Insightful business leaders know that poor soft skills are one of the chief reasons meaningful recognition among employees fails to take hold.
When managers fail to demonstrate social grace, communicate with clarity, listen well and negotiate clearly, business efforts lag despite a more than sufficient amount of high-quality technical aptitude and know-how.
Managers who make the effort to hone their soft skills are rewarded with much more than a good reputation.
They are rewarded with a culture of engaged employees who thrive and contribute mightily to company success. And the main reason is it takes a manager with strong soft skills to provide meaningful recognition – the kind that sinks in and makes a difference.
For employees, the best recognition comes from the heart of a manager they respect and know they can trust.
Why take the chances on poor soft skills when they are easy to improve upon, once you know what to look for.
Soft skills to improve recognition
Here is a rundown of some of the most important soft skills you’ll need to recognize your employees properly; ideas on how to improve on them; and how to help your employees improve on their own soft skills as well.
Leaders and managers don’t have to be friends with their employees or colleagues – but they have to be friendly. Since they spend the bulk of each workday dealing with colleagues and employees, it only makes sense to have cordial relationships. It makes working with them more productive and cohesive.
To improve interactions and create a deeper connection:
- Make it personal. Use people’s names when talking to them – from the janitor to the CEO. Even better, use the names of their significant others – spouses, kids, parents – when possible.
- Say more than hello. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut to the chase and get to the business at hand – a project, deadline, important question, etc. But in other circumstances, there’s time to show interest in other people’s lives. Instead of a generic “How are you?” ask about something that affects them.
- Talk about their interests. People surround themselves with hints of what interests them outside of work (for instance, sports ticket stubs, photos of beach trips, logo T-shirts from local events, race medals, certificates of appreciation from philanthropic groups, etc.). Look for those hints and ask about them. Once you know a little about what they do outside work, you have a starter for other conversations: “How did your son’s soccer game turn out?” “Where did you volunteer this weekend?” “Planning any vacations?”
- Show appreciation. Avoid waiting for the end of a project or annual reviews to thank employees and co-workers for their contributions. And it’s OK to say thanks for the little things they bring to the table – a good sense of humor, a sharp eye for errors, an impeccable work station, a positive attitude.
- Make others feel important. Feeling important is slightly different than feeling appreciated. Employees need to know they’re relevant. Let them know you recognize their contributions by referring to past successes when you talk to them personally and to others in meetings. Explain why their work was important.
- Recognize emotions. Work and life are roller coasters of emotions. Leaders don’t have to react to every peak and valley, but they’ll want to address the highs and lows they see. For instance, “You seem frustrated and anxious lately. Is something wrong that I can help with?” Or, “I can sense you’re very excited and proud. You deserve to be.”
To stay ahead of morale issues:
- Communicate. Employees left in the dark will become fearful and anxious and likely make up negative news to fill the gap. This can be avoided by regularly reporting information, changes and company news.
- Listen. While sharing information is a must, employees must also be heard. Give them different options to share their concerns and ideas. Offer the floor at department meetings, have regular one-on-one meetings, put up a suggestion box or anonymous e-mail account for submissions, invite executives to come in and listen, etc.
- Appreciate. People who aren’t recognized for their contributions may assume they’re not doing well. Leaders should take the time to thank employees for their everyday efforts that keep the operations running smoothly. In addition, extra effort should be recognized and rewarded.
- Be fair. Nothing hurts morale like unfair treatment. Leaders can’t turn their backs on poor performances, and they can’t play favorites. It’s best to document what’s done in response to good and bad behaviors so leaders can do the exact same thing when the situation arises again – and have a record of it.
- Provide opportunities to grow. Growth is often equated to moving up the career ladder. But it doesn’t have to be. Many employees are motivated by learning and creating a larger role for themselves. So if people can’t move up a career ladder (because there aren’t positions available), encourage them to learn more about the company, industry or business through in-house or outside training. Or give them opportunities to grow socially by allowing them time to volunteer.
- Create a friendly environment. Research shows people who have friends at work are more motivated and loyal to their employer. While this can’t be forced, opportunities to build friendships can be provided through potluck lunches, team-building activities and requesting staff to help in the recruiting process.
- Paint the picture. Employees who know their purpose have higher morale than those who are “just doing the job.” Regularly explain to employees how their roles fit into the company’s mission and how it affects the department and the company.
Recognizing good work
Handing out recognition takes a little more skill than saying “Good job” and giving a pat on the back.
Giving recognition well is a skill all leaders need to keep their employees encouraged and productive.
Here are five guidelines for recognizing good work:
- Make it a policy, not a perk. Set rules for different types of recognition. For instance, recognize people for tenure and meeting goals – things everyone can accomplish.
- Stay small. Handshakes and sincere appreciation are always welcome (especially since 65% of employees say they haven’t been recognized in the past year, according to a Gallup Poll). Leaders need to look their employees in the eye, thank them for specific work and explain why it made a difference.
- Add some fanfare. Recognize people at meetings when others can congratulate them.
- Include the team. In addition to praising individuals, recognize a whole group for coming through during an unexpected hard time, meeting a goal, working together, etc.
- Make it personal. When recognizing employees, match the reward and praise to the person. One person may like a quiet thank-you and a gift card to a favorite store. Someone else might thrive on applause and a certificate given at a group lunch. Find out what people like and cater to them when possible.