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.

How to Make a Habit of Inspiring

Let me go full on “Word Nerd” for a minute. The word “Inspire” comes from two Latin words: In-, meaning “into” and spirare, meaning “to breathe.” the literal meaning is “to breathe into” (hence the picture of the balloon). It was originally used of a divine or supernatural being in the sense, “to impart a truth or idea to someone.” It’s pretty easy to see how it has come to mean so many things related to art, music, purpose, etc.

As an Engager Dynamic, Inspire means to generate enthusiasm (ooh, a word nerd alert for another time!) by connecting people’s work to a higher purpose. Hopefully, the mission or vision of your organization captures that sense of higher purpose.

Putting it to Work

Let’s start with your organization’s mission/vision. What is it? Here are some examples of inspiring vision statements:

  • Life is Good: To spread the power of optimism.
  • IKEA: To create a better everyday life for the many people.
  • Nordstrom: To give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible.
  • Cradles to Crayons: to provide children from birth through age 12, living in homeless or low-income situations, with the essential items they need to thrive – at home, at school and at play.
  • JetBlue: To inspire humanity – both in the air and on the ground.
  • Prezi: To reinvent how people share knowledge, tell stories, and inspire their audiences to act.
  • Southwest Air: To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.

Hopefully, yours is as inspiring. That just makes it easier. If it’s not as inspiring, that’s OK. You think of an inspirational way to describe what you do. I saw a statement on the side of a truck that said, “We help the world keep its commitments.” I thought that was pretty good! What you do is not what you really do. That trucking company transports goods from one place to another. That may sound boring. But, they know their customers often tell their customers, “It will be there by Monday.” This trucking company is saying, “We’ll make sure it is.”

Your company’s product or service does something for your customers they can’t or choose not to do for themselves. What are you freeing them or allowing them or helping them to do? Make that into a short statement that people can connect to as inspirational.

Making It a Habit

Now, how does your team contribute to that inspiring vision? Are you the Accounts Payable department? Maybe it’s, “We keep the lights on so we can …” The point is to make sure your team members know how important their work is to the overall mission/vision of the organization.

Back to the word inspire, think of blowing up a balloon. You breathe into it, take a breath, breathe into it again and repeat until it is full and vibrant. This is what you do with your team, too. You talk to them regularly about the team mission/vision, about how they’re making it happen for the organization and the customers you serve. When you recognize them for great work, tie that recognition to how it contributes to the team’s mission. When you give re-aligning feedback, do the same thing. Post your team mission on a banner or posters around the work area.

If this isn’t something your used to, you may want to check out my posts on developing habits and Strengthening the Do and Don’t Muscle. If you make inspiring your people as natural as breathing you will have an engaged, productive, enthusiastic team.

How to Make a Habit of Equipping

Many companies have Policy and Procedure manuals. If you look at a Procedure from the manual, it will usually outline the Summary, Purpose, Scope or Responsible Parties, and Definitions associated with that particular procedure. Then, just before describing the steps in the procedure, it will list the required Tools and Equipment.

Now, imagine you are an employee preparing to do that procedure. You understand everything about the procedure including how critical it is to the business outcomes of your organization. But, you do not have nor can you find the “Required Tools and Equipment” to perform the procedure.

When I was in high school I had a screw put into my shoulder because of a sports injury. On the day my surgeon took the screw out, I was brought into the operating room. I was to be awake during the procedure. My surgeon, I guess he wanted to keep me relaxed with his sense of humor, got onto an intercom and asked, “Could you have maintenance bring me up a Philips-head screw driver, please?” Imagine!

What would it say to your employee about the organization if they didn’t have the proper tools and equipment to perform their work? The Leader who is an Engager makes certain that never happens.

Make It a Habit

In my post on the Engager Dynamic called Equip, I talked about two kinds of equipping, physical and mental. Unless you’re writing a brand new procedure the physical equipment is usually pretty straight forward. You list the required equipment and have processes in place to ensure it is available and in good working order.

Mental equipping means to prepare someone mentally for a particular purpose or task. This may not be as obvious. It would help if you could learn to look at your organization like an outsider.

In acute care hospitals, for example, where “Care Experience” is a critical measure of success, leaders will often sit down in an empty patient room and try looking at it like a patient or a patient’s family member. “What do they see when they sit here?” they ask trying to push through the familiarity bias of seeing the space everyday as a work environment. This helps them understand what they might do to improve the experience of their patients.

No matter what your organization does, looking at it from the perspective of a new employee will be extremely helpful in equipping your people mentally. Beyond the knowledge required to perform their job, what do they need to know about your organization to be successful? For example, they will need to know

  • Where things are (restrooms, cafeteria, break rooms, nearby restaurants for lunch, etc.)
  • Whom to contact (for finance, for Human Resources, for Benefits, for Operations, for IT support, for other technical support)
  • How to get their contact information
  • Cultural do’s and don’ts (what are they in your organization?)

