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focus_Building and Engaging Workforces with R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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 continues.

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 cheated.

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 team members.

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 successful

S Supportive Feedback: Giving ongoing performance feedback – both positive and corrective

P Partnering: Fostering a collaborative working environment

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

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