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Recognition is a gift

Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Rose, 2011) said: “Remuneration is a right, recognition is a gift“. So why isn’t this free gift given more often? It’s human nature to feel proud and seek praise when we’ve done a good job.

Employees value highly the act of being thanked. We all do. Conversely, few things can be as demotivating for employees as not being thanked or recognised when it’s warranted.

Insync’s employee engagement research into the 7 Business Habits That Drive High Performance found that leaders of high performance organisations typically go out of their way to acknowledge and thank people for their contribution, but leaders of low performance organisations are much less likely to acknowledge and thank employees.

On this factor alone, employees of high performance organisations are likely to be more engaged, believe their organisation is a better place to work, and apply extra discretionary effort to their roles than employees of low performance organisations.

Be bold, be surprising

One-off recognition occasions and events can provide one of the best returns on investment you will ever make. The value derived will in most cases be many times the equivalent monetary value of any amounts involved.

An organisation decided to recognise their CFO for the significant extra work he had undertaken over an extended period. To give special recognition and to say thank you, his employer sent him and his wife to a health retreat for a four day weekend. Even five years later, the CFO and others refer to that very thoughtful and impactful gesture, and in fact it has almost become legendary.

While it is obviously inappropriate to denigrate an employee publicly, you should create every opportunity to praise and thank them in front of others. Recognition is more impactful if it is spontaneous and not part of a regular event.

Build recognition into your culture and DNA

Leaders in high performance organisations place huge importance on developing, recognising and caring for their employees, unlike low performance organisations that are more likely to treat their employees as a number or a unit of labour. Even if there was no benefit to improving employee engagement, productivity and making for better workplaces, leaders of high performance organisations acknowledge and thank their people for their contribution, as they consider it to be the right thing to do.

Most good leaders have very busy work schedules and literally have to “go out of their way” to recognise their people. Busy leaders have plenty of other things to do, but they prioritise the importance and make a habit of investing time in their people.

As leaders model going out of their way to recognise and thank their people, others in the organisation will catch on. In time, recognising people and saying thank you will become part of the organisation’s culture. It will simply be the way things are done.

Institutionalise employee and team recognition

High performance organisations recognise the importance of building recognition systems, communications and events into the culture and DNA of their workplaces. This ensures that there is a rhythm created around regular staff celebrations, recognition events and communications. Leaders, however, shouldn’t consider these regular communications and events as a substitute for going out of your way to spontaneously acknowledge or thank specific staff for their contributions.

Recognise strengths even when discussing weaknesses

It’s that old sandwich adage. If you want to communicate to an employee that they need to improve, try telling them first that you value them and what they do well, then tell them what they did not do so well and why, before finishing by telling them again why you value them and that you expect bigger and better things from them in the future.

Go out of your way to recognise your people with this quick action checklist

1. Count the number of times you acknowledge and thank a different employee for their contribution, both privately and publicly, in a normal week. Consciously plan to significantly increase the number (e.g. at least by double) and notice the positive impact. Sustain that increase until it becomes a habit.

2. Once you have experienced the benefits of 1 above, champion this approach with the rest of your leadership team and encourage them to do the same.

3. Develop systems, communications and events into the culture and DNA of your workplace that are specifically designed to acknowledge and recognise people for their efforts, achievements and for being exemplars of the organisation’s values.


Related articles and resources

Research: The 7 organisational habits that drive high performance

Book: 7 Business Habits that Drive High Performance

Article: Genuinely care – don’t be fake

Article: Four steps to inspire Gen Y employees

Article: How to embed and live your values

Article: Shape your culture well – it will then shape you

Article: Leaders need to get REAL

Article: Worried about your culture? Look at your CEO’s habits

Article:  Want an inclusive culture? Ensure managers understand psychological safety

Alignment and Engagement Survey & consulting

Employee Engagement Survey & consulting

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