The Top 5 Essentials For Giving Effective Recognition

One of my most exciting accomplishments has been working with Dr. Charles Scherbaum from Baruch College, SUNY. Together, we examined the various behaviors and attitudes associated with giving meaningful and effective recognition. Then we conducted the content validity research for our Recognition Skills Assessment® and we found out some very interesting results.

We enlisted recognition subject matter experts to score the level of importance for each behavior and attitude on a Likert scale. They did the same action for scoring the level of impact they felt these behaviors and attitudes had on people and performance. 

The outcome of our studies showed very different perspectives for giving effective recognition than I had imagined. From what we learned, I can give you the top five essential actions and attitudes needed for giving effective recognition.

Authentic Recognition 

One of the top two essential skills is making sure you are authentic with the recognition and praise you give people. 

How do you do that, you might ask? You learn authenticity by being genuine and real in everything you think, say, or do. It is also about becoming your best self. You can do self-reflection exercises to become more self-aware. And it is about becoming sensitive to the feelings of others and your relationship with them.

Your goal is to have the recognition that people give be perceived as genuine and real. Giving more specific recognition that identifies the specific action observed and the specific impact made on others goes a long way to gaining authenticity. 

True authenticity requires consistent actions over time for people to believe your recognition is real. That consistency leads to trust, where people can believe your recognition is genuine.

Try keeping track of the recognition you give to people. You don’t do this as a quota system but for you to measure your ability to recognize peers and staff consistently. You might also consider setting up a certain time of the day where you write note cards to people you want to recognize, or you go online and send ecards to various people.

Rewards Plus Recognition

A fascinating discovery was that the joint second ranked behavior was the idea of accompanying any tangible reward you give to people with some form of expressed appreciation, whether verbally or in writing.

This concept led to my principle that when you give people recognition, you don’t have to give them a reward. But, whenever you give someone a reward, you must always accompany it with recognition. 

Remember to teach people never to give a reward alone. Don’t make sending points or a gift a transactional event. Instead, magnify the tangible reward being given by enhancing it with some well-chosen words of appreciation.

Belief of Recognition’s Impact

It may surprise you that a person’s beliefs would have any bearing on how people feel about the recognition you give them. But it really does. Your beliefs, positive or negative, lead to your behaviors, which produce either good or bad results.

If you sincerely believe through observation, previous experience, or acceptance, that giving people recognition affects their engagement and drives performance results, you are more likely to give memorable recognition to people. However, when you don’t hold such beliefs, you’ll never change to recognize people, or you’ll do it unwillingly and unauthentically.

Learning such beliefs requires showing people a truth that will influence their feelings, which then becomes a belief or will strengthen existing opinions. You can easily do this by video recording interviews with employees expressing how they feel when they have been recognized the right way, and when they haven’t. Seeing these kinds of testimonials goes beyond the static numbers from engagement surveys. Percentages never change people’s minds. Truth always does.

Tone of Voice

Next on the list for giving effective recognition is the tone of voice you use when recognizing people. Your voice is a great conveyer of the emotions you feel. And, since recognition is a felt experience, and the more feeling you communicate through your voice, then the more meaningful and effective your recognition will be.

Scientific research shows that our sense of hearing for voice is probably stronger than sight in accurately detecting emotion. Dr. Michael Kraus at the Yale University School of Management found that we are more accurate at hearing someone’s voice than when we look only at their facial expressions, or even when we see their face and hear their voice.

Practice being more excited when recognizing peers and others you work with. Make sure you’re in a good place mentally and emotionally, so your desired recognition voice matches your internal feelings. Vary your tone of voice more often. People associate a higher-pitched tone of voice with positivity and excitement. 

Removal of Distractions 

Finally, it is so important when you are recognizing someone that you are fully present. And you can best achieve this by putting away any distractions that would prevent you from giving your full attention to the person you’re recognizing.

How many of you have experienced the frustration of a leader or colleague talking to you while glancing at their smartphone? Put the phone down! Close your computer screen if you have to. Cover up any paperwork from view, from yours and the person you are about to recognize.

Conduct awareness building of how many distractions inhibit proper communication with those around us. Distractions stop us from fully listening and our verbal expressions become less sincere and accurate. Review if you have any habitual distractions that you should remove to become a more attentive recognizer.


Hopefully, you have found some new insights for giving more effective and meaningful recognition. Were you as surprised by some of these findings as I was? 

1. Consider these top five essential behaviors and attitudes and see if you need to incorporate them into your communication planning and educational content.

2. For the next 30-days, tackle one area that you feel you need to work on and keep a written record of what you learn from exercising this skill. 

Recognition Reflection: What patterns of behavior have you seen that inhibit giving meaningful and 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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