I want to help you get unstuck about employee recognition. In fact, I want you to think about recognition in a completely different way.
But first I want to give you a quick orientation to the world of employee recognition.
Then I promise you that I will give you that new point of view. Okay?
How Do You Define Employee Recognition?
Let’s take a quick dive into some definitions that some professional associations provide leaders, managers and employees with about employee recognition.
Recognition Professionals International (RPI) is a professional association providing education and insights on employee recognition for recognition practitioners, managers, and industry vendors and providers. They define recognition as the “after-the-fact appreciation for desired behavior, effort, or result that supports goals and values.”
This seems pretty good, for the most part.
Then you have the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), which helps HR professionals with everything dealing with managing and serving people at work. SHRM’s definition of employee recognition is “an acknowledgment of employee achievement”.
At the same time, SHRM states recognition can be either public or private, which is an important reminder. And they further indicate that recognition can involve a monetary reward or nonmonetary reward.
They were doing so well!
This is when recognition starts to get blurry and a little bit confusing when you begin coupling the word recognition with rewards.
But wait…there’s more!
The Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), which “leads incentive professionals and the corporate community as the premier educator and information source in the incentive marketplace” can’t help but have a more reward-focused viewpoint.
So they’re definition of recognition is based solely on incentives, namely, “something, such as the expectation of reward, that induces action, or motivates effort.”
Is this a slippery slope to creating problems or what?
Let’s move on to WorldatWork, the global human resources association focused on compensation, benefits, work-life and integrated total rewards, which has an association glossary defining many of the terms their membership uses.
“Total rewards” is officially defined as “monetary and non-monetary returns provided to employees in exchange for their time, talents, efforts and results.”
WorldatWork describes extrinsic rewards as “work-related rewards received for performance that have value measurable in monetary or financial terms.”
They go on to describe intrinsic rewards (which I know they wanted to say is recognition, but don’t) as “associated with the job itself, such as the opportunity to perform meaningful work, complete cycles of work, see finished products, experience variety, receive professional development training, enjoy good relations with co-workers and supervisors and receive feedback on work results.”
Now these comp and ben folks are calling recognition “intrinsic rewards” just to further mix things up for you.
What’s a person to do?
With all of this confused thinking I’m getting mighty close to telling you a different way of thinking about recognition.
To prepare you, I will share with you that when you give people recognition you don’t have to give them a reward. But when you give people a reward you must always accompany it with recognition.
Does that make sense?
Those Pesky Employee Engagement Surveys
I usually come in and help organizations decouple this whole recognition and rewards conundrum before they can ever start giving real recognition the right way wherever their people work.
Once you know the definition of something and it is simple and clearly spelled out you have the means to start measuring it.
You have to know what you are measuring when you ask questions on an employee engagement survey.
Otherwise, you might end up with questions like, “Do you feel recognized and rewarded for doing good work?” (There’s that reward word again!!). Never ask a two-pronged question. Always focus on one specific issue, in this case, feeling recognized.
Most surveys ask questions like, “Do you feel valued and appreciated for the contributions you make on the job?”
People want to know they are valued and making a difference with their work.
Or surveys might dig deeper on the frequency of recognition received like, “How often do you receive recognition for your work from a supervisor?”
Many organizations gravitate to the Gallup organization and their short and sweet statement on their famous Q12 Survey, “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.”
You’ll see all kinds of variations on that one.
Yet, with all these engagement surveys, over so many years of conducting them, somehow employee recognition continues to score poorly in many organizations.
They simply are not thinking of recognition the right way.
And Now For Something Completely Different
For a long time I have defined “real” recognition as any thought, word or deed towards making someone feel appreciated for who they are and recognized for what they do.
Sometimes, you should appreciate people without them having to produce anything or move the dial on some performance metric.
Do we simply appreciate people for their talents, attributes, ethnic background, family and life experience, personal interests, skills, hobbies and abilities?
And notice I said, recognize people for what they do. I did not say for what they have done.
Too many employees tell me they only get “recognized” when a project is completed and the task is done – even if that takes weeks or months to do. No one ever says anything along the way. That can hurt.
I also noticed on those engagement survey questions, that company leaders were often asking how employees “feel”.
But the irony is that these company leaders, managers and supervisors were not giving any “feelings” in the recognition they gave to employees.
So I want you to think about recognition differently.
Real Recognition is not only:
- “an after-the-fact appreciation.”
Nor is it just:
- “an acknowledgment of employee achievement.”
And it does not have to be anything:
- “tangible or reward-like in nature.”
I believe we need to be thinking of employee recognition in a unique way.
Are you ready?
Here’s my new way of thinking about recognition.
Recognition is the transfer of emotions and feelings from one person to another.
Whether it is a verbal or written expression of acknowledgment, praise or recognition, it should be done with real feelings and authenticity or else it becomes rote and mechanical. People can feel the difference.
When a gift or token of appreciation is given to someone, was an emotional investment made in finding the right kind of gift that spoke volumes beyond any words could do?
You know you are being appreciated with genuineness when a person sits down with you ands asks how you are really doing. You feel their love and their concern.
A colleague stops doing their own work to help you out with a challenging work task. They are valuing the work you do and demonstrating compassion for your situation. They just felt to do what they did and acted upon those impressions.
Yes, I think I am going to think of recognition completely differently from now on.
I will stop to think when I recognize someone.
How can I best give the positive feelings inside of me and convey those emotions to another person so they can feel them inside too?
And how do you know you’ve been truly recognized well?
You will know it when you feel it!
Question: How does defining recognition differently change your approach to it?
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.