Get Amazing Spillover Effects From Giving Recognition

Giving recognition creates all kinds of wonderful feelings in people and positive performance results too.

However, most of us tend to think recognition provides strictly a one-to-one person return. You acknowledge an individual and believe they are the only one who is impacted.

That’s why many managers and leaders have a hard time knowing what to do around teams and whether they can or cannot recognize individual performance on a team.

Does recognizing a team member positively or negatively affect the other teammates?

The Spillover Effect

We’ll get into the positive or negative affects shortly. First, you need to learn about the spillover effect.

There is an economic and psychological principle called the “spillover effect”. The spillover effect is where an outcome in one situation happens because of a seemingly unrelated event in a completely different context.

For example, your boss’s good mood today might have been generated from an accepted marriage proposal last night and spills over into the good spirits of staff this morning, with them not having a clue what happened the evening before.

The spillover effect can occur with giving recognition as well.

Recent research found that giving recognition to a well performing team member significantly increases their fellow team members’ individual job performance. Interestingly, the greater the recognized team member’s regular interactions or central role on the job, the higher the impact their recognized results had on team members’ performance.

And the recognizing of an outstanding team member also impacted the overall teams’ performance too.

No Worries Over Individual Team Player Recognition

I often get inquiries around recognizing and rewarding teams and whether it is right or wrong to acknowledge a stand out employee.

People tend to feel that singling out one employee will hurt the other members of the team.

To answer this it is best to look at a sports analogy of a team sport like hockey. Let’s create the scenario where the A team wins the game and Jon Smith wins the overall Most Valuable Player (MVP) award of the game.

Jon Smith consistently provides a lot of assists during each game to his fellow teammates. His meriting the MVP is well received by team members and boosts their camaraderie and their actual individual performance on future games. In fact, they end up winning the league cup at the end of the season.

What the Research Shows

The paper co-authored by researchers from the University of Iowa, Texas Christian University and Tsinghua University in China, found that instead of hurting performance, recognizing a deserving, high performing team member actually assists with lifting the results of others.

The reasons concluded were:

  1. Observing team members observe the top performer’s behavior and set out to emulate their successful actions. The high performer’s example instills a strong motivation upon others.
  2. Since each team member has a tendency to want to model the ideal behaviors of the recognized high performer then the total team results are elevated as well.

Please note that this research used verbal or public acknowledgement for high performance and did not include financial or tangible rewards. It is true that rewards can stimulate resentment in team members.

More Proof of Spillover Effect

At Rideau Recognition Solutions I have also seen this spillover effect. I gave managers education and instruction on how to give more effective recognition to acknowledge their top performing people.

It was quickly observed that even non-recognized staff saw elevated performance results.

The reasons these managers and employees gave for other team members’ results were:

  1. Managers realized they had not given specific recognition for the desired behaviors in the past.
  2. Managers were now connecting the dots for employees and showing how their actions were making a positive difference to customers, the team and the company as a whole.
  3. Everyone witnessed the recognized employee and what he or she had done.
  4. They better understood what the desired behaviors and objectives were.
  5. Knowing what to do they emulated the desired behaviors and were often recognized for their actions.

Whenever you give appropriate and well-deserved recognition the right way to someone, you also influence everyone around him or her in a positive way.

Question: What spillover effects have you seen from recognizing individual team members?

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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