Employee recognition and all the benefits it offers to your people, workplace, and business is dependent on one thing.
Harvard Business Review got it in a nutshell when they wrote: ''While a good manager inspires their team and gains their loyalty, a bad manager evokes conflict and ultimately high turnover."
A UK poll of 2,000 employees conducted by Human Resources firm Investors in People concluded that 49% of employees say that they are thinking to leave their job because of poor management. Of all reasons given, this was the most popular for a potential move.
It's clear that managers have a huge impact on employees, which makes a good manager worth their weight in gold. But what exactly makes a 'good' (or great) manager? How do you recognise and reward them in a meaningful way? And who should be showing them the love – their staff, or their manager?
They lead from the front
A great manager doesn't ask you to do what they say. They ask you to do what they do. That's the mark of someone who truly understands that setting a positive example is the truest way of leading.
As most great leaders often wonder whether they're "getting it right", simply being looked in the eye, and told with sincerity that they're doing a wonderful job will give them a boost. Even better though, is if their manager acknowledges that the approach they're taking is visibly delivering great results from the team. Results that they value and the business are grateful for. Of equal value is a direct report saying they appreciate something specific about the manager's leadership style, and then telling them how it makes them feel (e.g. trusted, empowered, confident).
They put their hands up, and out
When it comes to decision making, a great manager isn't afraid to put their hand up and make choices which benefit the company and people alike – applying business acumen as well as personal and professional discretion. And when employees need help, extending a helping hand, or a listening ear, and a willingness to inspire, coach or mentor.
The danger of having a leader like this in the business is that it's easy to keep piling work, responsibility, and expectation on them. The best recognition senior leadership can give of this generous and professional trait, is to acknowledge their workload. And then actively and authentically arrange for them to have downtime - and not just a day off knowing they'll have twice as many emails to deal with when they get back! Employees should be encouraged to give managers feedback too, expressing gratitude for assisting with a difficult situation, or removing a barrier, and always saying how it made them feel.
They can be trusted
A great manager exhibits personal and professional integrity and takes responsibility for their own mistakes. They don't find dishonesty, unethical behaviour, poor attitudes, buck-passing, taking shortcuts, or claiming recognition for others' work and other undesirable traits acceptable in others or themselves.
When it comes to trust, one of the greatest rewards is reciprocity. Acting with integrity is intrinsically motivated, i.e. a behaviour motivated by a desire to feel self-satisfaction of some kind, rather than by an expectation of reward from others. By definition then, when Senior Leaders and Direct Reports act in ways that inspire the manager to trust them (i.e. with integrity, perform competently, and treat others fairly), there is no need for formal recognition. The circle will be complete. However, if a manager perceives a peer to be untrustworthy, all the wine, chocolates and sweet words in the world won't bring satisfaction, and could, in fact, disengage them.
They're born communicators
Honest and open communications are the hallmark of a great manager. Knowledge and advice are shared, not hoarded. Feedback is tempered with positive reinforcement to help employees improve, and motivate them to do better, not beat them down.
Delivering or sharing good news is easy, and a reward in its own right. Having courageous conversations and giving challenging feedback can be much harder, and is undoubtedly a more taxing undertaking for a manager. Hearing from someone senior that they recognise, appreciate, and are proud of how a difficult communication was managed can work wonders to soothe a manager's anxiety and make them feel appreciated. Even better is if the other person involved can provide feedback that, while uncomfortable, they respected the tone and attitude taken, and again, say how the manager's approach made them feel.
They're interested in you
A good manager understands that satisfied employees are at the heart of any successful business. And that showing genuine concern for, availability to, and interest in others - within professional limits - plays an essential role in making subordinates feel like valued members of their team.
In terms of recognition, this one's simple. For the manager's manager - be concerned, available and interested. Call to check in, and not have an ulterior motive (a work question or task to assign), and embrace a level of vulnerability that lets them know they're safe to be honest, flawed, and vulnerable in return. For the direct reports, be open and sincere, show respect for the relationship by honouring confidences, and being brave in bringing up concerns.
They recognise your contribution
A great manager says thank you to their team and the individuals in it. They openly praise you in front of your peers or reward everyone with team events like lunch out – or pizzas in. They know that recognition plays a crucial role in productivity - but are genuine in their appreciation and enthusiasm for your achievements. And paying it forward is a great way to recognise their recognition – publicly praise a team-mate, recommend a co-worker be rewarded, show gratitude for the generosity of others' time.
They are fair
Unfairness rankles employees more than just about anything else. A great manager treats all employees with fairness and doesn't take sides or decide the rights or wrongs of an issue without thoroughly investigating the circumstances. And when it comes to that plum appointment or desirable project, they lay personal preferences aside and make decisions based on capability and capacity, not preference.
Fairness is generally perception-based, but it is possible to set and communicate benchmarks that help individuals achieve alignment. Senior managers can support managers by setting standards and living up to them themselves, and then reward the manager with public recognition of their own contribution to fostering an equitable workplace culture. A manager will also always appreciate kudos from their team members, identifying a specific example or occasion, when they felt their manager treated a person or situation in a fair and unbiased way.
Show the love
Whether it's an apple or a bag of chocolate-marshmallow-strawberry popcorn treats left on their desk, a simple thank you, or a nomination – a great manager deserves your support and recognition as much as you deserve theirs.
Great managers make workplaces happier, more innovative, engaging, and welcoming. They're one of the reasons why fronting up to the office or your screen every day is worthwhile. And why you're more likely to stay put!