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Unleashed E66: Christopher Littlefield - Employee Appreciation Done Right

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When we think of employee appreciation, monetary rewards like bonuses or gift cards often spring to mind -  but does this really make people feel appreciated? With a little more awareness about what makes people feel genuinely valued, our appreciation efforts can make a bigger impact. 

Joining us with some practical, impactful advice is Christopher Littlefield, an expert in employee appreciation and the highly-regarded founder of Beyond Thank You. Christopher spent many years in the conflict resolution field and now helps organizations elevate their workplace culture through employee appreciation. His clients include Salesforce, Accenture, and even the United Nations. 

Actions You Can Take Right Now

  1. Continually build relationships through small, positive interactions. These simple interactions – like saying hello, asking someone to lunch, or complimenting someone on a recent project – help to maintain and build positive relationships. 

  2. Focus on recognition rather than rewards. Instead of going straight to rewards like vouchers and celebrations, focus on what will give that person the experience of being truly valued. 

  3. Rethink the Golden Rule. Instead of treating others how you would like to be treated, do the work to find out how they would like to be treated. Would that employee enjoy being recognized publicly? Or would they prefer a private email or note? 
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Episode Highlights and Excerpts

Recognition is both a helpful and necessary tool to use as a leader. Put simply, it is the process of making someone feel valued – whether an employee, friend or loved one. 

Try not to confuse recognition with rewards and awards. Recognition is the message, while rewards and awards are methods of expressing that message.  

  • Certain rewards do not adequately deliver the message of recognition. The classic example is receiving a gift (such as a voucher or office pizza night) instead of being recognized for your specific contribution. 
  • If the recognition element isn’t there, what good is the reward? Recognition only works if the recipient feels valued.  

Recognition is conflict prevention. It isn’t just a way to make others feel nice or to make yourself feel better by doing something nice. 

  • When employees don’t feel valued, any feedback is taken as an attack rather than a contribution. Conflict arises more easily and more frequently.  

  • That’s why recognition is conflict prevention – because if you make your employees feel valued, feedback is taken as a helpful contribution instead of a threat or attack.  

  • “If we don't take the time to get inside somebody else's world and to appreciate them for who they are and what they contribute every day, we're always going to be steeped in conflict.” 

If you’re not actively building on your relationships, they are probably breaking down. Relationships require continual intentional effort to maintain. Recognition is an effective way to build on your connections with employees. 

  • Our relationship status with others is largely influenced by the little actions we take each day. 
  • The whole goal of our actions is to give someone the experience of feeling valued by us. 

There are two kinds of recognition that go a long way in making someone feel valued: small, consistent interactions and pointed expressions of gratitude.  

  • Smaller interactions are those little things we do each day to signal that we value people – like saying hello, telling people to look after themselves, asking how you can help someone, smiling, and complimenting someone on their work. 
  • Pointed expressions directly to someone for their effort or contribution. For instance, you might thank someone for going above and beyond in a recent presentation. You might compliment someone on a creative idea they had and explain how it helped your team out. 

  • It’s also important to recognize when people are up against circumstances that are not ideal. For instance: “Thank you for working overtime this week. I know we are understaffed; I see how much extra work that has created for you. We are doing XYZ to resolve the issue, and I appreciate your efforts in the meantime.” 

Though most leaders understand that recognition is important, they hesitate to give it.  

  • If you put someone in the position of being recognized, it tends to trigger a knee-jerk emotional reaction of discomfort. 

  • In fact, 70% of people associate embarrassment or discomfort with the process of being recognized. 

  • Knowing it may make people uncomfortable, leaders often hold back in order to prevent discomfort on both sides.  

To overcome this barrier and make the experience beneficial for everyone involved, flip the ‘golden rule’ on its head. Treat others not how you would like to be treated but how they would like to be treated. 

  • Sometimes what you want isn’t necessarily what an employee would appreciate. For instance, some people don’t want to be recognized out loud or in front of others – so you could accommodate this by sending your appreciation in written form. 

  • The easiest way to navigate this is to simply ask people what they need. What makes you feel valued and appreciated? How would you like to be recognized? 

  • According to Deloitte, 85% of employees would appreciate a verbal or written thank-you in appreciation of their day-to-day efforts, while only 15% want gifts or celebrations. 
Keep in mind that consistently high-performing individuals are often neglected because they don’t cause any disturbances. It’s important to keep tabs on every employee and ensure you recognize all contributions – not just the unusual or unexpected contributions. 

People want to be recognized for what they went through to get to the result – not just the result itself. “I appreciate how hard you worked to polish that presentation” is going to be more effective than, “Wow, great presentation!”

“So many people think that recognition is all about having deep and meaningful conversations all the time. Many times, it's just joking with each other. It's sitting down and saying, “Hey, how are you doing?” It's taking that time to connect as human beings and making sure that people are having the kind of experience where they want to stick around.” 

Take Your Business to the Next Level

At Results we care about your success, we understand how overwhelming it can feel to run a business, and we’re here to help. Reach out to Nicole through our contact form for ways to unleash the potential of your business. 

Visit the Unleashed Podcast Library where you’ll find exclusive conversations with world-class thought leaders, authors, and leadership experts. 

Each episode of Unleashed is hosted by Results’ CEO Jeff Tetz who spends most of his day exploring what makes high performers tick and helping build a community of leaders who want to learn and grow together. Follow Jeff (Twitter; LinkedIn; Instagram) for more great leadership insights.

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Christopher Littlefield


Christopher Littlefield is an International and TEDx Speaker, an Expert in Employee Appreciation, Workplace Culture and the founder of Beyond Thank You. He has trained thousands of leaders, across six continents, on how to understand what their people want and need to be at their best. His clients include Accenture, Boston Medical, Lebanese Postal Service, MIT Sloan School of Management, Reserve Bank of Australia, Salesforce, the U.S. Army, the United Nations, and more.  His work has been featured in New York, Inc, Mindful, and British Psychologies Magazines, and profiled in Harvard Business Review. Chris is a regular contributor to Forbes and Harvard Business Review and the author of the bestselling book, 75+Team Building Activities for Remote Teams.

You can learn more at Christopher's website