Make recognizing your people part of your plan

If you work at Adobe Systems Inc. for five years, you are eligible for the sabbatical program that allows for four weeks of additional paid time off, not counting the 12 paid holidays and two paid company breaks. When you hit 15 years, the sabbatical jumps to six weeks. Other corporations have similar perks. Google offers free lunches and oil changes. S.C. Johnson & Son has an on-site employee concierge to take care of errands.

These are just a few examples of the perks offered by Fortune 500 companies. If you are a smaller company, you might be thinking that there is no way you can compete. On face value, that may be true. You might not be able to offer the same number of days off or the generous perks, but you can make up for it in other areas, like flexibility and maybe more important, recognition.

Companies like Adobe can rely on benefits alone to attract and retain talent. Midsized and smaller companies need to have a plan to keep these larger entities from taking all their talent, but it all starts at the top.

As CEO, it’s easy to focus on what’s not going right and what needs to be changed. That’s why you have to have an intentional plan for how you are going to recognize your employees. You can try to fake it by just crossing off items on a checklist, but for a recognition program to work, it comes down to your attitude and what’s really in your heart. This shouldn’t be something you feel required to do, it should be something you want to do. You have to take the time to talk to people and let them know you care. People want recognition, they want to know you care and that they aren’t just a line item on a spreadsheet. Handing out random awards isn’t true recognition; there has to be feeling behind them.

This doesn’t mean you won’t have to make hard choices someday. A major economic downturn might require a reduction in workforce, but if you treat people with respect and try to help them find a new position, the remaining employees will maintain their respect for you.

So take the time to recognize people for the little things and spend as much time focusing on the positive as on the challenges you still face. Do the right thing when times are tough, and celebrate big when good times return.

As leaders, we sometimes make ourselves out to be the victim, but leadership is actually a blessing. At the end of the day, it’s all about being a good steward of our flock and caring about people by giving them the recognition they deserve.

Fred Koury is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc., the publisher of Smart Business Magazine and operates SBN Interactive, a content marketing firm.