by Steve Adubato, PhD

In these challenging economic times, how do business professionals communicate to team members that we appreciate and value their contributions to our organization’s success? Many professionals who manage teams will argue that money is the most powerful way to recognize your people. Unfortunately, since money is tight these days, that option is not always available.

But the recognition and appreciation equation is not that simple. Tough times require great leaders to get more creative in the way we communicate and demonstrate our appreciation for team members and their efforts. With this in mind, consider the following:

--It doesn’t cost you anything to sit down with a team member who is doing a great job and communicate face to face how much you appreciate his or her efforts. Simply say; “Bob, I wanted to take the time to personally let you know how much I appreciate how hard you have worked over the last couple of months. You’ve made a huge difference on our team and the success we’ve had. Thank you and keep up the great work.” No, it doesn’t put any additional money in Bob’s pocket, but it does let him know that he is a valued member of the team. Odds are when he goes home that night, he will be proud to let his family know what you’ve told him. That matters.

--Show you care by investing in an employee’s professional development by assigning a mentor or coach. This could be an internal professional who is highly respected in the organization, or an external executive coach or consultant who specializes in leadership development. It is important that you let the employee know that not everyone in the organization is receiving this benefit; “Jane, we believe in your future here at the ABC Corporation and want you to grow as a leader, which is why we are investing in your professional development with an executive coach...”

--Give an unplanned day off, particularly in a small organization where you, as the “boss”, can make this decision. This one action communicates in a very powerful way and is particularly useful after employees have worked on a specific project or initiative for many days or weeks and have been away from their families for long stretches. Giving people TIME communicates in a big way.

--Send consistent, regular e-mails to employees who have done an exceptional job on certain projects, ensuring that you copy other team members who should know about these efforts. It’s not enough sometimes just to communicate with the individual employee, but rather that you share this recognition with others on the team.

--Finally, let’s talk money. Even in these tight economic times, there are opportunities to provide modest bonuses or pay increases to your most talented and productive employees. But sometimes this requires cutting the budget in other areas, or, having you as the team leader consider not taking an increase or bonus yourself. That’s right. Think about what it communicates when you decide to forego a personal financial benefit and spend those precious dollars on exceptional team members who are paid considerably less than you are as the boss. It’s definitely something to consider.