When you create a culture of recognition in your company, your employees will feel five times more valued. Promoting employee motivation in the workplace will make your team go beyond the motions of a service program. They will recommend the company as the best place to work and to do business. This is how Dr. Bob Nelson helps companies make their employees stay and work for them for the rest of their career. Motivating employees and recognizing their efforts makes them committed to your vision to take your business forward.
Dr. Bob Nelson is one of the world’s leading authorities on employee motivation, engagement, and performance. He is one of the most interesting guys. He’s worked closely with Dr. Ken Blanchard and Dr. Marshall Goldsmith. You’ve probably read him in Dummies books. His top book, which is in 60 something printings by now, which most books don’t even make it beyond one. He is a legend.
Listen to the podcast here:
Promote Employee Motivation To Empower The Team with Dr. Bob Nelson
I am with Dr. Bob Nelson, who’s one of the world’s leading authorities on employee motivation, engagement and performance, and president of Nelson Motivation Management Training and Consulting Company. It specializes in helping organizations improve their management practices, programs, and systems. He’s Co-Founder of Recognition Professionals International. He has worked closely with Dr. Ken Blanchard, the One-Minute Manager, as his Vice President, Chief of Staff, and ghostwriter for ten years, and currently serves as a personal coach for Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, the number one-ranked Executive Coach in the world. Dr. Nelson has sold over five million books on management and employee motivation, including 1501 Ways to Reward Employees, Recognizing and Engaging Employees for Dummies, 1001 Rewards and Recognition Fieldbook, 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, The Management Bible, and Ubuntu!. His books have been translated in 37 languages.
You are everywhere. It’s so nice for you to be here, Dr. Bob Nelson. Everybody knows who you are, but I was watching the way you present some of your information. You’re so conversational. I liked your story about your first book and how you got it published. You have done quite a lot since then. How did you get involved in writing and motivation?
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re making other plans.” I followed the bread crumbs. I got the message early on that I was a good writer. It surprised me, but I listened to that and went with that in that direction. After awhile, I want to do a book. I self-published my first book when I was 25 and I kept at it. It’s a hard thing. A lot of people think it sounds easy, you sit in your office and you write down whatever you feel like. I’d say writing is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s now my 29th book, but somehow I keep coming back to it. It’s like childbirth.
I’ve only written a few books, but I understand it can be very challenging to go through it and then the marketing of them. That’s no picnic either.
It’s close to impossible these days. When I did a few books, I said, “I know I could do a book now. Can I do one that people will actually buy?”That’s a whole different thing. I read an interesting article way back that changed the way I thought about it. This article was by an insider in publishing. They said, “Here’s the problem. All writers, they think they’ve made it if they get a publisher.”The publishers are taking bets. “This person’s got some contacts and I guess they’re out there speaking. I like the idea of the book. We’ll risk it,” but it’s got to be on the platform of the author. This is increasingly true today. If you don’t have a platform, you’re not going to get published. They’re betting that they’re going to make it happen. They’re going to tell not just their friends, but they’re going to go out in the road. They’re going to start talking and they got a million followers. What happens is they’re both pointed at each other and then the book dies in between.
When I did this book, the first one that was a hit, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, I intentionally went to a publisher that I knew was a very strong marketer, Workman Publishing in New York City. They have never done a business book. I sold them on it, and they put their head down and I put my head down and we hammered it and then it clicked. There’s always a little bit of timing and luck, but it clicked. In the first couple months, it’s sold 40,000 copies. The Training Magazine called it a publishing phenomenon, and it was honestly. It is a business book. If you sell 20,000 copies of business book, it’s a best seller. The average book, only one out of ten gets published and others that are published, the initial first printing for most of those is 5,000 copies. There’s only one out of ten that goes past the first printing. It’s even worse today. When that book came out of, there were 70,000 published that year. Now, there’ll be 1.5 million books published this year because of Amazon Publishing, self-publishing and vanity publishing. There’s not more readers, but there’s a lot more book, so that means there’s less voice for any one of them and you’ve got to push harder or have something that’s working for them.
