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Investing in Employees – Your Greatest Asset

By Daniel Bobinski

The scene was a hospital lab. A dozen medical technicians were at various machines, running tests that doctors had ordered for their patients. Ruth was at a microscope when Sean walked up to her carrying a yellow piece of paper. “Here you go, Ruth,” he said. “Somebody caught you at your best. Thanks for going the extra mile.”

It took Ruth only a second to realize what Sean was talking about. The lab had recently started a “Caught you at your best” program, allowing employees to thank or acknowledge other employees for doing exceptional work.

On the yellow paper was a handwritten note, thanking Ruth for staying after her normal shift and helping in the chemistry department on the day they were shorthanded, but overloaded with work.

Ruth put the note in her lab coat pocket and almost suppressed the warm smile that came across her face. “Someone noticed!” she thought to herself. It was a pleasant surprise.

“Caught you at your best” type programs are becoming more popular, and for good reason.

They provide specific detail about a praiseworthy behavior or attitude

They are awarded soon after the praiseworthy activity occurred

All employees are eligible to receive recognition

All employees are empowered to give recognition

In other words, it’s nice when a manager acknowledges you did something, but when coworkers notice and take time to write about their observations, it fosters esprit de corps – the spirit of a group that makes all members of the group want to succeed.

The hospital laboratory mentioned above started this program a few years ago, and employees love it. One attractive component is that the program costs almost nothing to operate. The lab has nearly 180 employees but running the program costs only about $30 per month. What’s the expense? Each “Caught you at your best” recipient also receives a candy bar in his or her mailbox.

How do you treat your employees?

Many companies proclaim their employees are their greatest asset. Unfortunately, the phrase has become somewhat cliché, similar to saying that employees are, “empowered.” My question is this:

“If companies say their employees are their greatest asset, do they treat employees as if they are the most valuable part of the company?”

After all, people care for and protect their most valuable assets. For example, if you were an art collector, your most celebrated asset might be a collection of paintings. Surely you would not haphazardly pile up your paintings in the garage or let them sit out in the rain.

If you were a stamp collector, you would make sure your most valuable stamps were stored and protected with extra care.

If you owned racehorses, you would ensure those celebrated and valuable assets were well-cared-for, too.

I’m not saying treat employees as if they can’t take care of themselves, I’m saying treat them well.

Amazingly, for all the talk some companies give about how their employees are their most viable assets, when we read articles and books about protecting business assets, we never see any mention of employees.

Workplace realities

Too often, senior managers believe that if employees are paid well enough they’ll be happy and productive. However, if they looked at workplace surveys, they would realize that is not true. In fact, it’s never been true. Year after year, survey after survey, “good pay” doesn’t even make the top five of what employees want.

As just one example, a recent survey published by monster.com identified five things people want in the workplace:

  • A sense of accomplishment
  • Positive reinforcement
  • Getting along with coworkers
  • A level of autonomy
  • Being part of something that makes you proud

If you look at the first three items on that list, you can see why employees like the “Caught you at your best” program. Coworkers are recognizing and reinforcing each other’s accomplishments in a positive way. Bam. This one program checks the boxes for the top three things people want in their workplace.

What else can be done to create commitment and esprit de corps? I strongly suggest making sure everyone knows the vision and mission of the team. Company T-shirts and other swag isn’t going to do it. People engage more when they know what they’re doing contributes to something bigger than themselves.

Sadly, a recent Achiever’s employee engagement survey found that only 61 percent of employees are even aware of their company’s mission statement. I was surprised the number was that high. In several recent training sessions I’ve done with medium-sized companies, well over 90 percent of those in attendance could not tell me their company’s mission statement.

Perhaps even more insightful, telling employees your mission statement isn’t enough. That same Achiever’s survey found that of the employees who knew their company’s mission statement, only 57 percent were motivated by it.

In closing, let me quote Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com and the world’s richest man. Bezos says,

“It helps to base your strategy on things that won’t change. When I’m talking with people outside the company, there’s a question that comes up very commonly: ‘What’s going to change in the next five to ten years?’ But I very rarely get asked, ‘What’s not going to change in the next five to ten years?’ ”

Building on Bezos’ remarks, lists of what people wanted in the workplace from 20 and 30 years ago are similar to what we see today. Although the specific words change, the concepts are the same. And “good pay” is never in the top five.

Bezos also says if we invest in things that won’t change, they’ll still be paying dividends 10 years from now. I happen to agree with the richest man in the world on this. Invest in your greatest assets – the people who do the work that makes your company operate, and 10 years from now you’ll still be receiving dividends from your investment. After all, our employees are most certainly our greatest asset.

Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. is a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. For more than 30 years he’s been working with teams and individuals (1:1 coaching) to help them achieve excellence. He was also teaching Emotional Intelligence since before it was a thing. Reach Daniel through his website, www.MyWorkplaceExcellence.com.

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