by Paul Casey

How to Make Your Team Happier

Happy employees make for happy customers—and that leads to higher profits. As a leader, you can use your position to create a motivating environment and keep your team pumped up. Unfortunately, many leaders are “too busy” putting out fires to notice the great things their people are up to—and those same people are craving affirmation for the work they are doing day-in and day-out in your business. They are on the front lines, getting their hands dirty, representing you to the community and deserve acknowledgement for how they are regularly handling what comes at them.

In the book the Nature of Leadership, the author John Antonakis shares how leaders need both a Reptilian side and a Mammalian side of their leadership. The reptilian side is all about the hard skills of financial management, standard operating procedures (SOPs), beating the competition, security issues, and confronting bad behaviors in staff. But even if you are fantastic at those survival skills, you lead human beings, and they need recognition and inspiration and attention and empathy—mammalian skills that will make you a delight to work for, if you can master them, and ones that will make your business culture thrive.

Yes, I know that everyone is ultimately in charge of their own motivation, but most workers look to their immediate boss for some measure of feedback and inspiration to keep going every day. Praise doesn’t cost your bottom line anything, and the payoff is great to that bottom line if you retain good people.

“I contend, however, that all things being equal, we will work harder and more effectively for people we like. And we like them in direct proportion to how they make us feel.” –Irwin Federman

Not sure why 95% of employees report that the only feedback they get every day is feedback for improvement. What if we said, “May I give you some feedback?” and after they braced for some constructive criticism, we told them how well they did with a difficult customer or challenging situation! That would balance things out. In fact, if you shot for five positive comments to each negative comment that you shared verbally (or in appraisals), you’d be just about balanced in your feedback. It’s that impactful!

At the least, this means striving to once a day say a personalized thank-you to each member of your team for something he/she has specifically done to contribute to the success of your business. Call them out by their name, which is the sweetest word in the language to each person. Maybe you remind yourself of this affirmation goal by moving a wristband from one wrist to the other only after you have thanked everyone for that day.

“The most rewarding part of the job is acknowledging the efforts of other people and saying thank-you.” –Max DePree

Take a portion of every meeting to give kudos for something done the day before that really helped the team succeed (definitely do it for any time they put the greater good above their own), or set it up so the team gives kudos to each other after you start it out. Post encouraging words on the white board in the break room, or write a little note on a post-it on their monitors.  I’ve heard of a leader that personally delivers the paycheck stub to each employee with one affirmation that he has heard recently about that person in the past two weeks!

Use performance reviews to lavish praise on each team member, as most are fearful of how they are going to get “hit” by all the ways they’ve failed. If they can leave your office after a review with a smile, and you feel you have communicated both how they need to improve and how they add value to the team, that is a successful experience for both of you. You are using every interaction with every team member to ask yourself this question, “What can I do in this moment to make others feel powerful, competent, and able to do more than they think they can?” Sometimes you believe in them more than they believe in themselves!

Hopefully, your “door is always open” for input from your team, especially because the best ideas come from those closest to the action. When an employee gives a suggestion, and you implement it, make sure they know how much you appreciated their effort to make the business better—and let the rest of the team know it was their idea. It makes them feel important, rather than just a spoke in the wheel. Remember that whatever you praise, increases.

I should pause here by saying everyone has their own way of feeling most appreciated. For some, it’s getting a raise or a bonus; they are money-driven. For others, it’s a sincere positive comment in a coaching one-to-one. Some like praise in public, like in front of all their peers. Others will take a high-five and quick compliment as you walk by as one small way they know you care about them.  If you don’t know their “language of appreciation”, just ask them!

Utilize staff members in their areas of strength and interest. When we get to spend lots of time in our strength zone, we tend to work with more energy and avoid burnout—and we contribute more discretionary effort, too. Consider giving each of your team a strengths assessment to see where they shine brightest. (I like StrengthsFInder.) I coach a team leader who enjoys dabbling in technology, and he is happily open to side-projects to help the business when not on the line supervising his team.

It also makes a team feel appreciated when you plan team celebrations throughout the year—for special holidays, after ramped-up seasons, when accomplishing a team goal, and just because. Do an “ice cream party for no reason” or “watermelon olympics” in the summer. Honor the birthdays of everyone born in that month with a “You take the cake” cake in the break room, and a card that everyone signs, with a special message from you. And whenever you have an All-Hands-on-Deck staff meeting, lace it with recognition for the whole team by sharing how they’ve contributed to overall success.  Spoil your leadership team with an off-site retreat in a beautiful setting where you take care of all the expenses, and they get some relax time in addition to the strategic planning conversations.

If you are willing to be vulnerable with your team and truly grow as a leader, here is a question to ask each one privately: “What is the most de-motivating thing I do as your leader?” And then truly listen. Some may squirm because you are their boss, and they don’t feel comfortable “leading up”. But if you are truly giving them permission to speak into your professional growth, and they are clear because of how you typically treat them that there aren’t negative repercussions for them sharing a weakness you have, you will get golden information that may be a blind spot for you. Then, when you address that habit you are doing, everyone wins!

Don’t be like the old man who was asked why he never told his wife he loved her. He said, “I told her at the wedding that I loved her. If anything changed, I’d let her know!” Effective leaders give a steady dose of positive reinforcement.

And you can get a steady dose of positive reinforcement from me by liking, following, and subscribing to my social media channels on Facebook, LInkedin, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube. You’ll find those links at the bottom of the pages on


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