That book clicked and it went into the 63rd printing. It has sold over 2 million copies. It’s a business book, and that’s just domestic. It’s been published in three languages as well. It’s incrementally moving along and I’m still out there talking about it. I love the topic. I love helping people. The book is a good book. You can’t sell these many copies of anything unless it’s delivering. I wanted to do a book that didn’t have a lot of theory. It was basically cutting to the chase. “Here’s what it looks like. Every example tells a story by itself. Here’s what somebody is doing. Here is how he did it, and ideally here’s what they got from it. Here’s what their client said, their employee said, their CEO said.” I got a story there in essentially one paragraph. I pulled together the best of that on the topic of employee recognition, which was one of those common sense topics that everybody knows is important. That was my experience in working in several corporations.
Voltaire, back in the 1700’s said, “Common sense is not frequently common practice.”That would be the case. You should thank people that do stuff for you, that do a good job. The people closest to you and has been there most in your life, you better be thanking them the most if you want to hold on to them. In reality, we never really do it. Our loved ones get the dregs of our day. Employees on average spend 15% of their time at home complaining about their boss. We’re going in the wrong direction here. When I hear you say, “I know you could do it.” I’m here to say, “Will you do it? Let’s talk about what it looks like. Just keep it to your commitment.” I guarantee you that if you don’t do it, you’re going to wake up one day and the people that are most important to you, your best employees, your spouse, are going to be gone and not be a part of your life anymore. They couldn’t take it anymore.
I just met someone. They go, “How did you get on CBS’s 60 Minutes? I want to do that.” I didn’t start there. That was down the road a bit. “How did you get on the cover of Costco Magazine that was shipped to 14.5 million business owners?”I didn’t start there. I’ll tell you how I got on there. The editor of that publication called me and he said, “Bob, we want to thank you. We have a whole filing cabinet drawer full of examples, articles, clips, and case studies you sent us, and we use it all the time in our company and in our publication. We want to thank you by featuring you on the cover of our magazine. We’re having a photographer come down and take some photos of you and your office.” We did a great spread. It was 14.5million people. Some of them probably bought the book, I imagine.
Subsequently, they brought me in to present to all their general managers, their 460 stores across North America. The books and the speaking leads to work with corporate clients, and then those bring me in to do consulting. It’s like, “We love your stuff. We want to do more of it here. We’ve got some things, but we don’t feel that we’re there yet. Can you help us? Can you build a culture of recognition?” Any one idea will work, but if you get this going in your culture all the time, everyone’s doing it from your peers, from your boss, your boss can get if from you, you get it from upper management, if you get that going, now you’ve got a culture of recognition. This is part of how we operate. Everyone is doing it. It keeps everyone going and we love it. We love doing it. We love getting it, and it drives. It’s the most powerful driver of human performance known to mankind.
It’s not just being nice to feel good that people like you, it does those things too, but it drives whatever behavior and results that you want more of in your life, in your company, and your department, for your employees. It will drive that from them and make you be successful. If you actually create that culture of recognition, research indicates your employees will feel five times more valued than a company that’s not doing it. Your employees will be six times more likely to recommend the organization as a place to work or a place to shop or place to do business. They will be seven times more likely to stay in the job and with your company for the rest of their career. Finally, they’ll be eleven times more committed to you, the mission, the goals, and the job than if you don’t do it. We’re in a crisis of talent. It’s hard to get a hold of people you need. In some areas like healthcare, we need a million more nurses by 2020. A million new nurses half from nutrition, half from increased demands of healthcare. That lowers the price of admission. If you have a closer recognition, they will beat a path to your door because you got a reputation. They will see it in practice, and they will stay longer, guaranteed.
You mentioned that the millennials. Going back to being on 60 Minutes, they called me, and they wanted to feature me on their millennials. I told them, “Are you sure you got the right person? I’m not a millennial.” “We’re absolutely positive we have the right person.” From their research, they learned that one of the top attributes across the board for millennials is they not want but expect to be recognized when they do a good job, and they expect that to happen not at their ten-year anniversary, not at the end of the year, not once a month. They expect that to happen on a daily basis.
I’ve heard it’s as much as seven times a day. Is that what you hear too?
For the millennials, it’s every day. It doesn’t have to come from you. It can come from their peers. It can come from a client. You got to have a vehicle to capture it and deliver it. It doesn’t have to just come from you, but as their manager, you’re the most important person for all of us. You manage the most important relationship in that job, so it will be nice, especially if it comes from you. It doesn’t have to stop there, it can come from anywhere. It’s okay for them to give it and they’ll do it among their peers. It’s not that hard to get this going. You got to stop thinking it’s common sense and actually find a way to make it happen.
