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There has been a great deal of discussion in recent years around creating more ‘human workplaces’, where individuals feel that their humanity and their contribution matters and clearly differentiates them from other inanimate commercial inputs.  There is also a commercial argument for cultivating a more humane workplace,  let’s face it happier more engaged employees are more productive, take less sick leave and are more likely to stay with their employer for a longer period of time.

So what does a more human workplace look like? In reality there will be a variety of components to a more human workplace that will be defined, at least in part, by the type of business that is being conducted. Not every working environment lends itself to flexible working hours and the opportunity to work from home. However the most important aspect of a more humanised workplace is the working environment and  culture. To help with the concept of the overarching culture we have framed it with the Four R’s – Respect, Recognition, Reward and Reciprocity.


It sounds easy, right? Of course you respect your staff, I hear you say. And that is true of most organisations. However, how do your staff know that you respect them? How do they know what garners respect in our organisation?

The first of the 4 R’s is not so much about respecting your staff as it is about making them feel respected, and building a culture that values mutually respectful working relationships. Where respect is a central value of the organisation, and is evidenced in the actions of its leaders, respect will become central to the culture of the business overall.

The individual preferences for how respect is shown will vary between staff members, however where the organization actively sets the parameters of what respectful behaviour looks like and enforces consequences for breaching that expectation, staff will have a clear idea of what to look for, and what the social norm in your culture is.


Like respect, recognition is another area where a lot of employers respond by saying they have this in hand. However, recognition without a framework to ensure consistency and fairness may actually be viewed as favouritism, additionally where the recognition is sporadic or has a weak connection to expected behaviours, it has minimal effect on overall employee performance.  In fact this form of unstructured recognition results in mixed results, and certainly doesn’t result in sustainable positive behaviour change.

So what do we specifically mean by recognition?

Recognition is often confused with reward. Recognition is the acknowledgment of an achievement or behaviour that is in line with business strategy, policy or other behaviour. Forms of recognition can be a personal or public congratulations, an award or a notice in the staff newsletter.

The purpose of recognition is to indicate to the individual and the broader workforce that that was an example of desired behaviour, and to encourage it’s replicated in the future.


Rewards on the other hand are most often financial, in the form of performance bonuses. We often see companies throwing away money on bonuses that are not in any way linked to the appropriate behaviour required  to consistently gain the desired outcome in a predictable way. They are also often paid at Christmas and in most contexts staff tend to see them as an entitlement rather than a reward for doing the right things, at the right time, in the right way, to get the right outcome.

Rewards on the other hand, that are directly linked to appropriate  behaviour that leads to desired outcomes, and serves to reinforce the expectations of their role are more likely to influence future behaviours. It also directly links a personal benefit to organizational success. This is helpful in keeping employees engaged, on track and focused on the areas the business has identified as key drivers to success.


The last of the Four R’s has its foundations in the ‘Law of Reciprocity’, the desire to reciprocate when you perceive you have been given something and you wish to return the favour.

Whilst this is a natural state and will occur without intervention, it can be strategically encouraged by an organization. Now this initially might feel a little calculated, even cold however if we consider the employer – employee relationship as already being reciprocal in nature then leveraging that relationship to benefit both employer and employee is hardly unconscionable .

For example, when the three R’s mentioned above are communicated in a way that makes it clear that the organization is doing these things because it truly values the contribution of their people, without the expectation of any additional contribution, it is highly likely that staff will contribute their discretionary effort to go above and beyond the basic expectations of their role. This can contribute valuable increases to productivity with the flow on being increased profitability.

Of course with any workplace initiatives it’s important to closely monitor the relationship between  implementation and outcome, and adjust accordingly. It may even be necessary to adjust reward programs to ensure they remain a sort after outcome of a great performance rather than an expectation for just ‘showing up’.

Finding ways to appreciate our workforce leads to greater employee engagement and satisfaction, healthier workplace cultures and increase profitability. Aside from this, treating our employees as respected and valuable resources in our workplaces is the right thing to do.

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