Valuing and Empowering People Pays Big Dividends

Meaningful Work and Recognition Pays Big Dividends

Numerous studies demonstrate that trust, high productivity and engagement are not only related, they’re interdependent. Often they come from simply giving people meaningful work and treating them well as they do it. That builds trust, particularly when people understand how their jobs relate to the organizational mission and vision and why their contributions are important.

Giving Meaningful Work

When leaders communicate this way, employees’ learn that their work is meaningful and important to organizational success. They see themselves as valued team members, and they usually produce at high levels. This is particularly true with successful coaches. They build trusting cultures to maximize productivity and encourage ownership for roles and outcomes. Of course, players must believe that the coach is competent and has their best interests in mind. They also want to know that their individual roles play an important part in overall team success.

During my brief career as a college basketball player, I was a role player. My role was to rebound and play defense. It wasn’t very glamorous, but the coach spent considerable time talking about the importance of my role to overall team success. And he showed interest in me as a person beyond my playing responsibilities. Coach helped me understand my role’s importance and he let me know I was a valued member of the team. As a result, I assumed ownership and worked hard to improve my performance. My coach also proved he trusted me, by often assigning me to guard our opponent’s best player. In turn, my trust grew because I knew the coach believed in me.

Effective leaders in organizations build trust and ownership in the same way. They clearly communicate to people the importance of their work and then they trust them as they do that work. This also means giving people the necessary resources, decision-making authority and appropriate recognition as they make contributions.

Acknowledging Contributions

What starts as a trusting relationship can fail when people take each other for granted. For example, high employee turnover rates can sometimes signal a lack of appropriate recognition. The same can be true in fundraising when we see low donor retention rates. Often it boils down to a failure to acknowledge contributions. Again, building trust requires not only giving people meaningful work, but also treating them well as they do it. Acknowledging contributions so people know they’re valued is part of that.

John Wooden was arguably the most successful college basketball coach ever. He guided UCLA to ten national championships in eleven years. When I interviewed Coach Wooden, he explained to me that he believed it was essential to acknowledge contributions of all players on his team, regardless of how small their role was. He illustrated this point by using an analogy with his players,

“I’d say, ‘We’re like a powerful automobile and this player…maybe Jabbar, is the powerful engine. You now, are only a wheel; and you over here are only a nut that holds that wheel on. Now which is most important? What good is that engine if we don’t have wheels? What if you don’t have the nuts holding that wheel on…You all have an important part…And I made a special effort to let those who aren’t playing know how much I appreciated them.”

Sometimes giving recognition means sharing the profits. In 2003 the San Antonio Shoe Company made national news when the owners recognized employees by announcing they each would receive a one-time bonus of $1,000 for every year of service. In their announcement, they thanked employees for their loyalty and dedication and for helping make the San Antonio Shoe Company a success. Similarly, during fundraising campaigns it is also crucial to acknowledge and appreciate donors by letting them know how their gifts have made an impact.

What we’ve really been talking about here is the “Golden Rule.” Try applying it, and you might be surprised at the response you receive.