It is simple, but that actually is more of an obstacle than the help because people think that if something is simple, they must be doing it. Exercise. Walk around the block. “I could do that.”“I know you can do that. Will you do it? Are you going to do it? What’s going to keep you to it?”Those are the bigger questions. Eating right. “I could do that.” “I know you can do that. Will you eat right? Will you stop eating fast food? Will you realize that the stuff that’s marketed hardest to you is the stuff that has the least value to your body?”The Silence of the Yams. The stuff that is marketed as healthy often tends to be the least healthy. If putting it on the packaging makes you buy it, they put it larger. We need to unlearn the things that we were brainwashed with.
I saw this guy, who wrote a book called Whitewashed. The whole thing is about the fallacy of milk being a healthy thing. A book can change your life; a speech can change your life. I never drank a glass of milk after that. I have cashew milk and almond milk and rice milk and it’s incredible, but not a regular milk. I had to say, “Can you repeat that again? Milk lowers the calcium in your body? What does that mean again? Tell me how that works.” He goes, “Milk is very acidic. It raises the acidity of your body, and your body has to neutralize it. To lower the acidity, they need calcium to do it. They draw it from your bone. As you drink milk, you make your bones weaker.” “Are you kidding me? What about the commercials with the milk mustache?” “You’re brainwashed.” I never had a glass of milk after that.
I love everything that you deal with in terms of motivation and what drives things because I’m writing a book about curiosity.
That’s the fun and the power of writing. It’s a lot of work, but you can write about anything. I remember years ago, someone who is a guy at Apple. He is the Head of human resources. He sat between Steve Jobs and the guy that they brought in, a CEO from Pepsi. He had his office in between them for years, and he eventually left, and he wanted to do a book. He came to me. He said, “I want you to co-author this book with me.” I’m like, “You and a million other people.” It’s a book about Steve Jobs. That would be pretty fun. The guy was a bastard, but he was a brilliant bastard. I would’ve been proud to have done a book about Apple. I missed that one. I was doing other stuff. That was too late. Now there’s a lot of books about Apple.
Early on, I did books for other people and publishers would have an idea like we do as writers, and they go, “Let’s do this. Let’s go find someone to do it.” Then they put the word out and they get five proposals. I’ve done that and then I’ve gotten the proposal and then I’m doing someone else’s idea. I do my best on it, but it would never have been the same. It wouldn’t work as well as doing what you believe in. Part of that is because it’s not just the book. The book is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s everything that comes with it. My book, 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, I sold 500 of them lately. Twenty years ago they came out. I am my book. I’m personified by that book. It represents who I am, my values, my beliefs in positivity and in practicality. When I speak, I am the book. I can’t remember everything that’s in it, but you’re going to get a good swath of it. It depends on the audience and the level and amount of time and it’s going to be a different cut.
I looked at some of your early stories about how you wrote a letter to the President of the publisher in New York and how you finally got him on the phone. I like your tenacity of trying to get your book published. You’re writing more now about engagement, that’s such a hot topic. Recognition is one of the things that’s supposed to help with engagement.
It’s the foundation. I got excited when I saw research on that. There’s a lot of the things that you can do and every HR consulting firm has its own set of variables that they track and monitor and they come from different types of things. Of all of them, they look at the mega studies on it, the foundation for it all is recognition, to make people feel valued. If you’ve got a good boss, you got a good job. That’s true around the world. You’ve got a terrible boss, you hate your job, you hate yourself, you hate your life. You probably take it home, you hate your family. Having a good boss is a pretty big one. On top of the list of a good boss is someone that catches you doing something right, and not just find the blame and amplifies those and embarrasses you in front of the staff. Who needs that? It’s a very simple thing from a very specific person.
Don’t you think it’s more challenging with virtual workers? You’re trying to recognize what they’re doing. Do you have any advice for managing virtual workers?
