Show People How to Give Recognition the Right Way

Historically, recognition training was always a knee jerk reaction to low scores on recognition related questions on the latest employee engagement survey results when I first started speaking and training on recognition skills.

These days recognition training is much more planned and strategic as human resource leaders and organizational development specialist have grown in awareness of recognition’s role and realize a lot of us need skills training.

The good news is that giving meaningful, memorable, and motivational recognition can be learned.

However, learning how to give recognition has not always been at the forefront of most organizations’ learning curriculum.

Evolution of Recognition Education and Training

For a long time, when you think back to the 1980s, we did not know a lot about employee recognition in corporations. Leaders didn’t believe recognition was important, and they relied solely upon extrinsic rewards and compensation to “motivate” people. There were very few courses or training on the skills and education required to give effective employee recognition.

In the 1990s satisfaction surveys and the eventual engagement surveys became consulting firms entryway into major corporations. With the collection of this survey data grew greater awareness of the importance and need for recognition skills. But there was still a lack of training and education available on the topic.

As greater awareness emerged of the importance of employee recognition, it created a small demand for education and training to understand recognition, learn what it is, overcome the barriers to giving recognition, and most importantly, learn how to give it the right way.

When leaders saw recognition as an essential management competency in the early 2000s, companies wanted on demand access to online learning programs and in-class training on effective employee recognition skills. 

Today, there are many organizations that totally accept recognition as an important skill set and most of their employees and managers receive education and training on recognition skills. This education can come through on demand e-learning using bite-sized learning modules or through supervisory, management and leadership training programs, books and articles, and many online resources.

And there are some organizations today that truly view recognition as a valued skill. In fact, everyone in these organizations receives education and training on recognition skills when starting with the organization, and through multiple learning and communication mediums along their learning path.

Show Them How Don’t Just Tell Them

One thing I remember when I started my business of educating and training recognition skills is what leaders used to do when they had an ugly recognition score on their latest satisfaction or engagement survey. 

Presidents and CEOs of these companies would send out an edict to all managers to say “thank you” more often to employees to improve the scores on the next survey. The outcome?

1.   This rarely changed the behaviors of their managers in giving better recognition.

2.   The next survey results barely moved at all.

This is when I realized there was a need to “show” managers how to give better and more effective recognition to employees. You can’t just tell people to go out there and recognize people more often if they don’t know how to do it.

For some people they’ve grown up never receiving praise or recognition from their parents at home, so not knowing how, they don’t give to people at work.  Others never excelled at academics or sports at school and so received no awards or accolades for top performance. For them, people have to be above and beyond achievers before recognition happens. And a common problem in the workplace is if your manager doesn’t recognize you why should you recognize anyone else?

Things to Show People About Recognition

Here are a few things I have found beneficial in showing people how to give great recognition to people.

1.   Show them that recognition takes very little time to give. The biggest complaint and excuse people give for not recognizing people is that it takes too much time. Have them say the words “thank you” and a more specific statement of recognition. Assign someone to time how long it really takes for them to say these statements. You’ll likely see it take just over 1 second for the words “thank you”. Most sincere and specific statements of recognition will hover around 17 seconds. Prove to them that the “it takes too long” argument is a myth and excuse and not a solid reason. They just don’t know how to give it right.

2.   Show them how to break away from generic phrases like “good job” or “well done”.  Saying “good job” or “well done” does not mean very much to people. Have them interview either peers or employees and ask them how they feel when they hear those expressions. Ask on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being low and 10 being high, how effectively recognized they feel after hearing these statements. 

3.   Show them simple ways to be specific with their recognition. Point out to them that every expression of recognition should always include two specific kinds of statements. The first specific statement is always about the Action or positive behaviors observed. Encourage them to also include a second statement regarding the Impact or difference the employee has made with their actions. A simple structure for more meaningful recognition.

4.   Show them that every employee is a human being and not a title. Have them practice the Action and Impact method of giving recognition in role-play scenarios with work situations from their company. Put them in groups of three. Each person will rotate around recognizing each role-playing partner who will act as a direct report, a peer, and a senior leader. Have the situations be as realistic as possible. Afterwards, ask them which scenario was easiest and which was hardest. You’ll find that even though these were purely role-playing situations with peers they will find the direct report the easiest and the senior leader is the hardest. Emphasize that while we have roles that we need to respect, we should treat everyone as people first. Recognition should always be multidirectional in its origin and should not be considered a top-down experience.

Interestingly, there is an axiom in fiction writing that also says “show, don’t tell”. It’s a writing technique that allows the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings, rather than through exposition, summarization, and description by the author.

Similarly, showing people how to give real recognition the right way, allows the learner to experience recognition as the positive feeling of validation that it is. 

Showing is the best way to learn.

Recognition Reflection: What methods of learning are most typically used to teach your employees how to give effective recognition?

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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