How to Make a Habit of Recognition

“You showed up to work, you did your job, here’s your paycheck. That’s how we recognize people.” Maybe you’ve heard that. I have. Maybe you’ve said that. Many leaders take that approach to recognition. “What’s the big deal?” they wonder, “People get paid to do a job. Why do we need all this other stuff?” I get that. They believe that recognizing people sets the expectation that you have to pay people and then “bribe” them to do what you need them to do.

The challenge is that this approach can lead to getting only the job description done. Employees may adopt the attitude, “I’ll do what you pay me to do. Anything else is not my job.” What if, instead of that attitude, people put in their extra, discretionary energy and creativity to improving the organization? That’s what engaged employees do. They spontaneously help their co-workers and other departments in addition to doing their job. They think about how to improve things and offer suggestions. They bring added value to the organization. It’s the leader’s job to engage them.

Putting it to Work

Look back at the Leadership Matrix. The “Challenge” side of the matrix is where leaders push their employees to achieve more than they thought they could. The “Connection” side is where they give them the energy to do it. Recognition is one of those energizers. When people go the extra mile, letting them know you appreciate it encourages them and others to keep doing it.Recognition can backfire. It is not something you can do half-heartedly or add on as a flavor-of-the-month program. If you do, it will do more to de-motivate your team than motivate them. When done well, however, it can breathe life into your organization. Doing it well means recognition should be:

  1. Immediate – in-the-moment recognition is the most powerful because the link between the action and award is so strong. Employee of the Month should be based on an accumulation of in-the-moment recognitions
  2. Clear – Everyone should know what it takes to be recognized. Make the criteria as objective and measurable as possible. This keeps you away from the claim of favoritism.
  3. Guided – Recognize things that improve your team’s or organization’s performance measures and provide a return on investment. Recognition costs money. It should be money spent to make more money by improving revenue or reducing cost.
  4. Personal – People receive recognition in different ways. Make your recognition program as personal as possible. Many organizations award something (coupons, tickets, “Company Money”) that can be exchanged for a prize of the recipient’s choice.

You can kick it up a notch by adding a contest element. Create scoreboards to let individuals and teams know where they stand and where the organization stands on it’s goals.

Making it a Habit

Here are a couple tips for making Recognition a habit:

  1. Master the use of “Please” and “Thank You” – When you say “please” you are recognizing that someone has other things to do and acknowledging their discretionary effort. It’s that discretionary effort you want to tap to engage them. When you say “thank you” you are recognizing the effort that person made to do what you requested. Sometimes that’s all the recognition a person wants.
  2. Daily say, “I really appreciate it when you …” – make it part of your day to stop and tell someone what you appreciate about what they do. Be sure you let them know how it adds value to the team and organization. Connect it to the Mission or team goal.
  3. Discover your people’s interests – know what your people care about and how they like to be recognized. You can do this formally by using some of the available personality inventory tests or interest surveys. You can also do it informally by asking how someone’s weekend went. What they choose to tell you says a lot about their interests. Knowing these things will help you make recognition more personal (see #4 above).

These are informal things you can do to become a person who recognizes people. That’s where all of the Engager Dynamics start. They start with becoming the kind of person who does the things that engage people. It’s your habit. That’s what makes you a great leader.

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