It’s another dimension, but like anything, if you focus on that, you can still make it happen. I’ll give you one example. At 4:00 on Thursday, wherever you are, we like everyone to stop and applaud. They did that. I can imagine all these people in their home office clapping and looking around going, “This is silly.” It’s like a moment of silence, a moment of joy. You just stop and say, “We passed the threshold and you all were part of it. Give yourself a hand. We’re all going to do it the same time.” On one level, is that silly? On another level, is that cool? You put the focus on, and there’s a lot you can do.
The old-line manager says, “If I can’t see them, I don’t know they’re working.” My spouse was a virtual worker for a couple years. Let me tell you, you can have a higher degree of communication and accountability virtually than if the person was sitting in the desk next to you. I did some research and I found that the average virtual worker works an additional seventeen hours a week on their job. I said, “That’s got to be a mistake.” My wife started going, “That’s no mistake.” She works on the couch; she works in bed. She’s always thinking about it. She’s always focused on it. She’s got more time to work because she’s not in an hour commute. You spend time with the things that are important in your life. If you got a job that you love and she loved the job and they’re paying her well, who cares about that? I will make sure I’m delivering. I could see where that stat was in fact very true.
There’s a lot of tools that you can use verbally. I know someone at Hyatt Corporate, and she’s very good at this. She has a virtual team and they do stuff virtually and they would be sharing stories whenever they connect live. It’s not just dumping work on them, everyone talks. Apart from that, they share something they don’t know about yet. You got to know people and build a relationship. Stephen Covey used to say that there’s an emotional bank account and you got to make deposits to be able to make withdrawals. If you don’t have a basis for a relationship because all you’re doing is talking about working, pretty quickly they’re going to quit or you’re going to quit. It’s not happening. If you really want to make something work, you got to work with the person, which means getting to know them.
We mentioned Ubuntu, which is a wonderful South African concept of unity and connectedness. I spoke in K-town and I picked up on that. I was intrigued. I did a book with another colleague, Steven Lundin. We did a parable about a manager learning from one of their employees. In a nutshell, I am because we are. There’s a saying in Africa, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” It applies to relationships. There was a social science study in Africa where there’s a sociologist that said to a group of kids, “You see that tree over there? There’s a bag of candy at the base of the tree. Whoever gets there first can have all of it.”What did the kids do in that culture? They grabbed hands together and they ran together. Afterward he interviewed one and he said, “You’re the biggest. It all could have been yours.” The kid says, “I wouldn’t have enjoyed it if I couldn’t share it with my friends.”I go, “This is a keeper. We’ve got to bring this to the business world. We got to do it quick.” Ubuntu is a concept. Let’s talk about what it means in your organization and how you put it into practice.
I did a program for a children’s hospital here in San Diego about the concept. The accounting group said, “We loved your Ubuntu topic and we created an Ubuntu Day where we all take time to share with each other ideas that could make us a stronger team. It’s great. It’s wonderful. Thank you so much.” I love the concept, how do we put this into practice? Health Care Corporation of America contacted me. They were doing a program for hospital administrators and they stumbled upon my book. They called and they ordered a hundred of them and they said, “This concept, we have rallied around. We love it.”
Think of healthcare today. Everyone’s got into it to save lives, and yet, what are they doing now? They’re up to their eyeballs with Medicare forms and coding. “What went wrong here? How can we get it back? It’s not too late to get it back. Let’s talk about what that would look like. What would it look like for our group? How can we bring this concept to life? Could we invite back a patient that was in critical care that survived and is now healthy? Can we have them come in and talk to them and remind us why we’re here again? Let’s do that least once a month, maybe more often. We’re working on cancer research. Can we all go visit a care center and see a ward of people that are fighting cancer?” It’s going to make it them go back to the job and work a little harder, because we’re actually doing something that could matter. Instead of saying, “Can we work harder and faster?” “Can we work more meaningfully and more deeply?”
That person that was burnt out watching the clock to get out of here and to unwind, all of a sudden, they don’t need to do that anymore, because they have an inner purpose that’s driving their daily activities. That’s a pretty powerful thing. They’re really doing what they love, and the money’s secondary. In my experience, when you do that, the money quickly follows because people see that you’re passionate. “I’ve got a project coming up, but I especially want you to be on the team, because you’re the type of person that is true to their word. You bring fresh ideas, and you make it happen.” We all need those people around us. Suddenly, everybody wants you. Your stock goes up, and then opportunities come your way and people outside learn about you.
