Promoting a Value-Added Culture

In previous knowledge base articles we have examined strategies for recruiting and evaluating top talent, managing performance, and developing employees. We now shift our focus to exploring ways of rewarding and reinforcing high-performance, using focused motivation tools to drive innovation and productivity, and building a strategy to create an engaged and empowered workforce.

Reinforcing Value-Added Behavior

A disconnect exists between the reasons why employees chose to leave a company and the reasons management believes an employee chooses to leave a company:

Employee perspective Management perspective
Lack of trust in senior leaders Insufficient pay
Insufficient pay Unexpected job/career opportunity
Unhealthy/ undesirable culture Decision to change careers
Lack of honesty, integrity, ethics Lack of work-life balance
Lack of opportunity for training and development Lack of opportunity for training and development


If we put aside the consensus reasons of insufficient pay and lack of training and development, we are left with a relatively clear picture of the difference in views of employees and management. Employees choose to leave because of internal issues – lack of trust in management, lack of culture, lack of honesty or integrity. Managers believe that employees choose to leave because of external issues – other opportunities, decision to change career, not enough time outside of the office. It is evident that in order for managers and senior leaders to effectively retain employees, they must alter their understanding of why employees leave in the first place, and further, why employees choose to stay.

Each employee has a set of unique reasons for choosing to stay or leave an organization. One commonality among them is that their decision is often predicated on an evaluation of what people derive from the work they do. Whether it’s purely a financial reward, a sense of community or an opportunity to learn, we all derive value from the work we do. When employees feel satisfied, they choose to stay, when they feel unsatisfied, they choose to leave.  One retention technique that has been proven to increase employee satisfaction and thus decrease their likelihood to leave is the use of appreciation to reinforce value-added behavior. In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, concluded that “there may be nothing more precious that the feeling that we truly matter – that we contribute unique value to the whole, and that we’re recognized for it” (Schwartz, 2012).

Although appreciation seems to be something that most managers feel they provide on a regular basis, the fact is that we have become too accustomed to expressing negative emotions to punish or reprimand rather than expressing positive emotions to reinforce. This can have profound effects on both worker performance and health. Employees who feel appreciated have been found to have lower levels of stress and decreased rates of coronary disease. High-performing teams are much more likely to express positive feedback than their low-performing peers.

In his article, Schwartz outlines 4 steps that managers can undertake to build appreciation into their teams:

  1. As the Hippocratic oath prescribes to physicians, “Above all else, do not harm.”
  • The impact of negative emotions, particularly creating the feeling of being devalued can be incredibly harmful to morale
  1. Practice appreciation by starting with yourself.
  • You will not be able to openly appreciate the efforts of others if you can not appreciate the efforts you make on a day-to-day basis
  1. Make it a priority to notice what others are doing right.
  • Constantly evaluate the behaviors of your workers that you take for granted – make a concerted effort to notice these immediately after they have occurred
  1. Be appreciative.
  • Make sure it is personal, genuine and try to be as specific as possible about the particular value that you are appreciative of

Effective positive feedback can be a crucial tool of reinforcement that builds trust, shows integrity and creates a culture of appreciation. This can often be the difference between an employee choosing to stay and choosing to leave.

Using Motivation as a Tool to Engage Employees

As the business community comes to terms with fundamental shifts in the way we must select, engage and reward employees, new theories are emerging which could have profound effects on employee performance.  Many of these concepts may seem new to the business world, but are in fact built on years of statistical evidence in fields such as marketing, psychology, philosophy and sociology.  One powerful example is the extension of “motivational fit” tools, as developed for the marketing of products or services, to the workplace environment.

Effective marketing relies on delivering the right product at the right place at the right time to the right customer.  In order to do this, companies must seek to provide more of the good things or experiences that customers value and avoid the bad ones.  How do companies measure what is deemed good and bad? Is it different for each customer? How do they tailor their message to maximize the good?

Employees, just like customers, evaluate products, services or processes based on two fundamentally different applications of the notion of “good”.  Some employees see their work as an opportunity for gain or advancement.  They are most interested in the aspects of their work that will provide future benefit, be it in terms of promotions or salary increases, more vacation time, greater benefits, or more responsibilities.  These employees are driven by what the psychological community calls promotion motivation. Other employees seek to avoid losses and promote security – they are driven by prevention motivation.  These employees want to avoid losing what they feel they have already earned and tend to be motivated most by criticism and the possibility of failure (Halverson, 2012).

