Have you ever heard this lament or maybe even thought it yourself? “I can’t recognize my great team with raises because the money just isn’t there?”  All too often, team leaders just give up on motivation when they realize they don’t have the budget for it. What they’re missing is that what they say is true, “Money isn’t everything!” Here are some ideas that can make a big difference to your team by showing them you recognize – and value – their contributions.

  • Write a Note. An IT manager I know recently shared that during a particularly harrowing new software release, she pulled several all-nighters and even worked weekends, just to be sure the program would work properly. After the dust settled, she got a hand-written note from her boss thanking her for all she did and explaining how important her contribution was. She’s saving that note. Forever.
  • Give Out Free Trade Cards. We all know how disappointing it can be to have something come up that you really want to attend, only to hear that the schedule cannot be changed and you cannot have that shift off. With a Free Trade card in hand, your team member can turn it in to you and, even if you can’t cover the shift any other way, you’ll work it yourself. Time is our most valuable commodity. It’s cheap to give away and priceless to receive. (Plus, think of the benefit you might realize by working on the front lines again!)
  • Give Away Credit…Publicly! Coach Bear Bryant once said of his team, “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” If you’re lucky enough to be responsible for reporting achievements to your supervisors or to your governing board, be sure to include the names of team members who contributed to the success. Invite them to meetings to be recognized or attach picture to newsletter stories. Make sure it’s the team getting the recognition and the credit – and feeling your appreciation.
  • Take a Loooong Lunch. Watch almost any 1950’s sitcom and you’ll notice that people used to take really long lunches, sometimes even jazzing them up with tee martoonis, so the expression goes. Okay those days are gone and should be but that extra time in the middle of the day can mean a lot to a team member who has to get to the bank or meet with a lawyer or speak to a child’s teacher. Loooong Lunch coupons can provide a lifeline to the outside world for a full-time employee and can be fairly simple to cover.
  • Grant a Wish. Assigned once to a temporary acting branch manager position, I arrived at an extremely busy and challenging library to find an unhappy, exhausted, and unmotivated team. Seemed that, for a long time, they’d had nothing to lift their spirits, encourage them, or make them feel valued in any way. My first coffee break there gave me an idea why. Their staff room was horrendous! The furniture looked like what’s left after the garage sale is over and the condition of everything from the carpeting to the walls was early frat house. Did they wish they had a nicer place for their breaks, sure! But no one had asked them that or even considered the possibility. When a small group of team members returned from the local furniture store to show pictures of their purchases, there were too many smiles to count. And, when the (albeit limited) renovation was complete, it seemed to them as though a wish had been granted. Had there been money earmarked for this in the budget? No. Was there a way to work with higher ups to find the money? Yes. What might your team be wishing for right now?

Appreciation, recognition, and even a simple thank you can often mean more than money!


Catherine Hakala-Ausperk with the American Library Association, author of Build Great Teams

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