One of my topics I talk about is high potential employees and strategies for engaging and retaining them, which can be a big thing if you’re the future of your company. You got people to identify that you wanted to be the future leaders of the company and they’re leaving you, then something went wrong there. I was at a conference and during the break, I got a woman talking about that. She goes, “It’s funny you’re talking about high potential. I had someone from another company. I ran into him. He said, ‘I felt like I knew you.’ ‘Why is that?’ ‘We have you on our high potentials list.’ ‘What do you mean?’ ‘We have you identified as someone that we would like to have on our team to be a potential leader in our organization.’’ You’re kidding. The place I’m working for doesn’t have anything like that.’ ’Maybe you’re working at the wrong place.’ Guess where she is working now.
The high potential is an interesting thing because we go back to curiosity. Do you think that they need to have curiosity to be a higher potential? How do you develop that? Is there a way to develop that? Do you think it ties into engagement at all if you’re curious?
That’s not my area of expertise. I’ve got a neighbor that’s very curious. He has his own software company. Out of curiosity, he creates things out of the blue. He created a product called Green-Screen Wizard, a software product where you can take a picture on a green background that you can superimpose a different background to it. There’s a lot of those now, but when he created it, there weren’t any of other. He has, on a daily basis, has people ordering them. In fact, his cell phone has a certain tone when someone orders something. He does very well. He has a natural curiosity that is fun. He’s a very fun guy. He creates his own Christmas gifts and he’s a fun guy to be with. He sees life in a different way from other people. It’s the joy of life. If you’re curious, there’s a joy of life. You’re not being curious as a job to fix the problem.
My son’s a computer programmer in San Francisco. Before that, his training to go into that was he has a degree in classical guitar. That’s completely other end of the spectrum. If you did classical guitar, you got to be creative. If you’re a programmer or your coding, it’s boring work. Nothing could be farther from the truth that to be a good programmer, you have to be creative to begin with. How are we going to solve this problem? You got to come at it in different ways. The training in music, it comes easier to him, because he’s naturally creative. It’s like writing. Writing itself, you’re typing on the keyboard. What could be more boring? “70,000 words, here we come,” that’s the hard part by the way.
Does it help you to dictate your books at all or do you always type them?
I don’t. I know people that do. Peter C., he would do each of his books on legal pads. I know one guy who is trying to do a book all on his cell phone. He records himself, so he has notes wherever he is. He’s got the outline in mind. I hope it does for him. Along the way, I said, “In case it doesn’t, let me connect you with a good friend of mine that has done 75 books. He’s a ghost writer and he is a co-author. In five minutes he will assess where you’re at, where you’re stuck, and he can do the things you’re stuck on.”
Maybe he’ll help him finished the book. You got to have a lot of determination to do something like that. I’ve got my PhD, but that’s another thing. 40% of all people that have entered a PhD program over the years and over the decades, 40% of them are called ABD. It is said that the people with the cleanest houses are PhD candidates. The day I got my degree, I got a letter from my university that said, “You’re out of the program. We can’t extend you anymore.”
You went to the full extent of the time. Is that what you mean?
If you run behind the typical PhD for six years, they give you a couple of classes and they do a qualifying exam and got and then you’ve got three years to scope out doing a dissertation, the topic, the methodology, and the first three chapters. One step after another. The hardest part is whatever step you’re in right now. You have six years you finish it. I did my dissertation on the topic of the book on employee recognition and why does some managers do it and some managers don’t. At that moment, people said, “You got it backwards. You’re supposed to finish your research first and then do a book.” I go, “I got ahead of myself. I did the book first, and the book took over my life.”
If you want to learn something, write about it though.
It’s harder to get back to the dissertation. In your dissertation, you’re really writing for three people, your committee. Let’s make them happy and we’re done. I had my Chair in one of our meetings. My book has come out and it was on bestseller list and it was doing very well. I’m trying to get my PhD done, and my Chairman in our briefing with the team goes, “Bob, most people do a dissertation and they put it on their shelf and they’re done. We don’t think that’s going to happen with yours. We’re going to hold you to a higher standard, because we think your dissertation’s going to get more examination, and the credibility of our program is going to be reflected on that. We’re double crossing the t’s and dotting the lines to make sure the quality represents not just you but us and our institution.”I said, “Thank you so much.”
