October 20, 2023 • By Dennis Beaver

“Shirley,” from Atlanta, wrote: “Your recent articles about becoming CEO in a family-owned business and how not to treat your sales staff if elevated to a management position are especially relevant to our situation, and I could use some guidance.

“My father-in-law, ‘Big Al,’ was CEO and ran our ‘point of sale’ manufacturing and sales company here in the South, producing products that facilitate the sale of all sorts of things, such as in-store displays, eye-catching price tags, to fill-in-the-blanks advertising copy.

My husband, ‘Little Al,’ was in charge of the actual manufacturing end of things and had little contact with salespeople.

“After Big Al suffered a disabling stroke, our board elevated my husband to CEO, which has proven to be problematic.

“When it comes to emotional intelligence, Big Al is so warm, always showing appreciation for everyone here, especially our sales staff. My husband thinks that by just paying people appropriately, that’s all they need.

“We have lost two key people because, I believe, he just doesn’t get it or care that people need to be appreciated and their suggestions given serious consideration for the good of the company. We both read you on Kiplinger.com. How can I help him join the feeling human race?”

It’s about more than just being polite

I ran Shirley’s question by two friends of this column, Southern California-based HR consultants Marinor Ifurung and Tim Moreno at the law firm Klein, DeNatale, Goldner.

They were eager to offer practical insights and recommendations, and gave me permission to play the recording of our interview for the couple.

Tim: The consequences of underappreciation and the failure to maintain positive company cultures is why good people are lost. Employees want to work for and with management that is appreciative and expresses it in a variety of ways, “Thank you, for being part of our organization. We value you.”

This is far more than merely being polite — these qualities help to define the workplace as where you want to be.

Marinor: Employers need to realize that it is not just what you pay your people that matters, but there’s a profoundly human need most of us have for our work, our contribution, to be valued and appreciated. Both academic research and real-world experience reveal that without this validation, the effort and desire to do not just a good, but an exceptional job will decrease.

Employers want top talent and competent, reliable employees. A culture of recognition, validation and appreciation is essential to attract and retain these people — and it starts at the top. While there are some employees who do not need or care about that recognition, HR people across the country are finding that more and more do, and leave in its absence.

Tim: We’ve all heard the expression “happy wife, happy life,” and the same thing applies to employer/employee relations. I see a correlation — the happier the employee, the less litigious that employee will be. That is an issue of real significance that can’t be overstressed.

Pay is important, but we are finding that when employees are surveyed anonymously and asked, “What is it that makes you look forward to coming to work?” compensation does not rank high on the list. We’ve found that, for example, where a firm down the street pays slightly more, but where management has created an environment you want to go to every day, most employees comment that pay is secondary.

We hear, “When I come to work, I can do my job, feeling part of a team, having a goal to bring my very best to this terrific company.’

Tim’s and Marinor’s Recommendations

Tim: In a small organization, good morale depends in large part on transparency and an atmosphere of trust. Employees need to feel able to voice concerns — either directly or in an anonymous fashion — without worrying about their job security.

We have found that when employees are encouraged to find ways of just doing things better, it is like a giant shot of vitamin B12. Everyone has a sense of being valued, listened to and their recommendations and opinions respected.

An employer who has a long-term outlook recognizes, rewards and encourages exceptional performance — and, when possible, their recommendations are fast-tracked, proving that management is listening and paying attention.

Marinor: In concrete terms, people love birthday parties, company BBQs, outings to theme parks, gift certificates, and doughnut Fridays, good-quality snacks — and the list is endless.

In place of these nice, fancy things, the simple, one-on-one, “Thank you. I got your report. It looks great,” doesn’t cost a thing, but is often the best gift of all, making the employee feel wanted, needed and valued.

After Playing the Recording

“Al,” I said, “just try those suggestions and look for smiles in return. See how good you will feel. Go through the motions, and the emotions will follow.”