Try to remember your first week. Which of these and which other questions or difficulties did you have? Write them down in order of priority or frequency of use. Now give that “cheat sheet” to each new employee. I suggest handing it to them in person and going over it with them rather than putting it into a “Welcome Packet.” That signals, with a personal touch, that you’re doing everything you possibly can to be sure they are successful as soon as possible. That, in turn, creates within them a subtle challenge to do everything they can to be successful as soon as possible. It’s a Win, Win!

How to Make a Habit of Setting Expectations

It’s been said, “Two things can destroy any relationship: Unrealistic Expectations and Poor Communication.” That’s especially true if communication is poor about expectations. In my post on expectation setting, I said that one of the most toxic killers of any relationship is unspoken expectations. Why would expectations go unspoken, especially at work? Two possible reasons are

  1.  Assumption – you assume people know the expectations either because “they should be obvious,” or, you believe someone else has already expressed them.
  2. Awareness – you may not be aware that you have a certain expectation.

What Do You Expect?

One of the first steps in making a habit of setting expectations is to identify your expectations. “Expectation” is defined as “A feeling or belief about how successful or good someone or something will (should) be.” So ask yourself, “What are my beliefs about how . . . should be done?” Here’s how you can identify those expectations you may not know you have. Ask yourself, “What do I find myself being irritated about at work? Let’s say it’s meetings. OK. Make a list of what irritates you about meetings. Maybe your list looks like this:

  1. People arriving late
  2. Side conversations distracting people and causing loss of focus
  3. People interrupting each other to make their point
  4. Disrespectful non-verbal communication
  5. People going on tangents
  6. Meetings take too long

You’re irritated about these things because you have an underlying expectation (feeling or belief) about how they should be. Now, turn each of those irritations into a statement of expectation.

Meeting Expectations

  1. Everyone will arrive to meetings on time
  2. Everyone will remain attentive to the discussion on the table
  3. Everyone will demonstrate courtesy during meetings by allowing a speaker to finish their point before speaking
  4. Everyone will demonstrate a respectful attitude
  5. Everyone will remain on topic. Side topics will go onto the parking lot for later discussion
  6. Everyone will adhere to the agenda so meetings will end on time

You may even want to include some accountability signals. For example, if someone does not meet expectation #1 Arrive on time, they have to sing a solo in front of the rest of the group. I’ve seen this work wonders at getting people to meetings on time! For the rest you may simply establish a further expectation that anyone can respectfully remind attendees of the expectation they are violating at any point during the meeting. If it’s your meeting, you certainly can do that.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

That was pretty easy. Now you have to let people know what the expectations are. You need to communicate. You may want to do the following:

  1. Email team members (or anyone who may attend meetings in your organization) a notice letting them know what the new Meeting Expectations are along with the accountability signals. It would be helpful to include a statement of why you are implementing these expectations. In the interest of respect for people’s time and points of view and for the efficiency of meetings, for example.
  2. Send out agendas for meetings ahead of time. Include the list of Meeting Expectations on every agenda.
  3. Make a poster of the Meeting Expectations and hang one in every meeting room for all to see.

Now you’ve communicated your expectations three different ways. If you model these expectations and consistently use the accountability signals you’ve developed, you will find yourself a lot less irritated at meetings. Even better, you’ll find your teams more engaged and productive when they meet.

Making It a Habit

If your habit has been to be vague and imprecise about expectations, how do you change that habit? First, take a look at my posts on exercising the Do and Don’t muscles and on general Habit Formation. Then, set up your habit change routine. Identify your “whistle” (see Habit Formation). Practice the skill – for example, identify the underlying belief of a frustration and turn it into a statement of expectation. Reward yourself. Repeat on a daily basis.

Not every one of the expectations you discover will be about work and some, you may find, are unrealistic. That’s actually a good thing. Learning to clearly articulate your expectations will help you engage the people who need to know what you expect. It will also help you abandon those expectations that are unrealistic which is definitely good for engagement.

Make It A Habit

Have you ever driven home from somewhere, maybe you were deep in thought about a significant event, and when you arrived, you couldn’t remember actually driving home? It’s kind of scary, but it happens. How can that happen? Habit.

If you’ve been driving for over a year, think through how you drive away from your home. What steps do you follow to get into the car and drive away? Chances are, you had to think about it for a minute to even break it down into steps. Then you probably realized that you follow the same steps in sequence each time you drive away. That’s because much of the mechanics of driving (knowing how to make the car go forward or in reverse, how to speed up and slow down and how to stop and steer) have become habit for you.

What is A Habit?

Habits are those things we do without having to think about it. Some habits form simply because of repetition. We do the same thing in the same way enough times and we eventually don’t have to think about it. We just do it.

There are other habits, though, that we form on purpose. In my last post, for example, I mentioned learning to dance, play an instrument and sports. But there is also the military and police. Have you ever heard someone from the military or police or any first responder being interviewed as a hero who said that in the face of danger, “The training kicked in and I just did what I had been trained to do?” That’s all habits.

