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Rewards and Motivation

Applause, Approval, Appreciation

Give people what they deserve

“I can live for two years on a good compliment.”  Mark Twain


Here’s a classic you’ve probably not heard in a while.  Remember when talking about positive and negative reinforcement, the phrases “Warm Fuzzies”  and “Cold Pricklies” were used to create strong mental pictures of what the application of these two types of reinforcement would feel like?  As I talk with organizational leadership about motivation, employee retention, and workplace satisfaction, I find that these concepts are as critical as ever.  I would, therefore, like to revisit them and invite you to do the same.


This month, I will put the spotlight on the delivery of the “Warm Fuzzies” since these are my preferred form of reinforcement.  Holding the negative option in reserve, however is also important for behavior modification. Stay tuned, because next month I will give you some pointers on how to deliver a “Cold Prickly” without destroying personal and professional relationships.


To get you in the proper mind set, imagine doing something at your workplace that is beyond the stated duties of your job or done so superbly that you know your performance stands out.  What do you anticipate in return? Of course.  You want your “Warm Fuzzy”.  (For some of you it may only be a hope, a dream or an unrequited expectation.  In this case, clip this column and leave it on your boss’s desk.)




People who do well, put forth extra effort, possess unique talent, and/or add to the value of the organizational output, fully expect and deserve recognition, appreciation, and respect.  This reinforces exceptional behavior and increases personal satisfaction.  There is no doubt that the absence of acknowledgment and affirmation reduces enthusiasm, motivation, and organizational commitment. 



 1. “Fuzzies” must be earned.  People don’t value indiscriminate praise and random affirmation.  Just giving out mass quantities of appreciation to everyone, regardless of performance, diminishes the impact of the positive reinforcement and erodes its worth.


2. For  maximum impact attach the “Fuzzies” to specific behaviors. The Law of Effect states that people will repeat those behaviors that are reinforced favorably and will discontinue those behaviors that yield either no results or a negative response. 


When someone receives favorable comments on a specific behavior, they are likely to repeat it. It makes sense, therefore, to be sure they are aware of the conduct that earned them the extra attention. "Thank you for all that you do, continue to do your best", is not nearly as effective as "You really handled that telephone call beautifully, Beth. Mr. Johnson can be a particularly trying client and you dealt with him in an assertive, yet tactful manner.  Well done."


3. Reward performance, not effort.  You want to stimulate effort through encouragement and support, but a high level of effort does not guarantee results.  When a person is experienced, well trained and ideally suited for the task, effort is usually followed by the desired outcome, but these circumstances are the ideal and may not always be the case.  For example, if a person is new, they may not be fully productive even when they are doing their best. Encourage the effort.  Praise the performance.


4. “Fuzzies” should be given as immediately and frequently as possible. Events like yearly bonuses and Employee Appreciation picnics are valuable but they are too distant and too infrequent.  "Warm Fuzzies", on the other hand, are spontaneous, small rewards and genuine applause people receive during their day that give them a lift and keep them interested and energetic.  They should not be given so frequently that they lose their value, but often enough so an individual’s positive behavior won't languish and fade for want of attention.


5. “Fuzzies” must be sincerely given. Recipients of praise and appreciation find little to value in empty gestures and gushing, phony words. People tell me of managers who attend a seminar on leadership, then grudgingly put aside their autocratic tendencies to grind out a few words of insincere praise because someone told them it’s the way to motivate people in the new workplace. This kind of behavior is more damaging than directive. People don’t like to feel manipulated by the artificial delivery of positive reinforcements. Compliments should be heartfelt and honest. 


6. Be explicit.  Don’t assume people know you appreciate them.  When people are taken for granted their disappointment can lead to frustration and that can result in lower morale, reduced motivation and higher turnover.  No one can read your mind.  Say the words. 



“Celebrate what you want to see more of!”  Find someone today that has exceeded your expectations, performed consistently at a high level, or gone beyond the strict definition of their job.  Give them the recognition and appreciation they have earned.