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Hey Boss! Make Recognition Your Middle Name

Hey Boss! Make Recognition Your Middle Name

Recognizing star players in your organization seems like a simple process. Typically as boss, you make an announcement, everyone cheers and maybe pieces of cake are distributed. Then everyone goes back to their desks.

Some of your employees may have been upset and you may not have noticed. The person recognized may have been mortified and you may not have noticed. Others may not have wanted to clap or cheer, but merely went through the motions. Recognition can demotivate just as well as the lack of it in the first place.

Begin By Learning How to Recognize Your Star Players Their Way

Question: As a boss, have you ever asked your star players how they would prefer to be recognized? As part of building a genuine relationship with your employees, you may find that having 1:1 interviews with your star players will help you gain insight on what keeps them motivated in your organization, as well as what they like and dislike about their jobs, the company and… you. Yes, you. No boss is infallible. We’re human beings who have bad days, heavy workloads and sometimes we don’t take the time to really know and understand our team members.

Recognition should be matched to the preferences of the person who earned it. For example, one CEO I know loves to gives “high-fives” for placements. If a person earns additional placements, the “high-five dance” gets more complicated, including a final chest-bump. When a female employee earned five placements one month, the CEO mentioned that he’d never had to do the high-five dance with a woman before, and everyone laughed. The CEO suggested they do a hip-check instead, but the woman was still quite embarrassed. When I spoke to her, she said, “I’m never going to get five placements in a month again.” She would have preferred a nice email or personal call from the CEO instead.

There are many ways to recognize your star players and IMHO, never use money except as part of a company- or department-wide incentive plan that is shared by all team members. There are many issues to this: a) once you start giving to one, others will expect the same, b) there is the issue of diminishing returns, requiring upping the amount to continue momentum and excitement, and c) intrinsic gratification is far more durable and reinforcing than any extrinsic recognition you provide.

I once heard a story from Sherri Merbach, Managing Director of C-Suite Analytics, who shared the following story of when she asked one gent about how he liked to be recognized.

“He pulled out his wallet and extracted a frayed, worn and yellow scrap of paper and unfolded it. It was a hand-written note from his first boss who had been very happy with his work and said he expected great things from him. He’d had that piece of paper for over 20 years.”

Why Others Can Be Upset About Recognition

Sometimes when public recognition is announced, you may notice some people on the team reacting negatively to the announcement. You may want to have conversations with them as well in order to understand. Sometimes it is simple jealousy or lack of maturity, but other times, you may learn that the star player you’re recognizing publicly may not have actually earned it.

In my experience, I have also found that many star players may not have the social attributes that ally them easily to team play. They may be so focused on the goals that they don’t even realize that they have burned team members by forgetting to recognize their parts in their success or actually taking credit for other people’s work. (Even Jennifer Lawrence forgot to thank her director when accepting her Oscar.) If the project was a long and complicated program that required a number of people managing several different moving parts, you may want to recognize the entire group as whole instead of just its leader. You may also want to counsel your star players in how they accept recognition and how mentioning individual team members and their contribution would considerably improve any disengagement caused by previous events.

Now let’s address the cultural connotations of recognition. I recently read an article called “ Recognition: How it varies across 12 countries and their cultures”. While simplistic, we’ve noticed a few quirks in the dynamics working with cross-cultural teams. For example, we wanted to launch a new operational framework which would enable team members to grow their teams to a certain size and be automatically promoted in 45 days, without any manager approvals. We wanted to recognize the inventors of the project by making a statement. The Americans on the team thought the best way to make a statement was to line up all the managers in a row and cut their ties off in front of the entire company.

Well. You can imagine how our Indian managers reacted. It was considered a grossly unreasonable and insulting. A serious loss of respect. Without having discussed this with them, we would have created a real problem for our management team.

Creative Recognition Ideas

While getting up in front of the team or company and publicly announcing an achievement is great most of the time, here are a few more ways to recognize people and teams (and note — none of these cost much if anything other than time):

  1. Company-Wide or Team-Wide Emails
    A brief email explaining how the achievement affected the company and acknowledging the entire team and their efforts can be quite motivating. Cc:ing senior level staff can motivate them further.
  2. Personal Emails
    A brief personal email of thanks from a CEO can be extremely motivating, especially when it shows that the CEO is informed about the specifics of the achievement (no form letter will do). Personal is key.
  3. Personal Phone Call
    Picking up the phone and personally thanking someone can be the spark to a new relationship. Your star players may not need any recognition, but hearing from the CEO or other high level staff that they know and appreciate their work can go a very long way.
  4. Handwritten Notes or Cards
    As mentioned above, people will carry these with them. No one gets a hand-written note these days, except on a post-it-note. It doesn’t need to be fancy, the card doesn’t have to be expensive; it’s your words that count, so be inspirational and personal.
  5. Printed Certificate
    Some companies pass out milestone certificates for everything, from birthdays, work anniversaries, their wedding anniversaries, their spouse’s birthdays, children… the list goes on and on. However, for performance-related milestones, like certain number of widgets sold or achieving certain revenue targets, etc., producing and announcing them en masseduring a company meeting can reap wide benefits.
  6. Coffee with the CEO or Other Leader
    Depending on the size of your company, your CEO or another high-level leader on the team could take your star player for coffee. Having a seat at the table and providing your star players with a voice and a conduit to decision makers can be wildly successful.

How To Socialize Recognition Using the Internet

Does your organization have a Facebook Page? LinkedIn Page? Examine your web site to see if there is a place for recognizing your star players. (I’ve been told, however, that publicizing your star players only gets them poached. I disagree. Great people stay with great leaders. If your star players are leaving, look within your leadership.)

We have video walls which feature all sorts of employee recognition from clients, from team leads, even fellow team members. We celebrate their work anniversaries and birthdays as part of our daily news update. We celebrate when someone gets a new house, car or phone (or baby!).

We select two star sourcers and two star recruiters each month and while what is presented on our web site is minimal, the email and monthly company-wide Board Report presentation has more details on why they were selected. These are always announced by the COO.

We recognize and tag employees on social media as well when we recognize them. This enables friends of the employee to congratulate them, family members to share their pride with others, and hopefully improves our online brand while engaging our employees in a meaningful way.

Recognition is delicate and not a one-size fits all methodology. As you progress in management, you will find less and less time to do these activities, but finding the time to recognize your staff in the way they would prefer will reap enormous benefits in employee engagement, productivity, and internal recruiting (your star players will recommend you to their friends whom we hope will become star players as well).

What recognition strategies have you tried? What worked and what didn’t? Please share your thoughts in the comments below. Cheers.


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