by Steve Adubato, PhD

What really motivates people in the workplace? Lots of us assume it pretty much comes down to money. The thinking is if you give people more money, you're bound to get better performance and a greater commitment to the organization. Well, that isn't necessarily so. According to master motivator Bob Nelson, author of the best selling book "1001 Ways to Reward Employees," there are lots of things outside of money that motivate people.

Nelson has spent years researching companies of all shapes and sizes as well as asking employees what turns them on and off about their employers. What's particularly interesting about Nelson's research is that there is a huge disparity between what managers think motivates people and what those same employees say motivates them. The vast majority of managers believe that compensation is the key motivator for their people. However, employees say money was rated last in a list of ten potential motivators in the workplace. According to Nelson, "When they are satisfied by pay and benefits, those elements are like wallpaper: employees expect to be compensated fairly for doing an average job, and merit raises are considered a right if they do better."

Countless books and fancy management theories about productivity in the workplace have shown that the thing that most employees want and need from their employers is simply feeling appreciated for a job well done. Think about it. We're talking about a simple "thank you" delivered in a sincere and personal manner. It sounds so logical, but ask yourself how often does your manager say "thank you" to you? How often does he pat you on the back or drop you an e-mail letting you know you did a great job on your most recent assignment? And if you are a manager, ask yourself how often you show your appreciation for the people who make you look good every day? Do you take it for granted that they know? Do you assume you don't need to express appreciation because they are simply "doing their job?"

What motivational gurus like Bob Nelson have found is that most employees measure job satisfaction largely based on their relationship with their immediate supervisor. It's okay if an employee doesn't like the company, but he better really like his manager. Simply put, people work for other people more than they work for a company. If an employee believes you care about him and appreciate his efforts, he will work harder, smarter and longer for you. With that in mind, consider some tangible ways that you can show your appreciation and recognize the people on your team:

--Make sure when you recognize an employee you communicate it immediately after the job he has performed. If you wait too long, you lose the moment and the potential to motivate.

--Don't be so obsessed with trying to catch people doing things wrong that you are blind to when they do them right. Be on the lookout for people doing a good job. It's a question of perspective and attitude. We often see what we choose to see.

--The most desirable way to recognize an employee is face to face, but you can also use e-mail or a fax. Or, write a note on personal stationary. This communicates the message that you appreciate the effort not just professionally but also personally.

--While private recognition is great, sometimes acknowledging an employee in front of his or her peers can pay really big dividends. Just make sure you spread it around.

If you are a manager, how do you recognize your people for a job well done? And, if you are not, how does your manager recognize you?