Did you hear the one about… recognition?

Avoiding bad jokes, being timely and respecting preferences part of successful presentation
By Nelson Scott
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/22/2013

The quest to discover the best strategies for recognizing staff seems never-ending. Companies dedicate resources to designing recognition programs, planning recognition events and selecting tangible tokens of appreciation such as certificates, plaques, merchandise and gift cards.

Sadly, companies are wasting time, money and effort when they fail to focus on the most important aspect of staff recognition — the recipient’s recognition experience.

Staff recognition is not about awards, it’s not about events and it’s certainly not about the people providing the recognition. Recognition is about the individuals and teams who deserve to be recognized for how they contribute and what they achieve.

Those making decisions about recognition should pause and ask themselves, “How will recipients feel about their experience of being recognized?”

If an employee accidentally finds a dusty plaque bearing her name in her manager’s office, and is informed nonchalantly it’s a performance award she was supposed to have received a few weeks ago, she will remember it for years — but not for reasons her former employer would have wished.

The employee will not feel pride for what she accomplished or appreciation for the company’s gratitude. The recognition will lose all its meaning because of how it was presented, which negates the value of the award and its purpose.

While the company may have had well-defined criteria for the award and invested in what it considered to be a suitable token of appreciation, it had not prepared the supervisor to provide recognition in a way that would create a meaningful experience.

‘How’ more important than ‘what’ or ‘where’

How recognition is presented — what is said and done — is far more important than the awards or the event.

The acronym GREAT is a useful reminder to managers and supervisors of the five ingredients of meaningful staff recognition:

Genuine: Recognition must be inspired by a sincere sense of appreciation for what the individual or team has done.

Relevant: The recognition should be rooted in what the organization believes is important, which is often expressed in its mission statements, values and goals.

Explicit: The recognition should include specific descriptions of what the recipient did to earn it.

Appropriate: The recognition should reflect the recipient’s recognition preferences and interests.

Timely: The recognition should be delivered soon after the action that triggers recognition.

Of these five ingredients, “genuine” is the most important. In fact, being genuine is essential to providing meaningful staff recognition.

All the other ingredients need not be included every time recognition occurs, but each time one is added, it strengthens the message of appreciation and increases the sense the recognition is genuine.

Poorly delivered recognition reeks of insincerity, turning what should be a positive experience into a negative memory. Employees are quick to sniff out recognition that is not genuine.

They see the clues:

• The person providing the recognition appears to think what was achieved was not really all that important.

• The message is generic — everyone hears the same words or receives the same letter of commendation.

• Recognition seems to depend on trinkets such as baseball caps, company jackets, certificates, plaques or gift cards.

• Recognition isn’t spontaneous — it is saved until a scheduled event.

• The person making the presentation doesn’t know the recipient, can’t pronounce her name, doesn’t know what she did or understand why it was important.

• The recognition is calendar-specific, happening only on designated days or during special weeks.

Happily, there are techniques that managers and supervisors can use to ensure the recognition is genuine and will be presented in ways that recipients value and find meaningful:

Involve the right people: In making the presentation, the person delivering recognition should know and be known to the recipient.

As a result, this may not be the CEO who, although important to the company, may not be as significant in the recipient’s work life as her boss or the boss’s boss.

Know about the recipient: What are his hobbies? How does he like to spend family time? What are his career goals? What are his hobbies? How does he prefer to be recognized?

The more the supervisors know about individual staff members, the better they are able to provide appropriate recognition.

Respect the employee’s preferences: When recognizing someone, respect her preference to be recognized in public or in private.

Shy, introverted people dread being called up in front of an audience. Some will actually skip recognition events to avoid the experience, while their more extroverted colleagues relish it.

Make it personal: Recognition is most meaningful when experienced in-person. The impact of your words increases when you can synchronize your body language and tone of voice with your message.

If face-to-face recognition is not possible, put words of appreciation in writing, remembering that a handwritten note is more meaningful than a formal letter or an impersonal email.

“The more high technology around us, the more the need for the human touch,” wrote American futurist John Naisbitt in his book Megatrends.

Be explicit: When describing what the recipient did, include specific examples. This shows the supervisor is paying attention to what the employee is doing.

Ensure recognition is timely: The longer you wait to acknowledge an employee’s contribution, the less its impact. Delayed recognition is like a glass of champagne that stands too long — it loses its fizz.

Maintain balance: Find the right balance between being prepared (knowing what the recipient did, why it was important and what you are going to say) and being in the moment.

Over-scripted recognition lacks spontaneity that adds to the meaningfulness of the gesture of gratitude.

Exercise caution when using humour: Many a manager has negated the value of praise by attempting standup comedy such as “Maybe we should have given George a gift certificate for a new tie. Where did you get that one... clown school?”

Separate recognition from other feedback: A recognition event is not a performance appraisal. When a manager says, “Susan did a great job on that report — but it was two weeks late,” the word “but” serves as a verbal eraser, eliminating the positive impact of the words that went before.

Avoid mentioning another task: It’s not a good idea to follow recognition with a request to take on another task. “You did such an outstanding job, I know you will be excited to hear I am going to assign you an even more difficult and time-consuming project.” Don’t let recognition morph into a form of punishment for achieving success.

Nelson Scott is an Edmonton-based staff recognition expert, speaker and the author. He can be reached at (780) 433-1443 or nmscott@telus.net or visit www.GREATstaffrecognition.com for more information.

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