Using Reward and Affirmation to Influence

How do you know you are successfully leading and influencing others?

  • Your influence causes people in a group to work as one in order to achieve common goals.
  • Your influence inspires and motivates followers to become better.
  • Your influence instills a sense of followership in members of a group.
  • One key way to accomplish this is through appreciating others on the team through rewards and affirmation.

    Yet this is hugely lacking in today’s business culture. A recent Gallup Poll found that almost two out of three people receive no workplace recognition in a given year.

    This underscores a recent finding from the U.S. Department of Labor that the number one reason people leave their jobs is because they “don’t feel appreciated.”

    The Difference Between Reward and Recognition

    Reward and affirmation are not the same. Webster defines a reward as something given for a worthy behavior or performance. These are tangible and may be in the form of a raise, stock options, profit sharing, extra vacation time, travel packages and bonuses.

    Affirmation, on the other hand, is a favorable notice of an achievement done by an individual or group.

    Both are necessary to keep morale high. A team member who is continually told they are doing a great job but never sees a raise or other tangible reward will soon believe they are being treated unfairly. On the other hand, money alone is not enough of an internal motivation to keep someone in a culture that lacks gratitude and appreciation.

    The Eight Reasons Why People Do What They Do and Examples of Affirmations for Each

    Psychologist Bobb Biehl points to eight reasons why people do what they do. These are to feel:

  • Loved: to be unconditionally loved and received (ex. honest heart-felt authentic appreciation)
  • Significant: to make a difference and bring transformation whether or not you ever receive credit (ex. changing the health of a company)
  • Admired: to have others aspire to be like you in some regard (ex. to have team members who desire to be mentored by you)
  • Recognized: to be publicly applauded and recognized by name (ex. to be awarded at a banquet or meeting)
  • Appreciated: to be thanked verbally or in writing, privately is fine (ex. to be verbally told or given a handwritten note saying thank you)
  • Secure: to have some semblance of control and protection (ex. to have a stable position and paycheck)
  • Respected: to be asked for input because you are perceived as valuable and wise (ex. asked to be on a committee or board)
  • Accepted: to belong socially to the team or community (ex. invited and not left out on informal staff lunch outing)
  • Typically, someone has a dominant form of affirmation with some secondary forms present. Affirming the individual through multiple meaning channels can be a powerful esteem builder.

    Catch and Affirm Someone Doing It Right to Encourage Repeated Behavior

    When a great action, teamwork, or an attitude is appreciated, it provides positive reinforcement, thus strengthening the particular behavior. When the colleague or employee is recognized for her efforts, the team member will be much more likely to go the extra mile to meet her superior’s expectations.  Emotional buy-in is created when she feels that she will always be appreciated and rewarded. Thus, the likelihood of that team member and all team members doing their tasks well will increase.

    Rewarding and Affirming Lead to Increased Self-Esteem and Productivity

    Rewards and appreciation also boost the employee’s self-esteem. He feels that the company thinks of him as an asset to the organization. When team members feel that they have contributed to a positive outcome within the business, they will feel good about themselves and will enjoy their job more. A happy team member is more productive than someone who is disgruntled or apathetic.

    Individualization is Key

    In order for recognition to be meaningful, it must be tailored to the recipient’s preferences, not the giver’s preferences. If you as a leader prefer to receive affirmation from being recognized, don’t assume this is how all your team members prefer to receive affirmation. In fact, some people strongly dislike to be publicly awarded.

    You must take the time to know what motivates each team member.

    Here are affirmation-understanding questions Gallup suggests to ask:

  • What is the greatest recognition you have ever received?
  • What are your “hot buttons” — hobbies or interests you like to talk about?
  • What increases your positive emotion or “fills your bucket” the most?
  • From whom do you most like to receive recognition or praise?
  • What type of recognition, or praise do you like best? Do you like public, private, written, verbal, or other kinds of recognition?
  • What form of recognition motivates you the most? Do you like gift certificates, a title for winning a competition, a meaningful note or e-mail, or something else?
  • Give Specific Affirmation Tied to a Task

    A generic “good job” means little in terms of creating repeated behaviors. Telling a team member, “I really appreciate the extra time you spent on that report,” has much more meaning. Be sure to include why you appreciate them. “The extra time you spent providing details about projected income allowed me to get our budgeted expenses pushed through the committee.” Every report you get from that team member in the future will be apt to have extra effort put into its creation. When team members can tie their activity to how and why it helps the organization, morale rises.

    Give General Affirmation Tied to Their Character and Growing Leadership

    While a majority of affirmation should be tied to direct actions and accomplishments, it IS important to celebrate the whole person. Set aside time to have a conversation where you affirm team members in an individual way. Of course, sincerity is vital. We tend to know ourselves and can easily recognize when a leader is using false flattery.

    Here are some general affirmations:

  • Leadership comes naturally to you.
  • You have superior managerial skills.
  • You take charge easily no matter what the situation.
  • People often look to you for advice.
  • You embrace responsibility.
  • You initiate projects without me asking.
  • You work diligently with minimal supervision.
  • You are honest and candid.
  • You bring a sense of peace when there is chaos.
  • You accept new challenges.
  • You have great interpersonal skills.
  • You make things happen.
  • You draw out the best in others.
  • You are an encourager.
  • What Can Happen When We Don’t Affirm

    The absence of giving rewards and affirmation to team members who have performed and behaved well in the company will have negative effects. Team members will begin to underperform. They will feel that there is no reason to exert extra effort in performing tasks. They will be more likely to take unwarranted breaks, mindlessly surf the web, arrive at work late or ignore rules. These negative effects may bleed over into colleagues. A team member may complain, spreading negative energy and pass blame to others. In the final act, a team member who feels unrewarded and under-affirmed will opt to leave the organization.

    Giving rewards and affirmation to worthy team members is an ongoing activity of a great leader. Great leaders create great team members, and rewarded and affirmed team members make a leader great.