There are many things I wish organizational leaders taught everyone about giving meaningful, motivational, and memorable recognition.
To help you out, I have highlighted seven principles that should help you with how and what you teach leaders and employees.
#1: Show people how simple it is to actually recognize another person.
When someone asks me what I do for work, and I explain how I consult with and teach leaders how to give meaningful recognition to their employees, I often get two kinds of reactions. The first might be something like, “there’s actually a job for doing that?” And the second, and probably the most common response, is usually, “Our company could sure use you to give us some help with that.”
Having just gone out with my grandchildren on Halloween night, it seemed a simple instruction to say thank you after each household bestowed treats and goodies on a child. And, interestingly, I even noticed some of the young ones getting very excited and specific by saying, “Thank you for the chocolate bar.”
Your leaders and employees need some instruction, tools, and expectations to recognize and appreciate people who make a difference and perform above and beyond.
Teach people that recognition is simple and wonderful thing to do.
#2: Abandon using expressions like “good job” and “well done,” and instead, learn to be specific in telling people the positive actions they did and sharing the impact their actions had on others.
For over twenty-six years, I have been on a mission to ban using phrases such as “good job” in the workplace. If you didn’t already know, the word good is actually a neutral word and is not even perceived as positive. Then people add the word job after it, which is far from specific. Employees politely say thanks, never really knowing for sure what they’re being acknowledged for.
What I have proposed for many years is using the Two-Part Specificity Rule™ instead. When recognizing someone, tell intended recipient specifically what they did and how their actions made a difference to people. To remember this rule, I suggest people remember these two words: ACTION + IMPACT. Specifically identify the action the person did and tell them the impact their actions had on others.
These two words allow for all the variety of simplicity and detailedness that each person individually brings to their expressions of recognition. Teach everyone you know how to give recognition the right way.
#3: Don’t worry about recognition so much because anyone can learn to give it the right way.
It is amazing how many people are anxious and uncomfortable with recognizing their peers. One reason for this is that almost no one gets taught how to do it correctly.
School starts off with a carrot and stick approach to motivation. If you’re not academically or athletically inclined, you won’t receive any trophies. Home life might not be any better, depending on how your parents were raised in their homes. Then you start work, get promoted, and viola, you’re a manager, expected to attract, recognize, and keep your staff performing well.
And the good news is you don’t have to worry. Giving meaningful and effective recognition to people is a learned skill. They can teach everyone these skills and behaviors that mean so much to other people. Proficiency takes just a small amount of time.
Teach people that giving recognition is a skill that can be learned and mastered.
#4: Most employees, after practicing how to recognize people, report back that it was far easier than they thought it would be.
Lots of people view giving recognition as something that is hard to do. How can you help employees feel more confident and comfortable giving recognition?
After conducting short or long training sessions where I teach participants how to give effective recognition, I always give them homework. This way, I can assure their leaders that these employees will apply the skills they learned back on the job.
I do this transfer of learning exercise with the attendees over 30-days and I follow up with the learners. They typically practice one action or skill once a week for four weeks, or a major activity just once over the month. These teams of employees usually have a high success rate with their homework. Most of the participants state that giving recognition was easier than they imagined it to be, even with the short amount of practice they had in the training session.
Recognition giving really is easy to do. Teach everyone that.
#5: Recognition is all about building positive relationships with those you work with and associate with.
Every time you give recognition to a person, you put a smile on their face. You give them a shot of dopamine to their brain that makes them happy.
However, it is super important to have a positive relationship first between the recognizer and recognition recipient. Otherwise, peers of the recipient can negatively react to a giver who is not positively regarded.
And the beautiful thing is by having a positive relationship between everyone, then your recognition builds on the relationships you have.
Teach people the joy that recognition giving brings people—both to the giver and receiver.
#6: Emulate and copy the exemplary recognizers around you that you have witnessed make people feel truly valued and appreciated.
Some people appear to be naturals at giving recognition. Chances are, they honed their abilities following the examples of others in the organization.
I recommend following their lead. Note what they say and the way they say it. If you have seen or received a notecard or ecard from them, save it and analyze it. Always be learning.
When you are at an award presentation, write what people say when acknowledging an award recipient. Whose comments had the most impact on people? Which employee appeared the most honored and valued? Check out what they said to stimulate that reaction.
Teach employees that copying others is the highest form of flattery.
#7: Learn the likes and dislikes of people and their recognition preferences so you can better personalize the recognition you give them.
The more you know about a person, the better your recognition will be for them.
Take just 15-minutes and sit down and hold a recognition preference interview with each of your employees, whether in person or virtually. Explain how you want to do a much better job at recognizing them the way they like it.
Find out what their favorite foods and drinks are. If they are sports fans, find out what their favorite teams are. Learn about their hobbies and personal interests. Make sure you discover insights about their family and friends.
What other things can you pick up on from your conversations with them? What do you see on display in their office or cubicle that tells a story?
Finally, make sure you ask how a person likes to be recognized. Do they like public or private recognition? If private, do they mean one-on-one or with a small group of peers? If public recognition is it okay in front of the entire company or perhaps just their department?
There is a lot to consider when personalizing the recognition to be just right.
Teach everyone to ask people what they like most for their recognition.
Recognition Reflection: How are you teaching people how to recognize their peers and others?
Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.