The Power of Recognition and How to Make it Last
I was having a really bad day. Nothing was going well. It seemed that everything I touched got worse.
I thought of going home. But instead got up to go for a walk around the office.
In the hallway I saw a co-worker, and was going to simply walk by and give him a slight nod as a weak sign of acknowledgement. But he suddenly stopped, looked straight at me with a big smile, and said,
“Hey, way to go landing that whale of a client! You really rock!”
Wow! For me, that changed everything.
No one else at the company had formally acknowledged this important milestone. It had already been a few weeks since the formal announcement, and I had mentally moved on, working on other opportunities.
But in that brief hallway moment, with just a simple statement from a co-worker, my world turned right side up. My bad day turned into a great day, and everything was bright again.
What I had experienced was the power of credible and lasting recognition.
And while that encounter may have occurred many years ago, its impact remains to this day.
Recognition that’s Memorable
Over the years I’ve experienced various forms of recognition – from managers, peers, other co-workers, and even clients, suppliers, and friends. It’s all very nice, and appreciated. But unlike the experience I shared above, I couldn’t tell you where, when, who, or what exactly was said or done.
Why was this experience so memorable to me? Because it was
- unexpected, and
- expressed with passion.
Now, most leaders know that recognition is a powerful motivator for employees. That’s why many companies have a history of celebrating employee work anniversaries (i.e. 5, 10, and 25 years). But to be effective, it really matters what is being recognized, how it is done, and who gives it.
More and more it’s becoming well known that peer-to-peer recognition means a lot more to employees than receiving formal recognition from managers.
Just as I outlined in my personal experience above, receiving a little peer recognition is what turned everything around for me. It encouraged me to refocus my efforts, which benefited me personally, and the whole organization.
So what are some better ways to consider when designing a recognition program?
5 Ways to Recognize Employees
When designing a recognition program, here are 5 important things to consider:
- Be specific. Employees appreciate being recognized for specific results and behaviors. Additionally, when people are rewarded for ‘doing the right thing’ it also benefits organizational performance.
- Foster peer-to-peer. While receiving kudos from management is nice, it’s often seen as being politically motivated. The impact is so much more meaningful when a peer, someone who has nothing to gain, acknowledges your efforts and actions.
- Share stories. When an employee does something noteworthy, sharing the story not only inspires engagement for all those involved, it’s also an opportunity for shared learning and inspiration for everyone who hears about it.
- Make it easy and fun. One idea is to give employees a monthly budget of ‘points’ to give away by recognizing others (like a game). Those who give away the most points should then be rewarded. With proper transparency, not only will it be evident who is doing a great job (receiving the most points) but also those who proactively recognize others.
- Link to values. To ensure relevance and consistency across the organization, employees should be recognized for behaviors and decisions that support the organization’s stated values. This helps ensure a strong and aligned culture.
Bottom line: Maybe it’s time to stop the tradition of recognizing tenure – whereby employees are rewarded for simply sticking around – and instead cultivate a culture where people are recognized for meaningful contributions that are aligned with stated values. And when it’s spontaneous, unexpected, and expressed with passion, the impact can last for many years!