Humans crave social connections in all aspects of their lives. As herd animals, these relationships reinforce our valued membership in a group. Across the lines of gender, race, ethnicity, and so on, all humans share this common need.

High-performance workplace cultures are built on engaged employees who feel safe and secure in their roles, and as a result wake up every day excited to come to work. They offer high levels of discretionary effort, know others see and value their individual contributions, and revel in the shared accomplishments of the group.

An integral part of building such cultures are three powerful tools: validation, recognition and feedback. Great managers use these relational tools strategically to improve performance and accountability.

The goal of these three motivational instruments is not to simply offer gratuitous praise. It’s to act on the strategic understanding of your employees’ neurological need to know that they are seen and valued, that their accomplishments are noticed and appreciated, and that there is a plan to help them improve and grow.

Validation

Validation is the unconditional recognition of an employee’s intrinsic human value. It is offered regardless of performance, and involves listening, caring, and responding from the heart. It is the cornerstone of any relationship, whether inside or outside the workplace.

Great managers make validation a daily habit. They offer greetings every day. They ask employees about their health, their children, their weekend. They remember names of family members and milestones in their lives.

Recognition

Recognition is conditional praise based on job performance, behavior, and attitude. As positive expression of appreciation for a job well-done and expectations exceeded, it serves as the bedrock of a high-performance culture. Recognition should be consistent, trustworthy, and frequent.

Since our brains are hardwired to seek recognition from those in our clan (team, workgroup), we need to hear and see that praise often. Managers who understand this pay attention to demonstrations of discretionary effort and offer sincere recognition when they find it.

Feedback

Feedback encompasses periodic, confidential conversations about performance, behavior, and attitude designed to foster an employee’s personal growth and improvement. Feedback provides critical and supportive insight about how their work is viewed by their manager and additional company stakeholders (other teams, vendors, customers).

Managers who offer constructive feedback that focuses on desired outcomes rather than past mistakes typically find their direct reports are more receptive and determined to improve. The best feedback leverages the individual’s strengths, includes validation and recognition, offers a path to success, and establishes clear expectations for which employees are held accountable.

It should also be noted that the most effective feedback is two-way. Managers need to be willing to ask, “What can I do to better support you?” or “What do you need from me to help you succeed?”

Offering heartfelt validation, recognition, and feedback consistently feeds the primordial centers of the brain that thirst for connection and appreciation. The neurological research is clear: people who feel emotionally nourished this way are happier and more engaged in what they do.

Action steps to cultivate employee engagement:

  • Consider which of the three critical types of communication (validation, recognition, feedback) you need to become more intentional with. Ask yourself if you validate your employees daily, if you offer intentional recognition, and if you provide enough feedback to each of your employees.
  • Build a habit of regular validation, recognition, and feedback.
  • Add a meeting notice or reminder to your calendar to check in with and recognize each of your employees.
  • Handwrite one or two of your employees a thank-you note for going above and beyond this week.
  • Set up your next one-on-one with each one of your direct reports.
  • Listen to employees and use your responses to demonstrate that you care.
  • Train managers and supervisors to make a habit of validation, recognition and feedback.
  • Ask your staff, “How can I be a better leader?”

Download a free chapter of my book for more ideas about building a high-performance culture.