A catchy format has arrived in book publishing in the past few years. It began with books like Life's Little Instruction Book and titles like 500 Things to Be Happy About. Essentially, these are "list books" with 100-1,000 little pointers or tips on a particular topic. In the business arena, popular titles like this include 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and 1001 Ways to Energize Employees by Bob Nelson and Managing With Heart: 205 Ways to Make Your Employees Feel Appreciated by Sharon Good.
All three of these books focus on offering the reader a lot of mini-suggestions on how to motivate, inspire and reward your people. The obvious critique of the whole category is that these books are pretty easy to write. Collect or brainstorm a bunch of ideas and you've got a book.
But that in itself shouldn't negate their value to you. If they're easy to write, then they're also easy to read as well. And that's a point in their favor. You can browse through them and read them in a traffic jam or a line at the bank.
The good news is that there are many useful ideas in these books. For example, Sharon Good suggests that you might give your people:
- A special bonus that's not at year’s end
- Assigned parking spaces
- A day off on their birthday
- The right to make personal phone calls
These are simple ideas that can be very effective. But there are also tips that seem to be obvious filler in her books, e.g., Good urges you to treat your people with respect, which is both obvious and rather nebulous. And she repeats the idea of feeding your staff in a half-dozen ways: donuts, pizza, breakfast, lunch, etc.
Nelson's books are a little more substantial than Good's because he actually researched the specific ways that well-known companies have rewarded and motivated their employees. The fact that real businesses have done these things makes his books more credible. For example:
- One company bought an ugly, old bowling trophy and passed it to people who had achieved spectacular results;
- When a product passed a crucial test, another company had a Mariachi band parade through their plant.
The main point of these books is that little things count. If you do a number of these little things for your staff, they do add up. All together, they give your people the message that you care about their efforts and their well-being. In other words, doing these kinds of things demonstrates to your employees that you see them as human beings who have real needs for approval, comfort, fun, recognition, etc.
The best part is that these things are simple to do and extremely low-cost (if not completely free). You don't have to create a huge motivation program that costs thousands of dollars to get your people to feel good about their work.
But I want to emphasize that these kinds of things should not be used to mask any basic inequities in your organization. For example, if your salespeople are not getting decent commissions on a timely basis, they will not happily settle for a bunch of free donuts once a month. These things should enhance a fundamentally equitable system and not simply be a substitute for that.
So try these books. Read them when you can and let them inspire you. Allow them to be a jumping-off place for you to brainstorm some new ideas of your own that will surprise and please your people. If you take away one good idea from reading them, then the time and energy you spend will be well worth it. These books will remind you to have an "attitude of gratitude" for the various ways in which your people enhance your business as well as your life.
Managing with Heart mentions a survey in which employees said that "appreciation," "feeling in on things" and "help on personal problems" were more important to them than raises, job security and promotions. A word to the wise should be sufficient.