Q: My company is facing a tough time financially, and my employees have been extremely devoted and hard-working through this difficult period. I would like to show my appreciation in some way but, obviously, cannot afford a fancy celebration or a costly bonus or reward. What advice can you offer?
A: The truth is that the amount of money you spend on a company celebration is not what determines its success. An office celebration can be as simple as pizza for lunch or doughnuts for an afternoon break. One objective of the celebration, of course, is to use it as an opportunity to reiterate your appreciation for all that your employees have done. There's an old saying everyone knows is true because we've all felt unappreciated at some time or other: "If people are not told overtly and clearly that they are appreciated, they will assume the opposite." A party, no matter how modest, is an easy, natural setting for expressing your gratitude for employees' hard work and loyalty.
The real key, however, to having a successful celebration that provides meaningful, long-lasting results is to use it as an opportunity for your employees to relive recent accomplishments at work and share them with the group. Your role in such a celebration is to facilitate the reliving. The objective is not for you to talk about what people have done; it's for you to help your employees talk about what they've done. Your job is to prompt people to talk about accomplishments that you value and those that they value. The more you talk, the less meaningful the event will be for the people in the audience. By the way, if you're having a meal, this discussion should precede the meal, not follow it as is usually done. If you do it before the meal, related conversation will continue through the mealtime.
During the celebration, people will share what others did that helped them personally or things that contributed to some result of the organization. This kind of verbal recognition of peers will improve working relationships, reinforce high performance and serve as a prompt to others not involved to contribute in similar ways in the future.
When the participation begins to wind down, you should end it with the presentation of some tangible item. The item should be chosen not for its monetary value, but for its ability to anchor a memory of an accomplishment. Anything will do, including items such as T-shirts, coffee mugs and caps. A clever or serious inscription will create the value. The tangible item should be presented simply as something to help employees remember what was accomplished and what they did to contribute to the achievement. Do not present it as a token gift. Although the item may be serviceable, the memory that links it to accomplishment and high performance is the key to making it valuable. Following this approach will go a long way in showing employees that you care, even in tough economic times.
Aubrey C. Daniels, Ph.D., founder and CEO of management consulting firm Aubrey Daniels & Associates (ADA), is an internationally recognized author, speaker and expert on management and human performance issues. For more about ADA's seminars and consulting services or to order Aubrey's book Bringing Out the Best in People: How To Apply The Astonishing Power of Positive Reinforcement, visit www.aubreydaniels.com, or contact Laura Lee Glass at (800) 223-6191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.