Men Often Don't seem to understand or value the concept of giving recognition — why they need to do it, how to do it, when to do it. They are typically focused on business objectives, such as increasing sales, and the relationships with the people who report to them are secondary.

Men seem to say, “Do a good job, be competent, and I'll like you.”

For women, it is often the reverse: “If I like you and trust you, I'll do a good job for you.” They first need to feel good about the people with whom they are working and get to know them on a personal basis before they are comfortable enough to have a productive working relationship.

As part of my doctoral research, I examined 34 large, nationally known corporations in a variety of industries to try to understand why certain managers are better at recognition than others. I examined 140 variables, such as age, upbringing, cultural background, and values. I also looked at gender, and found that in work environments that were more service-oriented, such as hospitals, women were more likely to use recognition than men.

What does this mean? It could mean that women are more confident using their relationship skills in work environments where the focus is on dealing with people. When the mission and values of the organization support the value of relationships, women are given leeway to demonstrate traits that perhaps come more easily to them. That is, they are allowed to be who they are.

Further, my research indicated that the top motivating factors that employees want from their managers are support and involvement. Workers put these factors above money, pensions, and promotions. Simply taking the time to talk to an employee over coffee and learn about his or her hobbies, goals, and problems can be a big motivator. (Also, the more you know about someone, the more information you have about what motivates that person.)

My research also found that in high-powered corporate environments — fields that were “strictly business,” such as financial services — women were less willing to focus on relationships and recognition. However, small business owners, the vast majority of whom are women, are unencumbered by bureaucracies, regulations, and multiple levels of approval. In smaller companies, women can — and do — easily provide spontaneous rewards, such as nominal gifts, flowers, a pizza, or a potluck celebration.

If, as my research indicates, women working within certain corporate cultures are more inclined to focus on relationship factors and recognition, it validates the idea that, in these kinds of companies, women can become successful just by being themselves.

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego; best-selling author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees; and a frequent presenter to management groups and conferences. For more information, visit