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Using High Fives To Motivate Employees

Courtney Bigony
Courtney Bigony

High Five Benefits to The Appreciator 

– Increase positive emotions
– Improve psychological and physical health 

High Five Benefits to The Appreciated 

– Feel valued and cared for, which inspires further helpful behavior
– Strengthens relationships between employees; especially helpful when used across teams

High Five Benefits to The Bottom Line

– Increase motivation
– Increase productivity
– Increase engagement
– Increase retention 
– Increase customer satisfaction scores

Employee recognition is not a nice-to-have, it’s possibly the lowest cost/highest impact practice that benefits your entire organization. Science shows that high performing organizations sound different than low performing organizations and are far more supportive and complementary. In other words, it pays to have a positive feedback strategy. According to Gallup, individuals who receive recognition and praise are more productive, more engaged, more likely to stay with their organization, and receive higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers. 

Recognition also increases the likelihood for collaboration and support between employees. Adam Grant, organizational psychologist, Wharton professor, and bestselling author, famously talks about the big benefits of a little thanks. Grant explains that if someone thanks you for your help, you’re twice as likely to help them again in the future, and more than twice as likely to help someone else. Unfortunately, according to Gallup, only one in three employees strongly agree they’ve received recognition in the past week and those who don’t feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year. Below, we’ll show how recognition fits into your larger employee motivation strategy and then we’ll dive into the positive psychology research backing the most popular feature in the 15Five system: High Fives. 

How Recognition Fits Into Your Larger Employee Motivation Strategy

We can’t talk about recognition without talking about rewards, and we can’t talk about rewards without talking about motivation. According to Dan Pink, New York Times bestselling author, the truth about what motivates us is surprising. Traditionally money was thought to be the best way to motivate. And even today, leaders try to motivate through financial incentives and external rewards such as pay for performance plans and bonuses. Pink calls this motivating via ‘carrots and sticks’. However, contrary to what many think, science shows that carrots and sticks actually decrease motivation and can lead to poorer performance. 

Instead, building on the research from professors Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, Pink shows that we can increase employee engagement and performance via internal motivators such as autonomy (our desire to be self directed), mastery (our urge to get better at stuff), relatedness (feeling a sense of belonging and connection to others) and purpose (making a contribution or putting a useful ding in the universe). 

Don’t ask how we can motivate people. That’s the wrong question. Ask how we can provide the conditions within which people can motivate themselves.

— Edward Deci, TEDxFlourCity 

With a better understanding of what motivates, we have a basis for being strategic about rewarding employees. According to Pink, money should only be used as a motivator by paying people enough to take the issue of compensation off the table. 

If you don’t pay people enough, they won’t be motivated. Leading management thinker and author, Alan Colquitt says that to reduce the carrots and sticks mentality we need to replace traditional pay for performance programs and bonus plans with strong base pay at or above market rate and other organization and team-based incentives like stock option plans. 

Offering employee recognition through High Fives will be most impactful for employees who are paid fairly and have the autonomy to do challenging work that makes an impact. In fact, 84% of millennials view making a positive difference in the world as more important than professional recognition. So first ensure fair pay and then motivate through the work itself. Let’s dig into the science of high impact recognition that truly motivates.

The Power of High Fives

We underestimate the power of recognition. Research shows recipients of thank you notes are more touched that we expect! With High Fives employees can appreciate others for their contributions, both big and small. High Fives can be sent at any time in the High Five Feed and through Slack. We’ve also included High Fives in the Weekly Check-in to remind team members to recognize others at least once a week. Including a nudge in the Check-in helps team members see employee recognition as an ongoing practice– part of their reflection on the work-week. To make recognition as positive and high impact as possible, we infused research from positive psychology into every part of the High Five feature. 

The Magic Positivity Ratio. Science shows that high performing organizations are far more supportive and complementary than low performing organizations. Positive communication is characterized by supportive, encouraging words and appreciation like High Fives! In low performing organizations, there are three times as many negative comments as positive ones. The High Five feature allows both managers and team members to recognize each other frequently for wins both big and small.

Don’t Follow The Golden Rule. The High Five feature makes giving praise incredibly efficient, but just because recognition is given efficiently, that doesn’t mean it’s effective. Someone can receive 100 High Fives, but did they resonate? Were they impactful? Research from Harvard professor Francesca Gino and Stanford professor Frank Flynn shows effective recognition isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach and needs to be customized to the preferences of the receiver. Most people fall in the trap of recognizing others the way they themselves like to be recognized. If you like to be recognized publicly, you’ll most likely recognize others publicly as well. 

So when it comes to recognizing others, don’t follow the golden rule. For the biggest impact, recognize your team members the way they like to be recognized, not the way you like to be recognized. Gallup’s data reveals that the most effective recognition is honest, authentic, and highly individualized. After you’ve written an amazing High Five in your Weekly Check-in, you’ll have the option to send it privately or publicly. The public or private option allows those giving a High Five to customize their recognition to the receiver’s preference.

Magnify Good News. Positive psychologist Shelly Gable found that strong relationships are characterized by the way people hear about and respond to good news and feedback. According to science, there are four possible ways to respond to positive news, but only one, the Active Constructive Response, builds better relationships. Let’s look at an example. Imagine if a team member just received a High Five that a manager reads. The manager has the option to engage and can say:

  • Option 1: [Passive Constructive Response]: “Nice Job! Or “That’s Awesome!”
  • Option 2: [Active Constructive Response]: “Let’s share this with the team.” or “Tell me more.”

Option two is the most effective at strengthening relationships because it magnifies the good news. The comment feature nudges people to ask follow up questions and @mention (loop in) others into the conversation. We included the ability to ‘heart’ and comment on every High Five to magnify good news and nudge people to give more Active Constructive Responses.

It’s Healthy To Count Your Blessings. High Fives don’t just benefit the receiver of the High Five, they benefit the giver too! Sending a High Five is a way to express gratitude and research shows that people who express gratitude experience more positive emotions and well-being. In other words, it’s healthy to count your blessings.

The Future Of Recognition Is All About End User Impact 

The future of recognition extends beyond the company to the customer, and highlights how an employee’s work benefits other people. Employees are often distanced from information about how their efforts make a difference and impact others. We created a feature called External High Fives to help people spread gratitude far and wide. To send a High Five to someone outside of your organization, all you need is their email address. Now, everyone who uses 15Five can share stories and gratitude about the impact someone had on them both inside and outside of their organization. 

Wharton professor, Adam Grant, provides evidence-based strategies to help employees connect to their own impact and experience more meaning at work. For example, employees can reflect and journal about their contributions, or how their work makes a difference and benefits others. Grant and Dutton’s research shows that people who reflect on how their work benefits others contribute more time to their work and are more helpful. We sprinkle this contribution reflection magic into our Best-Self Review, specifically in our recommended question template which encourages employees to envision how their goals will impact and benefit other people. 

Recognition is a positive feedback strategy and multifaceted approach to motivation that benefits all people involved. A little thanks can have a big impact both on organizational metrics including productivity, engagement, and retention as well as promote employee health and wellbeing. The most effective recognition is frequent, customized, and connects employees to the impact of their work. High Fives help organizations experience the ultimate win-win — to be both high performing and also bring out the best in their people. 

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