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Recognition that counts

I recently had a networking lunch with a consultant whom I have worked with on a few previous projects. In between catching up on business opportunities, recent projects and what our kids are up to, we had an interesting discussion on the recent trends in recognition practices and systems.

She told me about a Forbes article about the best practices of giving recognition in businesses. Their research shows that organisations that give regular thanks to their employees far outperform those that don't.

“The stats are exciting,” she said enthusiastically. “Companies that scored in the top 20% for building a recognition-rich culture actually had 31% lower voluntary turnover rates! I think it is something we need to pay attention to as consultants in the people space. I mean, we both understand how important employee engagement is and its direct impact on business results. If we can achieve this type of results through recognition programs, we should be making more effort to tell our clients about it.”

I have read similar research, and from my own experience I have seen the positive impact of recognition and the dire consequences of employees who did not feel valued and appreciated.

“I agree,” I replied, “But we need to offer our clients a solution which ensures that recognition is authentic, and a process that will have credibility in their business.”

“What do you have in mind?” she asked, her curiosity piqued.

“Well,” I replied, “Imagine this situation: two people in your team, let’s call them Sarah and Kate, need to finish similar work and the deadline is close of business. Sarah figured out a way to use some formulas in the Excel sheet that enabled her to finish her work on time and she went home just after 5. Kate didn’t investigate ways to help her do it faster, struggled to finish her work but decided to stay late and completed the work by 8pm that night. If you are the manager – how do you show appreciation for these team members? Imagine you are using one of those systems where you can send them a gold star and it gets published to the rest of the organisation.”

“Yes,” she replied. “That is a tough one. Both deserve a “thank you”, but you need a wise manager to know how to do that. Gold star to Sarah for finishing her work on time and showing innovation to increase her efficiency, and gold star to Kate, because even though she didn’t finish on time, she pushed through and completed the work before going home.”

“And if you had given Kate a gold star for staying late – can you see the consequence?” I asked as our waiter arrived with another cup of coffee for me.

She gave it some thought as I took my first sip. “Well, yes, it might create an impression of a team or organisation that encourages people to work ‘till 8 at night by rewarding that behaviour. To be honest,” she added, “I would have been slightly annoyed if I was Sarah. She left at 5pm – was that not good enough?”

“That is my concern,” I explained. “Many times, when businesses use these types of systems without having criteria in place for what should be recognised, managers hand out gold stars to visible behaviours, like staying late, and they might even forget about Sarah’s efficiency all together.”

“Yes, and they run the risk of alienating the employee who actually is the better performer.” She sat back in her chair, “Hang on, what are we saying to each other?”

“Well, I am not saying that these things don’t work, but I do feel very strongly that you cannot just get a system, give a log-in to everyone and let them start handing out gold stars. People might end up just playing the game – and they might even like it because, hey, people like games. But will the business see the benefits this research talks about? I think not.”

“You need to start by creating a culture of appreciation in the business. First, we need to ensure that everyone, not only managers, understands that saying thank you is important, and that valuing people’s contributions can have a positive impact on their business. Giving thanks and showing appreciation, informally and in person, should be part of the way they do things in the organisation.”

“Secondly, I think it is important to help an organisation identify specific results or behaviours that should be recognised publicly. In fact, I think they should review these behaviours quarterly. We need to help people understand when, how and for what employees will be publicly recognised. These results or behaviours can be linked to their company values or key strategic drivers. This will help them to continuously reinforce their company values and strategic focus. Clear criteria help with the credibility and perceived value of the ‘stars’ that are awarded in the process.”

“Thirdly, you need to create a process where these behaviours or results are consistently recognised to ensure that it is not just some people who are recognised for displaying those behaviours or reaching those results.”

She agreed. “It is also important to remember that it is not a replacement of a proper performance management process and formal and informal feedback discussions. Performance management is critical, as it gives a holistic view of performance and drives business results as you pointed out in one of your blogs

“Don’t even get me started on that,” I said. “I wish we had more time to discuss this topic, but we need to get the bill here. I need to run.”

As we got our things together, I said, “Our conversation makes me think of something Craig Groeschel said about giving recognition at the 2018 Global Leadership Summit. He spoke about having a “heart to care”, and he used the phrase “I notice…you matter”. In principle, it’s about showing appreciation by noticing the effort that someone puts in and acknowledging that they and the effort they put in matters to the organisation or to you personally.”

“Isn’t he the one who also said, ‘Appreciate people more than you should and then double it’?” she asked.

“Yes, and I think it is a great way to start building that culture in your business,” I agreed.

“Thanks Lida,” she said as we walked out of the coffee shop. “I think we need to put some of this on paper. Why don’t you take a stab at it and then we catch up again soon?”

“You know what,” I said. “I think this will the topic for my next blog!”
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