1,501 Ways to bring out the best in People

by Charles Waldo

Quick! How true are each of these quotes?

A soldier will fight long and hard, even die, for a small piece of metal tied to a bit of colored ribbon.   (French Emperor and General Napoleon Bonaparte)

Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from their neck saying,  “Make me feel important…I crave recognition and praise.”.   (Cosmetic empire founder Mary Kay Ash)

The highest compliments leaders can receive are those given by the people who work for them.   (James L. Barksdale, former Netscape CEO)

Survey after survey show that as many as 50% of good employees who voluntarily quit their jobs or are actively searching cite a lack of appreciation of their work and efforts, especially by their boss,  as their primary reason.  (Various studies) 

Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel.   If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish.  (Walmart founder Sam Walton)


So, how do you feel about each of the above quotes?   True or false or somewhere in between? Some folks seem embarrassed almost to tears if they get singled out for deserved praise. But underneath the blush, what do you think they are really feeling? Doesn’t everyone want to be recognized and rewarded for significant accomplishments? The “mere” act of recognizing and praising a person or team for a job well done is a good start to getting more of the same. But putting a little thought and imagination into the “thank you” event will likely make it much more meaningful and memorable to the recipient(s) and giver. As with most parts of life, there are any number of books, websites, and other sources of proven ideas. If you want to have a lot of options—say, 1,501 -- take a look at this paperback gem: Dr. Bob Nelson’s 1,501 Ways To Reward Employees, about $13 from drbobnelson.com or Amazon. Dr. Nelson is known by some as the “guru of thank-you's” and has written and published at least twenty related, easy- to-read, practical, and full-of-examples books on motivation. See his website for the full list. 

A few starters

There is not enough room here to describe all 1,501 methods of praising and recognition Dr. Nelson describes in this little book. So let’s look at just a few basic principles that undergird the concepts of Motivation, Great Performances, and Rewards. With a few minor alterations they are equally useable at home, church, civic organizations, etc.

  1. All the pats on the back, notes of appreciation, gift cards, etc. will NOT substitute for an inadequate, non-competitive compensation and fringe benefit package. Employees can’t feed their kids on praise. Ditto for dirty, unsafe, outmoded working conditions. Or not enough personnel for the work to be done which causes everyone to have to work harder and longer than they feel is reasonable. Or the perception that employees must go elsewhere if they want promotions. Or frequent, disruptive layoffs. In other words, “thank-you’s” are the icing on the cake, not the cake.

          So, assuming strong, fair human resource policies and practices are in place:

  1. As author and educator Dr. Ken Blanchard has suggested over and over, always be trying to “catch people doing the right things and doing them right.” More people so spotted are always better than fewer.
  2. Give recognition as soon as possible after the good performance takes place. Immediate is usually best. Praise loses its effectiveness with the passing of time.
  3. Be SINCERE with your praise. Let the person know what her performance means to the department and you. Praise given without sincerity is worse than no praise at all. And people know the difference.
  4. Be specific. Tell the person(s) exactly what they did that you liked. That will usually encourage them to do more of the same.
  5. Do not heap praise on a full team if, in truth, only one or a few individuals did all or most of the heavy lifting. Give credit where it’s due.
  6. Adjust the style and method of recognition to the receiver’s psyche. Some folks like public praise while others will not offer up good suggestions if they think the recognition spotlight will be on them. For these shy folks an informal, private thank-you or note is usually more appropriate. And you might encourage them get into a local Toastmasters Club to help them get over their shyness.   
  1. Make rewards proportional to the achievements. At a former consulting client of mine employees got a $2 bill from their boss on the spot if they suggested even the hint of a improvement. The motivational power of a $2 bill plus recognition is surprisingly strong to keep ideas coming. At the other end of the rewards size spectrum, at least one Japanese car maker I know of regularly hands over the keys to a new car to line workers who have been especially productive coming up with useable improvement suggestions. Better to be more generous than stingy.
  2. Team leaders and supervisors are also human – with tough jobs. They, too, love (and deserve) recognition and appreciation. So their bosses, usually middle managers, should keep their eyes open for accomplishments by the supervisor’s team(s). The better their people do, the better the supervisor does.
  1. Encourage a “culture of appreciation.” Encourage employees at every level to spread the word about good deeds fellow employees, including executives, have done. Praise from fellow employees is powerful stuff.

         The most extraordinary example of “subordinates” showing appreciation for their boss I’ve heard of was when Southwest

Airlines employees honored their long-time CEO, Herb Kellerer, upon his retirement after 30+ years of service. On his last official day a small group of employees grabbed him out of his Dallas office and hustled him out to a company hangar at the nearby airport where all the local SWA employees were gathered.  After a short appreciation talk by a long-time front-liner, the hangar doors were opened, and a brand-new, shiny Boeing 737, with Herb’s name painted on it, was rolled out amid wild cheers and many tears. The plane was totally paid for by voluntary contributions from employees and friends.   

        This was one of the very rare times Herb Kellerer was at a loss for words….and let tears substitute.

  1. Finally, don’t forget that all organizations depend on “customers” (or supporters, clients, etc.) and suppliers for their survival and growth. Find ways to thank them, too.

What’s worked for you?   Will you share with other HCBM readers?

For the next issue of the HCBM we’d like to hear from readers just like you (especially YOU) about a motivational tool or method you have successfully used. If you will share, please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. a short (50 words or less) story of the situation or setting, who was involved, what you did, and the results. Include your name, organization, job title, location, and phone # so I can follow-up if need be.

There are bound to be some neat stories out there. The first five submitters will receive a copy of Dr. Bob Nelson’s book, complements of HCBM publisher Mike Corbett. Don’t wait. What’s being done right?

Charles Waldo, Ph.D., is Professor of Marketing (ret.) at Anderson University’s Falls School of Business.   He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..