Submitted by Sue Knies 

You know how it is when a big project or program wraps up. There’s usually a celebration, lots of pats on the back, and recognition of all the players who took part. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment, almost like winning a gold medal at the Olympics.

But a gold medal only takes an employee so far.

Recognition, as it turns out, is one of those things that is better given in small doses. The effectiveness of small gestures done regularly over time for meaningful accomplishments creates an exponential effect on productivity, morale and workplace satisfaction.

If you are one of those project managers who thinks you’re doing a great job recognizing your people, don’t stop reading. According to research by Dr. Bob Nelson, author of the bestselling book “1001 Ways to Reward Employees”:

“over 80 percent of managers think they’re recognizing or praising their employees, whereas only 12 percent of employees say they’re receiving it.  Even worse—34 percent of employees say they definitely do not get any form of meaningful recognition.”


Dr. Nelson’s research further highlights the fact that things like annual parties and birthday celebrations (things managers think show employee appreciation) don’t come off that way to their employees because they aren’t tied to individual performance. And, contrary to popular belief, throwing money at people doesn’t really work either.  Says Nelson:

“The things that are most motivational, if you harness them well, tend to cost little or no money.”

So what exactly are those inexpensive little gems of employee motivation? Here are a few that I have experienced / seen first-hand:

  1. Treat them. After reaching an important milestone on a program I am running, my colleague and I went around the office dropping off Tootsie pops as a thank you. People really appreciated a little treat in the middle of the game. Similarly, one local PMI chapter member wanted to recognize his team members, but he didn’t have the authority to give them a bonus or a raise. Instead, he handed out Payday candy bars. A little creativity (and a little sugar) goes a long way.Stickers
  2. Show some love. Someone really close to me works in a doctor’s office. Just for fun, she began regularly peppering the office paperwork with smiley faces and reward stickers– the kind you get at the dollar store. Sometimes she adds a personal note (love that smile!). Her fun-loving recognition has changed the whole demeanor of the individuals she works with.
  3. Have some fun. In Dr. Nelson’s article, he mentions a CEO who threw out a challenge to his employees. If they reached a particular company goal, he’d wear high heels for the day. They did, and he did. Lighthearted fun + a challenge + a little humility on the part of upper management added up to a win-win for this organization. I wonder how our company’s CEO would look in high heels!

These are just a few ideas. There are plenty more out there. The bottom line is…we project managers are so driven these days by deliverables, we can lose sight of having fun and feeling good about the people we work with. Yes, your project plan is important, but at the end of the day, the people around you matter more.

Let them know it.

About the author

Sue Knies, PMP, CSSBB is the Director of Practice Management and Instructor with Solarity. Sue provides consulting services to organizations by managing key projects, and working with employees to improve and strengthen their project management skills. As an instructor, she develops and enhances courseware, teaches and mentors students in project management, and helps translate best practices and principles into approaches that are readily understood and utilized. Prior to joining Solarity, Sue had a long and distinguished career with IBM, working with worldwide, cross-divisional teams, collaborating with clients, and managing projects that yielded client solutions, drove growth and expanded wallet share. Sue currently serves on the PMI® KY Bluegrass Chapter Board as the VP of Programs and actively shares her skills by volunteering with her church on several committees.

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