Episode 088 — The Digital Broker Podcast

Appreciation: Inspiring Employees to Do Their Best Work


On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds celebrates appreciation. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • Why appreciation is essential to keeping a company together.
  • How to avoid showing appreciation in ways that can backfire.
  • How to design and implement a culture of appreciation that consistently motivates and inspires employees.

We have spent a lot of time talking about operational excellence: how do we enable employees to do the best possible job? But here’s the thing: employees do their best work when they want to. Competitive salaries help, but money only gets you so far. People want to know that the work they’re doing is being noticed, valued, and appreciated. If you never show appreciation, you’ll demotivate your employees, with catastrophic consequences. At best, employees who feel unappreciated don’t try as hard. At worst, they quit. Appreciation is, therefore, a strategic imperative for any agency that wants to remain competitive.

Ask most leaders if they favor a culture of appreciation and they’ll say yes, of course we do. But they don’t always back it up with action. Some agencies pay lip service to appreciation, but they don’t take the time to show it because they think it will mean taking time away from the company’s day-to-day, which will cost the company money. What they don’t realize is that the proper show of appreciation is fundamental to keeping the company together and making money.

Other agencies try to have it both ways. Determined to make some show of appreciation, but reluctant to part with any work hours, they’ll agree to throw together lavish company parties—on weekends. We don’t think we need to tell you why this is a bad idea, but here’s a reminder. Celebrating employees on their personal time inadvertently sends a bad message: yes, we care about you, but only if it doesn’t cost us anything.

What’s the worst that will happen if you close up shop for two hours to celebrate your employees? Take Popcorn Fridays, a staple at an agency Ryan used to work at. Every Friday, everybody would take a break, get together, and enjoy some popcorn made by the managers. Yes, it sounds like a goofy idea—even Ryan used to think so, in the beginning. But that was the point: everybody got to take a break and connect over something fun. Ryan had to eat his hat (and plenty of popcorn) because Popcorn Fridays worked. Those measly two hours of “lost productivity” returned plenty of value in renewed vigor, energy, and enthusiasm.

Popcorn Fridays are a cool idea, but every agency is responsible for figuring out what will resonate with its employees. If you aren’t sure what your employees will appreciate, try asking them. In fact, consider doing so even if you think you’re sure. Think of all the times in business when the company’s idea of value doesn’t correspond with the customers’ idea of value. The same can be the case with appreciation: our idea of what will make employees happy doesn’t correspond with what they know will make them happy. Try sending employees a simple survey: are you happy here? Do you feel appreciated? Why or why not? What do you wish were different?

Shows of appreciation don’t have to be complicated. A kind word or a brief visit can be enough to turn an employee’s attitude around. In the long term, however, implementing and sustaining a culture of appreciation is work, requiring patience and iteration, and you don’t always get the results you were expecting. But as long as you keep trying, employees will notice. These are the people whom you’re asking to work weekends and late hours on occasion. Let them know that you appreciate it, even when the crazy pace of work doesn’t allow for a proper demonstration of thanks. When employees can tell that you are glad they work for you, they feel better about working for you. When you give appreciation, you get appreciation.

How do you feel about employee appreciation? Do you have a strategy in place for celebrating your employees? How do you know it’s working? Think about these questions, and consider taking your responses to the Digital Broker LinkedIn group, where you can meet and talk to other insurance agents, brokers, and specialists who are passionate about operational excellence. Join us and let’s talk.

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