Who doesn’t like Rosabeth Moss Kanter as a management coach? She’s reasoned and realistic. A few years ago we began to use her “3 Ms of Employee Engagement” to help ourselves and our clients understand what to give to employees to help them feel they are valued and to let them value the work they do.

Here’s Ms. Kanter’s recap of the topic:
“I summarize these keys to strong work motivation in three Ms — mastery, membership, and meaning. Money is a distant fourth. Money can even be an irritant if compensation is not adequate or fair, and compensation runs out of steam quickly as a source of sustained performance. Instead, people happy in their work are often found in mission-driven organizations where people feel they have positive impact on social needs. As my HBS colleague Michael Norton shows in his book Happy Money, giving to others boosts happiness.” [Emphasis ours.]

She briefly defines the Three Ms this way:
Mastery: Help people develop deep skills.
Membership: Create community by honoring individuality.
Meaning: Repeat and reinforce a larger purpose.

Maybe the simple way to describe what we mean by showing employees they are valued is to tell you the best way to make sure they don’t think they are. If you want to make sure employees feel undervalued, never listen to their ideas; tell them exactly how to do every step of the job; keep them isolated from their coworkers by telling them everything has to go through a manager; and don’t talk to them about the overarching mission of the company and how their specific work fits into it.

To engage them year-round (and not just on Employee Appreciation Day), help them believe they are a master at what they do – and that the company is a master in your field. Get excited about their ideas for how to do the work and help them iron out the details. Have them train new employees on how to do the tasks.

To reinforce membership, host team activities that the employees – not management – design. Brand your business to service – service to clients and customers; and service to the community. Let the employees use some time each month to support charitable purposes. Create opportunities for the team as a whole to participate in a community service project. But do remember there actually is an “I” in team: it stands for individual. Don’t subsume all your employees into a giant collective that leaves each person feeling swallowed up and unimportant.

To create a sense of meaning for your employees, talk often and candidly about the mission of your organization and how it is being accomplished. And ask them to talk about what they’ve done to advance the mission. If you sell carpet, talk about how flooring improves the world one business or one household at a time. If you are a nonprofit that raises money specifically to give to others in need, let them talk about how awesome – and sometimes frustrating – that is. If you run a financial institution, remind them the overarching goal is the safety of each customer’s funds and, indeed, the overall economic fitness of your community.

That’s a long-winded way of saying we love Employee Appreciation Day. Of course, at Align it means food and games. But it can’t just be one day each year. You have to create a culture of showing employees they are valued.