J. Kale Flagg on Employee Recognition

With a career that spans two decades in direct sales, real estate, medicine, travel and Wall Street, J. Kale Flagg knows a thing or two about managing employees. J. Kale Flagg has seen how important employee recognition can be, and realizes that everyone has a need for validation in his or her work. Recognizing hard work and a good job can go a long way toward building a team atmosphere and promoting loyalty. Lack of recognition, as J. Kale Flagg has noted, tends to breed resentment and apathy.

“Releasing the magic” is a phrase J. Kale Flagg uses often. It refers to giving credit where it is really due, rather than a team member hogging the credit without handing down any thanks. J. Kale Flagg has seen this play out in ways that can undermine not only teamwork, but personal relationships. In the experience of J. Kale Flagg, a reward/punishment system has been more of a positive reinforcement. J. Kale Flagg says that his managers reward employees with recognition and praise; lower-performing employees see that recognition go elsewhere (and hear occasional remarks about their own performance), and are hopefully motivated to “up their game” themselves. In fact, according to J. Kale Flagg, the more public the recognition is, the farther it goes to keep motivating great performance in that employee.

Some organizations, notes J. Kale Flagg, might reward employees for mediocre performance, which is a self-defeating cycle for the company; it shows others that there are ways to receive raises or promotions that don’t involve performance. J. Kale Flagg suggests that events for performers will be a motivational tool; dinners, happy hours or parties where only stronger employees are invited, thereby giving lower-performing members something to shoot for. Some managers have a policy of eliminating the bottom 20% of performers every year; in J. Kale Flagg’s experience, following Jack Welch’s game plan of consistently moving out low-performing employees who don’t advance, should be implemented.  “There’s nothing that motivates the veterans like bringing in a rookie who outperforms them” says Kale Flagg.

A 1989 graduate of Yale, J. Kale Flagg was serving as a financial consultant at age 24, and advanced to an executive post at a $200-million direct sales firm by 25. By the age of 28, J. Kale Flagg’s second startup company made it to #1 on the Inc. 500 list. Today, J. Kale Flagg is General Partner of The American Redevelopment Fund, a real estate development firm that specializes in distressed properties. J. Kale Flagg also serves as COO of Array Asset Management, an asset management company focusing on owners of commercial and utility scale solar arrays. Kale Flagg is also the COO at Von Vesting, Inc.—the operational arm of the American Redevelopment Fund, LP.