Promotion Motivation Prevention Motivation
Value Opportunities for gain/advancement Opportunity to avoid loss
Focus Benefits and rewards stemming from their efforts Worry about the negative implications of poor performance
Motivation Optimism and praise Criticism
Behaviors Embrace risk, excel at creativity and innovation Risk-averse; thorough, accurate, detail oriented

In order to promote and achieve employee engagement, managers must be able to achieve a motivational fit with their employees.  Just as companies strive to achieve a fit with prospective clients to promote trust, managers must understand the motivations of their workforce to promote engagement. Take for example a customer who is in the market for a new vehicle. Without knowing anything further how would you market your line of products? You may highlight specific features such as its sleek design and powerful engine, or focus on its fuel efficiency, or perhaps its safety record.  Companies understand that different customers value the “good” aspects of products in different ways (and are willing to pay more accordingly) – in order to be successful they must built products that have features that are complimentary to their customers’ values and market them to promote these.  Managers who understand this concept and extend it internally will be much more successful at engaging their employees and ensuring the adoption and promotion of products, services, processes, and systems.

The Future of Employee Engagement: The Empowered Employee

Having discussed the effects that consumer-marketing concepts can have on employee engagement, we shift our focus to the implementation of these concepts to promote the forthcoming high-performing worker – the empowered employee. Sine the evolution of social media, marketers have been promoting, and capitalizing on, the emerging dominance of the connected consumer.  These days almost every company in nearly every industry is growing their digital presence, hoping to establish more “touch-points” with their audience of consumers. They emphasize the empowerment of these consumers to spread information about products and services, effectively creating an altogether new marketing channel. Today, it’s about relationships, not transactions. But why is it that organizations have limited their focus to consumers? Should they not also be focusing their efforts on the rising power of their internal workforce?

The biggest challenge, and arguably the biggest opportunity, for businesses today is to learn to approach their employees the same way they approach their customers.  Historically, businesses have approached employees as costs and the predominant strategy, especially during slow economic times, has been to try to reduce that cost, and those associated with it, to the lowest possible level.  At some point, however, there is a limit to how much value can be squeezed out of the management of human capital costs. At some point, businesses must fundamentally change the way they view their employees and start to see them as value – the potential for increasing revenue, sales, efficiency and ultimately profit. Just as business have learned to tap into their consumer base to expand their market potential, they must learn to tap into their existing employee base to do the same.

By shifting the focus inward and strategizing ways to empower employees, businesses can achieve greater performance from their workforce.  The wealth of technology products, many of which are free or already owned by employees, allow workers to learn at a much faster pace than ever before.   Adopting an alternative approach to the way sales forces are managed to allow for more direct interaction with customers and suppliers through various social media channels can not only drive sales growth but also contributes to employee engagement by emphasizing the contributions of front-line staff.  By investing in products or technologies that allow workers to actively monitor their tasks and self-evaluate their performance, businesses can expect to see a reduction in error rates and the innovation of products and processes driven by those who actually contribute to their execution (Magee, 2007).  The key consideration when strategizing ways to promote employee empowerment is to always consider whether improvements will be measurable and whether they will matter to both the business and the worker.

Finding ways to empower employees may not seem like a very innovative concept. In fact, it has been used for quite some time by businesses in a wide array of industries. One of the most well known examples was the strategy employed by Toyota in the mid 1980s, whereby front-line assembly workers were given the opportunity to identify and correct problems and process inefficiencies themselves. The result was that these employees were not only much more successful at identifying these issues than past management had been, but they developed a passion for their work.  They became truly engaged in what they were doing and as a result performed at a very high level – the better they performed, the more passionate they became. Creating this passion is challenging, but the rewards are infinite.  By adopting the proper strategies to recognize the efforts of your workforce, understanding what motivates them and empowering them to take ownership of their tasks and responsibilities within the business, true human capital innovation can thrive.

Schwartz, T. (2012). “Why Appreciation Matters So Much.” Harvard Business Review Blog: (March 29, 2012).

Halvorson, H. G. (2012). “Use Motivational Fit to Market Products and Ideas.” Forbes Magazine: (March 29, 2012)

Magee, D. (2007). “How Toyota Became #1: Leadership Lessons from the World’s Greatest Car Company.” Portfolio