The art of recognition

When efforts are acknowledged, workforces are motivated… but in most organizations many recognition moments are lost

In today’s workplaces, it’s important that everyone — not just supervisors and managers — give recognition to peers in order to create a productive and motivating work environment. Recognition is a key retention tool that more organizations are looking at to motivate employees.

As employees take on expanded roles, often without an increase in salary, it’s more important to provide support and recognition to let them know how they’re doing. The “no news is good news” adage doesn’t work in today’s environment. People want to know that they’re succeeding or they’ll happily go somewhere else where they can get that feedback.

Giving recognition has been seen as the role of the manager. Yet, in today’s cross-functional environment, it’s becoming more important that peers recognize and support each other too.

Often, managers don’t see behaviours that should be recognized because they are removed from the team, or are managing 30 different people. Peers may be in a unique position to see actions and results and to give feedback.

In many organizations, typically, only big accomplishments are recognized. Yet when people work in an organization where even small everyday successes are seen as important, employees are encouraged to take risks, to initiate change and to grow and develop personally. Positive reinforcement inspires us to do our best and recognition is a powerful tool that everyone can use to build better working relationships.

Recognizing someone often takes less than a minute but the return on investment can be huge.

Unfortunately, most people overlook opportunities to give recognition or just don’t bother to take the time. Managers are too busy to notice behaviour, and peers get caught up in their own tasks and so many recognition moments are lost.

Recognition is a great tool that many organizations forget to use. It can:

•encourage people to repeat the right behaviours;

•build confidence;

•help people focus on key goals;

•inspire people to increase efforts;

•create a positive and supportive environment;

•build a sense of pride in accomplishments;

•promote a sense of accountability; and

•help people feel valued.

Excuses that don’t hold water

Giving recognition should be part of any organization that wants to see its employees grow and succeed — but that doesn’t mean that recognition always happens when it should. People often make excuses for not giving recognition. Does this sound like you, or a manager in your organization?

•It’s so embarrassing to give recognition, for me and for my employee.

•She’s just doing her job. What’s the big deal?

•People know that they’re doing a good job. Why do I have to tell them?

•I don’t like singling out one person in case it affects the morale of the rest of the group

•I don’t see what my employees do everyday, so what can I recognize?

•I’m too busy doing my own job.

•I only recognize the big things. That way it has more impact.

•I tell them how they do every year during their performance appraisals. What more do they want?

People have different reasons for not giving recognition. Lots of things can get in the way, but if we took advantage of some of the situations mentioned above, the return on investment would be enormous, on both a personal and an organizational level.

Recognition tips

Here are some suggestions that will help take advantage of those lost recognition moments:

•Look for opportunities to give recognition. Recognize the big accomplishments, but don’t overlook the smaller things — these may be chances for you to build confidence and increase motivation.

•Focus on specifics. General recognition isn’t motivating. For the employee to repeat behaviour, she has to know specifically what she did that earned your recognition. Make recognition concrete so that it will be a learning tool.

•Give positive reinforcement as soon as you see the behaviour. This will ensure that the employee remembers what he did. Don’t wait to give recognition because you’re too busy.

•Tell the employee how her behaviour or actions made a difference to you, your department or to the organization. This will help her feel more connected to the business.

If you’ve decided it’s time to give recognition more frequently, you now have to decide what you’d like to recognize. Ask yourself — what behaviours and actions add value to my department? There will be lots of opportunities to give recognition throughout the day, but some of the behaviours that you want to recognize might include:

•working collaboratively with team members;

•communicating to customers in a timely manner;

•successfully completing a training program;

•taking the initiative to solve a problem; and

•asking “tough” questions during a meeting.

Reinforcing the right behaviours leads to the right results. The problem is, determining the right recognition for each individual. For recognition to have any impact, it should be tailored to meet each person’s needs. One size does not fit all.

When choosing the right form of recognition for an individual, think about who the person is, and what motivates him. Think about whether you should be recognizing an individual or a group.

Decide if the recognition should be personal and private, or public. Here are some suggestions:
•write a personal “thank you” note explaining the behaviour you are recognizing;

•send an e-mail or a phone message, try using an internet-based card service as something a little different;

•give a small gift or gift certificate from the employee’s favourite store;

•have flowers delivered (to the office or the home);

•decorate the employee’s work station with streamers and balloons; or

•give a gift certificate (for two) to a local restaurant.

For a group, you could try:

•throwing a pizza party;

•having ice-cream and cake;

•giving tickets to a sporting or recreational event;

•giving movie passes; or

•putting up posters around the office explaining the group’s accomplishments.

Giving recognition forces managers — and peers — to pay more attention to behaviour. It requires a bit of extra effort, but the benefits for individual employees and for the organization as a whole make it worthwhile.

Jayne Jackson is the manager, training and development/human resources with the publishing firm Carswell. She may be contacted at [email protected]

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