Showing Managers How To Give Great Recognition

It’s the reason I started my company in educating and training managers over twenty years ago. I saw that no one was showing managers how to give meaningful and effective recognition to their employees.

Oh, there were a lot of memos and mandates from on high. Senior leaders would always tell managers to say “thank you” more often. This was always triggered following the latest employee satisfaction or engagement survey revealing low scores with employee recognition.

You probably know the proverb from the Chinese philosopher, Confucius that states, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

This has been the catalyst for why managers can have a hard time giving recognition. Followed through to the end it is also the key solution.

1. I hear and I forget.

The most common directive, following low recognition scores on the latest engagement survey, is a senior leader telling managers to go out and give more recognition to people.

True, managers may have seen the PowerPoint slides summarizing the survey results. But the act of being told how everyone collectively is doing does not motivate a change in behavior.

Telling people to simply give more recognition doesn’t really help managers. They will only see this soft-skill stuff as something extra to be done on top of, what they think, are more important productivity and performance needs.

What you can draw upon on the telling side of education is making educational resources available to managers, such as:

  • A resource page on your recognition website with helpful articles, tips, and advice on how to improve recognition.
  • Set up notification emails providing instruction on how to acknowledge people when it is their career anniversary and how to present service awards in an appropriate manner.
  • Provide managers with a package of thank you cards with envelopes for them to use along with printed suggestions for writing an effective note, and invite them to give at least one per week.

2. I see and I remember.

Over twenty years ago I started training managers on how to give more effective and meaningful recognition. Back then I realized there was too much telling and not enough showing. No one was showing managers how to actually give recognition to employees. If they couldn’t see it, how were they supposed to know what it looked like?

Too often, people rise in the ranks to become managers based on their technical and professional competencies versus strong people skills.

That’s why in the training we deliver there is a focus on demonstrating effective recognition skills. Yes, we even do role-playing skills. But there is a different expectation from doing them. There’s awareness building of the difficulty we experience in giving recognition. The erroneous perceptions we create for ourselves. And there is insight gained from the ease and simplicity of what it really takes to be a great recognizer.

When people actually interact with their peers in trying out new recognition behaviors they realize recognition is not as difficult as they thought it was. They discover that everyone intuitively knows what happens to people when they are or are not recognized. And the barriers that everyone says get in the way of giving recognition, are most often, self-limiting beliefs rather than organizational constraints.

Other ways by which you can help managers see the value in recognition giving is by doing some of the following:

  • Capture video interviews of employees who have been recognized well and describing the impact it made so people get the point of why.
  • Play videos also of employees recalling a negative experience or lack of recognition and sharing their feelings to influence managers.
  • Provide LED screens around the company highlighting the great things employees are doing around the company to set a standard.

3. I do and I understand.

As the training and education sessions grew over the years, I realized that while I was showing people the methods for giving great recognition, it didn’t mean that life at work became happily ever after.

Too many other things took priority. Maintaining these behaviors in their managerial role was difficult.

Somehow we have to apply the newly acquired skills back on the job.

That’s is where implementation and integration of the new behaviors into the manager’s work routines was essential. They had to do, or actually give, recognition at work. This was the only way for them to understand the impact and benefits of recognition done well.

Setting goals to practice recognition on the job, with accountability for their progress, is required to see managers do recognition the right way and give it more frequently.

Transfer of learning into the workplace can take many forms.

Managers may need to discuss with their reporting manager as to their expectations before the course and what they think they will be doing after the learning session. If they can’t do it in person then they should send an email stating their personal objectives.

They should report back to their leader as to what they gained following the session. And they can set a personal goal with their leader, of which recognition behavior they will put into practice, over the next thirty or sixty days. Following this time period, they should give a face-to-face accounting, or over the phone report, of how well they did with their goal, what they learned from the experience, and things they may still need to work on.

Only then should they receive a certificate of completion or notation of finishing the course on their learning record.

The same principles apply to online learning programs educating on the principles and practices of effective recognition giving.

Things that can be done so managers will actually do recognition the right way could include:

  • Senior leaders lead by example and acknowledge managers in the regular management meetings for welcomed assistance, outstanding achievements, project completions, and positive results.
  • Begin every one-on-one meeting, by each person sharing an example of recognition they’ve given to direct reports that week, as a way of creating an expectation and normalizing recognition giving.
  • Provide managers with a journal for them to write daily the things they are grateful for in their job, as well as recording the positive actions of people they have recognized.

Showing managers how to give effective and meaningful recognition requires a combination of telling, seeing, and doing. Make it happen wherever you work.

Recognition Reflection: What has been the most successful way you have found to show managers how to give 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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