I’m not a big fan of competition. A lot of businesses use it to motivate their people to do better, but it also inevitably demoralises the ones who don’t make it to the top of the top. It’s a zero-sum game where nobody wins in the long run.
I’ve been exploring other ways to motivate people to achieve their fullest because our team has grown substantially, and is still growing. Many of those who’ve just joined SAP Concur are younger individuals with fresh perspectives on how to do things, and like me they’re not especially enthused about competing for accolades or achievements. They’d much rather work together and get the job done than be constantly looking over their shoulders!
I think we’ve done a good job encouraging our people in the past: we’ve always had an “all in this together” approach to work where we succeed as a team but also celebrate one another’s achievements. The next step for me has been to turn that relatively informal approach to motivation into something more concrete and consistent.
“You did good”
There are a lot of ways to formally recognise achievement. You can announce big wins to the entire organisation and make everyone’s contribution as visible as possible. You can also invest more in individuals who do well: sending them for further training and development to fully realise their talents and show them that you see their value. And, of course, you can provide financial incentives.
However, I think there’s one – criminally underrated – way to recognise individual contributions that resonates with everyone. It’s a simple email that says, “thank you”, and “you did good”. What really matters is who it comes from – ideally, the highest level of leadership in the organisation.
This is something that Nick, the head of SAP Concur in Asia Pacific, does all the time. He sends these emails on a regular, almost daily basis, based on what his top leaders like my boss Madanjit relay to him. I can say that this makes a huge difference to morale and motivation because I know what it feels like to receive these emails myself. It’s exciting to think that the big boss not only knows your name, and sees the effort you’ve been putting in, but took the effort in his busy day to thank you for what you’ve done. You realise that what you’re doing matters – and you’re encouraged to keep serving.
I believe this is something every business leader should do, every day. We should make it a point to find out who’s been doing praiseworthy work, or going beyond the call of duty – either first-hand, or by consistently asking other leaders to give that feedback when we can’t be physically present in their office. And we should take a few minutes, ideally at the start of the day, to write one or two of those emails appreciating the contributions of those around us. Not only does it make their day, it also puts us in the right frame of mind to lead.
These emails are probably as uncompetitive as you can get. They do not raise one person up at the expense of someone else. They also don’t put pressure on individuals like more public forms of recognition do. But at the same time, they demonstrate to people that their work and achievements are not only visible, but valued by those in charge of the business. I feel that as leaders, our job is to build businesses by building up people. Those few minutes saying, “you did good” may be the most important thing we ever do.