Anatomy of a Habit

We want to talk about how to form new habits. To do that it’s helpful to understand how habits work. There is a lot of material out there from blogs to scientific research papers. To summarize it, there are three parts to a habit. They are:

Reminder (also called cue or trigger) – The traffic light turns green, for example
Response – You initiate the sequence to start driving again
Reward – You resume progress toward your destination (and the person behind you doesn’t honk)

You know its a habit because, when the light turns green, you don’t have to think, “Check the distance from the car in front of me, have they started moving, release pressure on the break, move my foot to the accelerator, apply just enough pressure to increase speed to match the acceleration of the car ahead …” You just do all that–probably while singing along with that song on the radio or talking on the phone.

When you’re learning skills for sports, for example, often the Reminder is the coaches whistle, the Response is performing whatever skill you’re learning and the Reward is the coach saying, “Good Job!” or correcting you and you getting better.

How Does It Work?

When you are trying to form new personal or work habits, you have to take on the role of coach for yourself. Once you’ve identified the skill you want to make into a habit, you need to find your whistle and reward.

Say you wanted to develop a habit of writing every day. The best advice is to start small. As one writer put it, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.” For example, decide you want to write one sentence every day. That’s the skill you want to develop.

Now, coach, you need a whistle. What will trigger you to work on that skill? How about your morning coffee or tea? OK? So, when you take that first sip, let that be your signal to write one sentence. Great!

Now, what’s in it for you? What’s your reward? Try Jerry Seinfeld’s strategy. Get a large calendar and put it up where you will see it every day. Every time you have your coffee and write a sentence, put a big red “X” through that day. Your reward will be seeing the unbroken chain of “Xs” grow (not to mention all the cool sentences you’ve written). Once you get the habit going you can easily add another sentence, then another and so on until you’re writing a paragraph a day or for a certain period of time every day.

Well done! In coming posts we’ll talk more specifically about developing habits that will make you more of an Engager at work.

How Does A Klutz Become a Dancer?

Our oldest daughter (age 27) describes herself as clumsy. But she’s also a dancer . . . very graceful. One day she was walking through our kitchen and tripped over something. Through her laughter she asked, “How does such a klutz become a dancer?” Interesting question. She has spent years stretching and exercising muscles she didn’t even know she had. She has worked on the barre perfecting movements and posture. She has practiced, rehearsed and performed. And she has taught others to do the same.

If you’ve ever learned to play a sport or an instrument, you’ve done the same thing. You learn a new skill. It feels awkward and unnatural at first. You do drills, seemingly endlessly, or play scales that seem more like drudgery than like making music. You practice and drill, practice and drill until the new skill becomes a habit, becomes second nature. It’s not until the new skill can be effortlessly incorporated into your performance that you become a competitive athlete or a virtuoso.

What Does This Have To Do With Engager Dynamics?

Surely you know that just reading or hearing information from a book or a class or a blog no more makes you an Engager than sitting in the stands at a football game makes you a quarterback. The same principles that apply to learning dance, sports or music apply to learning to be an engager. The Engager Dynamics are skills that must be learned to become a Master Engager (or your people’s best boss). The good news is, they can be learned.

I’m reminded of a couple scenes from the later version of the movie “The Karate Kid.” In the first scene the kid comes into Mr. Han’s home feeling pretty good about himself as an athlete. He shows Mr. Han a few moves as Mr. Han patiently watches. Then Mr. Han asks him to hang up his jacket. He does. Then Mr. Han asks him to take it down. He does. “Put it on”, reluctantly the kid puts it back on, “Take it off”. . . “Hang it up”. . . “Take it down” . . . “Put it on the ground” . . . “Pick it up” . . . all the while the kid is growing frustrated. He doesn’t understand what all this has to do with anything. The scene ends with a montage of the kid doing that routine over and over through sunshine and rain.

In the second scene the kid has had enough and tells Mr. Han he’s done. “They can beat me up if they want to,” he says as he turns to walk out. Mr. Han calls him back and begins to demonstrate to the kid what he has actually been learning. There is a great “fight” sequence toward the end of the scene and I love the expression on the kid’s face as he is realizing what he’s doing . . . automatically, and where it came from . . . the training. At the end of that scene Mr. Han says to the kid, “Kung Fu lives in everything we do xiao dre. It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu.”

VIM and Vigor

Have you ever heard the expression, “Vim and Vigor?” It could be used in a sentence like, “He was full of vim and vigor after that swim.” Both words speak of vitality or effort. Used in this redundant combination the expression intensifies to mean “Energy” or “Strength.” I heard one teacher use VIM as an acronym for

Vision – Can you envision what work would be like if your people were engaged?
Intention – Do you intend to do anything about that vision?
Means – The Engager Dynamics are skills that will get you there.

How does a klutz become a dancer? By working hard, by training herself to do things automatically that, at first, felt awkward or uncomfortable. That’s the same way an average leader becomes an engager, becomes the best boss their people have ever had. That leader will have to work hard, to train themselves to do things automatically that, at first, may seem awkward and uncomfortable.

You may be a Pacifier, an Avoider or even a Dictator right now. But if you act on your intention by practicing the Engager Dynamics you can become an Engager and change the atmosphere and outcomes of your team. In our next few posts we’ll be talking about how to do just that.