Can You Drive Real Engagement Through Recognition?

I heard Dr. Brad Shuck speak at Recognition Professionals Conference this past week in Atlanta, Georgia.

Brad’s presentation was about Driving Real Engagement Through Recognition: Applying the Core Principles of Behavioral Economics to Strategy Implementation. It’s a long mouthful of a presentation title but he had some great and valid principles we can all apply to what we do with employee recognition. 

What do you need to do now to prepare for giving recognition better tomorrow?

Some of the important reminders and lessons I learned from Brad’s presentation were:

Engagement is an outcome and not a thing. Too often we are trying to impact this enigmatic element called engagement. Rather, engagement is something that results from multiple positive acts of people, the nature of the work, and the environment.

People define recognition in many ways. Brad Shuck and his fellow researchers have defined it as, a positive, active, work-related psychological state operationalized by the maintenance, intensity, and direction of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral energy”.

In his presentation Brad shared three decision-science principles he feels activates employee engagement.

1. Capacity Principle with Engagement and Recognition

The first principle is the Capacity Principle. This he described as having the capacity—or the room—to engage with your environment.

Two key points he made were that:

  • You cannot engage in two places at once.
  • Running at capacity for long time periods comes at a cost.

He provides questions to ask yourself as to your capacity to engage properly on the job, for example:

  • What are you asking your team to do? I believe this question is about monitoring the work demands and personal stresses associated with work. You and I need to check in with our employees on the expectations we set and their capacity to perform.
  • What am I as a leader being asked to do? Then there is what is being expected of us. Are we able to do it? What are our competencies and capabilities? Sometimes we have to say, “No”.
  • Is there space to do this without jeopardizing anything? This comes into the costs benefit analysis. Whether for our employees, or whenever we start on one task or project, something else suffers and doesn’t get done. How essential or critical are other work projects in relation to the new task requested of us? 
  • Is it worth doing this? This comes at a personal cost as well as work expectations. How meaningful is this new work request?

How does this Capacity Principle apply to employee recognition? What is the recognition significance for you and I?

I am not sure the capacity principle fully applies to employee recognition in isolation from engagement? The science of behavioral economics infers that with the Capacity Principle you cannot engage in two things at the same time. However, with giving recognition to people, it is a relational and communicative activity and you can do this while working and doing other things.

The only capacity issue I think you need are the abilities to observe positive behaviors and the means to emotionally, relationally, and communicatively to acknowledge and celebrate someone’s actions when they occur.

2. Cumulative Principle with Engagement and Recognition

The second principle Brad Shuck referred to with engagement is the Cumulative Principle. He shared how engagement is not a sudden event but is a cumulative experience.

He highlighted how employee engagement and the cumulative effect are all about a gradual building up. I found his point on it can seem easy to do but it is also not easyto do as a great moment of reflection. So the Cumulative Principle can work for us, or against us, depending on the degree of positivity and the frequency of occurrence.

Brad suggests we should not be aiming for a Big Transformation. Rather, engagement is about moments that matter, which add up over time. This is about personal and organizational discipline in doing the right things consistently. And building a strong community and a sense of belonging are key.

How does this Cumulative Principle apply to employee recognition? What is the recognition significance for you and I?

I certainly believe the Cumulative Principle has relevance to employee recognition. 

When you and I consistently acknowledge and recognize people for their contributions, there is a mental and emotional bank account being reckoned in people’s minds and hearts. The more recognition they experience the more positive they feel about their work, the people they work with, and the loyalty they feel towards the company they work at. However, note that a single occurrence of recognition still has a significant impact upon people, especially when not customary or when given by a significant person.

3. Engage Principle with Engagement and Recognition

The final principle is the Engage Principle. Brad focused on the value and meaning of our work and our contribution with this principle that drives high levels of employee engagement. It is all about meaning and purpose.  You must know your “why” and tap into that to move into action.

It’s about believing in the meaning of work and experiencing value when you do it. Each time you go to work you are making a choice whether it is worth the risk to engage and perform or not. Ask yourself do you have the resources to do good work well?

With this Engagement Principle Brad recommends that you:

1.    Elevate the moments that matter. 

2.    Think long-term emotional value

3.    Help people see their meaning.

4.    Spend time framing and anchoring emotional experiences through recognition.

How does the Engagement Principle apply to employee recognition? What is the recognition significance for you and I?

The Why or Meaning of the Engagement principle affects recognition with a person’s level of trust, their purpose and intentions with giving recognition, and the authenticity with how recognition is given. 

You need to make recognition matter every time. The benefits of recognition accrue over time. One purpose of recognition is to help people see their own worth and to know that you and others value their contributions on the job. 

It is good to review scientific principles such as in behavioral economics every once and a while. Then you can see how they relate to your current recognition practices and programs and consider adjusting things.

Recognition Reflection: Which scientific principle of engagement could help you improve employee recognition where you work?

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.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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