The Art of Employee Recognition

June 23, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

Let’s face it, it’s hard to recognize employees for their outstanding work. And it can easily backfire. Yet workplace studies show that lack of opportunities for meaningful achievement and recognition are the two biggest factors in employee dissatisfaction at work. Think about this for a minute. These issues rank much higher than salary, working conditions or vacation time, yet these are the bargaining chips most companies use to make staff happy. What people truly crave is to make meaningful contributions and to be noticed.

It’s critical to note that not all recognition is the same. It turns out that achievement and recognition are intimately linked, and taken in isolation, they have little chance of changing your corporate culture. Achievement without recognition quickly becomes demoralizing, and everyone immediately sees through a hollow “great job!” when there was really no meaningful achievement to back it up.

Proper recognition is more of an art than a science. But there are some general principles that can guide you towards the kind of kudos that can support your whole team to reach the next level. Here are a few things to consider.

  • Start with achievement. When thinking about recognition, start with achievement. Make sure everyone on your team has work that is just a little outside their comfort zone. People enjoy a stretch. Recognition only makes sense in the context of a real achievement.
  • Recognition is not a reward. This is subtle, but very important. Consider a system of awarding “employee of the month” to whomever scores highest on some metric, like sales. This focuses your team on the reward, and it robs them of the intrinsic reward of the work itself. Recognition should not be expected or promised. It should feel natural. Maybe the person who won employee of the month gamed the system and everyone knows it. You can’t game recognition.
  • It doesn’t take much. We need to start from the assumption that the work itself provides its own intrinsic rewards. All that is needed is a simple “you know, you handled that really well.” Simple recognition. No need for a special parking space for a month. Recognition is simply about being noticed.
  • Share the love. Many teams have superstars, but recognition is not about who finished the most work. It’s about finding what is a stretch for each person and honoring that. People at all levels and abilities are pushing up against their boundaries. Find a way to recognize everyone.
  • Make it public. Singling someone out in front of their peers is a tricky thing to do, but if you think you need to recognize someone in private so others won’t be offended, rethink. Maybe if you think your team won’t agree with your assessment, they know something you don’t. Recognition should be obvious to everyone on the team, and since you share the love, they know their turn will come.

The great thing about PropsToYou is that we find the achievements for you. It’s next to impossible for a busy manager to keep track of day-to-day work closely enough to uncover real achievements for everyone on the team.

Follow up that award with a moment for congrats at your next team meeting. It will make a world of difference.

Alden has 20 years experience managing IT product teams including Microsoft Windows.

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