Obviously, you did something right. Your work with talking about recognition is going to be fascinating to see how much of an impact that has on what you write about in your next books. I know you’re working on the other books about engagement.
I get speechless. I put out word for examples on the book, 1001 Ways to Engage Employees around the research variable as to what ‘engagement’ means. I put out word in my network saying, “If you got an example, I’m all ears.” I get back pages and pages of, “We did this at this organization.” Three or four organizations and executive position and what they’re able to make happen. They said, “I couldn’t have done any of this without expertise I learned from you.”I’m getting that left and right. It’s not just me and my room here in my office. There are actually people using this stuff. “Thank you for all your work over the years.” People will send me a photo of their bookshelf and they’ve got my books there.
You talked about all the things I’m interested in and I’m very fascinated in all your work. You got all these books out there and I mentioned a few of them, but I hope everybody takes some time to look out for your work. They’re going to want to know how they can reach you. Can you share all that?
I’m on LinkedIn. My website is the DrBobNelson.com. I got a store. I’ve got information. I got sample clips. I got free resources, so it’s one-stop shopping. You can get them on Amazon or any place that books are sold. I speak, and I consult.
It’s well-deserved, the attention you got, because you have some amazing work. Even with all the great books, were still seeing so much problems with engagement. I’m going to be fascinated to see your book and what you come up with.
An extra big motivation for doing the book is that $1.5 billion will be spent by companies trying to increase engagement. A big part of that is spent on measuring the topic. It’s good to have a baseline, but I’ve been in meetings with executive teams where they’re going over the research on the surveys and they all look at the page and go, “We’re about the same as we were last year.” They all look at it, they nod, and they turn the page. “That’s about the same as last year.” I said, “You don’t need to measure anymore. You need to change something.”
In the Los Angeles Museum of Modern Art, there’s this painting of a man’s pipe from the 15th century. Underneath it, it says in French, “This is not a pipe.” The point being that the representation of something is not the thing itself. Measuring engagement is not the same as actually doing engagement. You need to focus on the doing, not the measurement. That’s what sparked me to do this book. I’m going to have a book that looks at a research base on what are the key variables in engagement. For each one of those, in priority order, I’m going to show you exactly what it looks like. Not from my perspective, but for the people that made it happen. I’ve got hundreds and hundreds of real life examples from all types of industries and all sides. At this point in my career, all countries. I have heard from China, Middle East, Australia. I have spoken to six continents. They’re coming in from everywhere. It’s funny because in all the cultures, there is a ring of truth. There’s elements that can speak to any of us if we grab it and run with it. My hope is to move the needle on this topic.
Thank you so much Bob for being on the show. You are a wealth of knowledge. All of your information is just really inspirational. I enjoyed our conversation completely.
Any time, I would love to be back. I’d love to help you in any way I possibly can in the great things you’re doing and the books that you’re writing.
It was so great having Dr. Bob Nelson on the show. It was so interesting hearing all about his stories and his work. I really enjoyed it. If you’ve missed any of our past episodes, we have a lot of great guests on the show. You can go to DrDianeHamiltonRadio.com. You can find us on C-Suite Radio, iTunes, Roku, Podcast Garden, and iHeart.
About Dr. Bob Nelson
Dr. Bob Nelson is one of the world’s leading authorities on employee motivation, engagement and performance and president of Nelson Motivation Inc., a management training and consulting company that specializes in helping organizations improve their management practices, programs and systems. He is a co-founder of Recognition Professionals International, worked closely with Dr. Ken Blanchard (the One Minute Manager) as his vice president, chief of staff and ghost writer for ten years and currently serves as a personal coach for Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, the #1 ranked Executive Coach in the World.
- Dr. Bob Nelson
- Nelson Motivation Management Training and Consulting Company
- Recognition Professionals International
- Dr. Ken Blanchard
- Dr. Marshall Goldsmith
- 1501 Ways to Reward Employees
- Recognizing and Engaging Employees for Dummies
- 1001 Rewards and Recognition Fieldbook
- 1001 Ways to Energize Employees
- The Management Bible
- Dr. Bob Nelson’s LinkedIn