thank you sign

Employee Recognition Can Be a Game-Changer in the Finishing Industry

I want to share what I feel is the single most important growth strategy for the finishing and coating industry that you can execute for 2024 and beyond.

First, I’ll tell you what that strategy is and, secondly, ways to execute it successfully. Warning: the strategy itself is simple, but its execution isn’t easy.

Recognize Your Employees

Jim CastigliaJim CastigliaThe No. 1 strategy for growth: recognize your employees for their contributions. Simple! 

Action to take: step back, identify, and recognize performance results. Note that you will get the behavior you recognize.

This is critical to the finishing and coating business because you can achieve a competitive advantage by creating “people power.” (Longenecker)

The problem: thousands of employee interviews in hundreds of companies have found that organizations do a lousy job recognizing people’s contributions. Employees often complain that the only time they hear anything is when they screw up. They never hear when they do a good job. 

Recognition programs are an important part of your total compensation program. Most companies don’t have an effective recognition program and resist creating one. 

The Mary Kay Way

You may recall from previous articles that I spent three years working in the Mary Kay organization. Mary Kay Ash was a master of recognition. Almost everyone has heard of the “pink Cadillacs.” Well, these vehicles were the tip of the iceberg. Recognition flowed through the organization, from the weekly sales meetings with directors to the semi-annual regional events and the big annual conference each year in Dallas, TX, attended by thousands of people and featuring world-class entertainment. These events have pushed the company to almost $3 billion in 2022 sales. Recognition works.

Questions: Do you currently have recognition programs in place? Are they adequate, i.e., are you getting the performance results you expect?

In his groundbreaking book 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees, Dr. Bob Nelson lists three major categories of rewards:

  1. Informal rewards: no-cost; low-cost; recognition activities; public recognition/social rewards; communication; time off; cash/cash substitutes/gift certificates
  2. Awards for specific achievements & activities: outstanding employee; productivity/production/quality awards; customer service awards; sales goals awards; team awards; attendance/safety awards
  3. Formal rewards: contests; multi-level reward programs/point systems; field trips/travel; education. Self-development; advancement, visibility; stock ownership, anniversaries; benefits/health/fitness

1,001 Ways to Reward Employees

I had the privilege of coaching Bob on executive presentation skills before his first nationwide book promotion tour in 1994. Since that time, he’s written over 30 books and spread his message to hundreds of companies, large and small, including 80% of the Fortune 500!

In 1,001 Ways to Reward Employees, he quotes Harvard professor, author, and management guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter:

“Recognition—saying thank you in public and perhaps giving a tangible gift along with the words—has multiple functions beyond simple human courtesy. To the employee, recognition signifies that someone noticed and someone cares. What is the point of going all out to do something special if no one notices and it does not seem to make a whit of difference? To the rest of the organization, recognition creates role models—heroes— and communicates the standards: These are the kinds of things that constitute great performance around here.”

There are several essential points made here by Kanter: 

  • Recognition demonstrates common courtesy that’s appreciated
  • Recognition shows that management cares
  • Recognition creates role models to whom employees can aspire 
  • Recognition sets clear standards of performance.

Kanter goes further and offers us seven principles for successfully recognizing our people:

  1. Emphasize success rather than failure. Don’t miss the positives. Looking for negatives
  2. Deliver recognition in an open and publicized way
  3. Deliver recognition in a personal and honest manner
  4. Tailor your recognition to the unique needs of your people
  5. Timing is crucial… don’t delay
  6. Strive for a clear connection between achievements and rewards
  7. Recognize people who recognize others for doing what’s best for the company.

December is the Perfect Time

To all you leaders out there, December is the perfect time to step back and assess your recognition program. Is it optimal or sub-optimal? Focus on creating a relevant program as one of your key strategies for 2024.

If you have any questions or would like any help, contact me. Email me at, or text or call me at 949-338-7141

Jim Castiglia is the founder of Business Street Fighter Consulting and supports entrepreneurial business owners in their desire to grow and maximize the value of their business. He can be reached by email at or by phone at 919.263.1256. Visit