I was down at the local supermarket today morning. As usual I was loitering in the candy and cookies section (a section that is supposedly off-limits for me) when a little girl ran into me and nearly knocked me over. She was so focused on some candies on a shelf way beyond her reach that she just didn’t see me standing there. A couple of hops and a full body stretch but she still couldn’t reach them.  I decided to help her and handed her a few. She gave the collection in my palm a very detailed check and nodded her head. She wanted the one with a bright yellow wrapper. And as soon I handed it over, she was off like a rocket. I shrugged and turned to get on with my grocery shopping. Seconds later she was back, a little out of breath. “Mommy says I have to say Thank you. Thank Youuu!”  A big impish smile and she was off again.

Be sure the next time I meet that girl in the store; I will sort through the entire rack to pick out as many yellow wrapper candies she wants me to.  The payoff: An impish smile and a thank you.

On my way back, I started thinking about all the stuff mothers teach kids. A whole lot of it sounds like best practices in employee engagement strategies. Here’s a quick refresher of stuff your mom already taught you (but then you forgot as you grew up in the big bad world)

Always say thank-you: Mothers are very particular about this. As a kid, every single time you miss out on saying a thank-you they will point it out. You might be shy, trying to hide behind her, a bit afraid of the strange lady who just handed you a cookie – but your mother will have none of it. You are cajoled out and you mutter a quick barely audible “Thank You”. Warm smiles and a hug follow.

The wisdom of saying a quick thank-you holds in the workplace, just as it did decades ago when you were grabbing chocolate cookies. A quick and sincere note of appreciation is an effortless and sure-fire way to win over your colleagues and team-members.  Your thank-you note with a smiley will stand-out among the usual escalations and “Urgent” mails cluttering a colleague’s inbox.  Guess what will happen the next time you ask her for help? Build a culture of sincere appreciation in the workplace and see the positive impact it has on workforce motivation.

People would any day prefer to work in a place where they know they are wanted and appreciated rather than one where the only time the manager notices them is when they make mistakes or when he has something that needs to be done.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Play nice:  Mothers are quick to point out that you can’t have a run of the place. Toys, story-books, chocolates, cookies are meant to be shared and they make sure that you do it.  She might be talking to her friend, but she has an eye on you to make sure you aren’t grabbing toys away from other kids. A sweet but polite reprimand is certain if you do try.

Office culture has a significant impact on employee motivation.  People want to work in organizations where the playing field is level, where managers don’t play favourites, and you know you will have access to resources and organizational support to get the work done.

Say you are sorry and mean it: You make a mistake and mothers expect you to say sorry – sincerely.  Trying to say that it was the dog that knocked over the glass of chocolate milk on the couch doesn’t quite make the cut. You will be stared at till you accept your mistake. And when you do so sincerely, you are forgiven immediately. Besides mothers know when you mean it and when you don’t.

Saying sorry to your colleagues doesn’t mean you show up as incompetent. If you made a mistake, accept it sincerely and work with your colleagues on how to fix the problem. Managers and leaders who have the confidence to accept their mistakes are held in much higher esteem than the ones who try to gloss it over or worse pass the blame on their teams.

No veggies, No ice-cream: Mothers are quick to establish the effort-reward equation at home. You are not getting your dessert if all the vegetables on the plate are not finished. And there is no ambiguity about the rules.

A major reason for dissatisfaction at the workplace is the perceived unfairness in rewards – especially yearend bonuses. Make the criterion public and make it clear. Management discretion is rarely seen as a good thing.

You are my Da Vinci!: You come home from playschool with a painting you did that day. A childish scrawl with crayon – A purple mother, a maroon father, a green you, a pink car on the side. Your mother goes ga-ga over it. It goes up on the refrigerator and everybody who comes home that day is told about it. You feel over the moon – a veritable maestro! Your next masterpiece is going to be so much better.

Think beyond the established norms for appraisals and compensation. Recognition for good work done should not come at the end of a year and get lumped into one bonus where the recipient is not sure what all it was for. Instantaneous recognition drives motivation far higher than an annual compensation hike can.

Dream big: You sit in back seat as your mom drives you to the store. “Momma one day I am going to make the fastest car that will go to the moon and I will drive you there”. Pat comes the reply with a big broad smile “Of course you will sweetie!”

Innovations are just one step away from sounding like crazy ideas. (Sometimes they do sound crazy) The easiest way to kill innovation in your organization is to browbeat your employees into “doing what they are told”. Yes, things need to be done according to an established process to make sure that products ship on time, but that doesn’t mean you don’t let people think beyond what you already know. Some of the best technological innovations have come about when people get to collaborate and experiment with “crazy” ideas.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have your back, all the way: You want to get on the slide. With trepidation you scramble after the other kids to the top and suddenly it looks pretty scary. You have doubts. And then you see your mom standing at the bottom of the slide waiting for you and even as a five year old you know that she won’t let you get hurt. Down you go, with a scream of joy. Wheee!

As a leader you have to give your team the confidence that you will back them up. People stay motivated and give their best when they know that they will not be penalized for trying to do the right thing. Mistakes happen. What differentiates organizations that have an engaged workforce, is the reaction people get when mistakes are made. If every stumble is blown-out into a massive escalation with the world in the CC list, you can be sure you will end up with a team that’s too afraid to innovate.

Good leaders build an organization on a culture of respect and trust – where people know that they will be given the opportunity to spread their wings. Organizations where they can come to office to do fantastic work that makes them happy, with people who make them smile and managers who give them the confidence to go “Wheeeee!”


All three images on this page are courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Employee engagement strategies you learnt on your mother’s knee was posted earlier on the kwench blog way back in September 2013. 

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