fundamentally change employees’ beliefs or
commitment to their job. They simply
change behavior during the course of the
program. Employees are motivated to work
toward the goal only as long as the program
2. Group incentive programs destroy
teamwork. Within any team there are
employees with different skill levels,
commitment to the organization, and those
with the inability to devote additional effort
outside of normal business hours because of
family and other responsibilities. Invariably,
“pulling the load” frustrates the
hardworking, motivated employee. In the
end, win or lose, the employees who were
the most motivated will feel the most
3. Programs reduce creativity and risk-taking.
Employees are risk-averse when it comes to
competing for a reward. They don’t want to
risk losing and looking bad because they
tried some new, clever approach that failed.
Traditional reward and recognition
programs reinforce “doing it by the book” —
not experimentation. Such programs
actually discourage innovation, creativity,
and risk-taking — the very behaviors that
improve organizations. People may work
harder but they will not work smarter.
4. Wrong behaviors are rewarded. Frequently,
reward and recognition programs reinforce
the wrong behaviors. For example,
organizational leaders may speak of the
importance of teamwork but then create
programs that recognize and reinforce
individual performance. This may well result
in rewarding the individual who is the worst
team player. Is your company accidentally
reinforcing behaviors that run counter to the
values of your organization?
5. Programs have no impact on workplace
culture. Reward and recognition programs
will never lead to long-term, sustainable
changes in behavior because they have no
impact on organizational culture. Culture drives behavior and behavior reinforces culture. Highly effective organizations
have a culture where people work hard
and achieve – and this behavior is not
the result of any program.
The good news is that trying to
motivate employees is a bad idea.
Whenever anyone says they want to learn
how to motivate their employees, I think
of a wind-up toy. The manager then
becomes responsible for “winding up” the
employee who eventually runs out of
steam. Efforts to motivate employees may
never lead to sustainable increases in
discretionary effort. Reliable and
meaningful increases in human capital will
only be realized by fostering a culture of
employee engagement. I believe that no
program – especially those designed to
motivate employees – will ever result in
such a culture.
The key driver to employee engagement
is respect and the extent to which
employees’ experience respect in the
following five domains:
• Respect their organization: Its mission,
vision, values, goals, policies, and
actions. Employees are proud to say, “I
work for this company.”
• Respect the organization’s leaders,
especially their team leader, believing
that he/she is competent, ethical, makes
good decisions and treats people fairly.
• Respect their team members, believing that they are
competent, cooperative, honest, supportive, and willing
to pull their own weight.
• Respect their work, finding it challenging, rewarding,
interesting and meaningful.
• Feel respected by the organization, supervisor and fellow
If you’ve ever had a job in which you experience respect
in all five areas simultaneously, you will find that you were
incredibly engaged, in fact, you actually looked forward to
going to work because you felt that you made a difference
and were acknowledged for your contributions. And, sadly,
you would be in the minority – very few people ever enjoy
being in such a position. If you think about a time when
you experienced a loss of respect in some area, you’re also
likely to find a decrease in your level of engagement, in fact,
you might have found another job.
Obviously, one’s manager plays a critical role when it
comes to feeling respected and the following seven drivers
are the keys.
R Recognition: Thanking employees and
acknowledging their contributions on a daily basis
E Empowerment: Providing employees with the tools,
resources, training, and information they need to be
S Supportive Feedback: Giving ongoing performance
feedback – both positive and corrective
P Partnering: Fostering a collaborative working
E Expectation Setting: Establishing clear performance
goals and holding employees accountable
C Consideration: Demonstrating thoughtfulness,
empathy, and kindness
T Trust: Demonstrating faith and belief in their
employees’ skills, abilities, and decisions
Managers who treat their employees with R-E-S-P-E-C-T
will enjoy a highly engaged and productive workforce.
________________________________________________________________________________Dr. Paul Marciano is the author of Carrots and Sticks Don’t Work. Email Paul at Paul@PaulMarciano.com.