Hey! See Me? See Me! The Art of Recognition.

Very few leaders, managers, or leader-managers demonstrate mediocre attempts at recognizing their people.

How many people on their way to work ponder such thoughts as, “I think I’ll just blend in today and be average or just mediocre”? I like to lean towards the optimistic side of this question and I truly believe most people want to be their best every day. I feel being our best is key to our happiness because it validates our usefulness and sets up our foundation for feeling accepted and wanted within our social groups. Yes, even in our jobs! Many people are very social at work because we spend, at least eight-hours a day for five-days a week with our coworkers. Humans are social creatures and we form our social groups with those we are surrounded by for most of our waking hours.

How does this impact leading and managing? Easily actually, this is where strategy comes into play for most leaders, managers, or leader-managers. I have to say, in my humble experience, very few leaders, managers, or leader-managers demonstrate mediocre attempts at recognizing their people and their people’s efforts to be their best. In a recent study mentioned in an article on Psychology Today author Victor Lipman discusses employee recognition. Lipman’s article references studies in 2007 and 2013 where non-monetary recognition importance for employees in the workplace rose from 57% to 70% during the time frame. What does this mean?

Most people go to work to be their best. At the end of the day we all have to admit to ourselves we work to earn pay. We trade our time and abilities for pay to survive. Without a doubt (and I do not have to quote a study), nearly everyone who earns a paycheck goes to work with the root reason to earn money. Again, we are social critters and we seek validation within our groups. Recognition is a big key in how we see ourselves and establish our value to others, including our employers.

Recognition is the most cost-effective strategy to engage people in the workplace. Lipman’s article demonstrates people are not necessarily looking for money anymore, but instead are seeking a pat on the back and a hearty “Job well done!” This is a topic which really makes a lot of sense to me. Leaders, managers, and leader-managers (I know I keep throwing that in here, maybe I’ll discuss it later in another post) can really impact the level of satisfaction people have at work by sincerely praising efforts which exceed normal expectations. The key buzz word in today’s workplace is employee engagement.

There is a balance and there is finesse in the art of recognition. Many leaders, managers, and leader-managers (let’s call them L M & L-M for now) fail to hone their abilities to really sharpen their unique recognition strategies. There are several key factors in making recognition meaningful.

For recognition to be meaningful the following steps can be used in a successful strategy by a L M & L-M:

  1. Be aware and timely. Know what people are doing and respond with recognition as people are doing exceptional work or going above and beyond. No one wants to be recognized two weeks after they did something more than their usual.
  2. Be specific. Address the specific action. “Bob, I noticed you updated the TPS report log. Great job! The log has been a mess and your efforts are going to make everyone’s job so much easier. Thank you, you are appreciated.”
  3. Use the person’s name. I once heard people wear names tags so they are not commodified. Recognizing a person’s name makes situations personal and familiar.
  4. Say, “Thank you.” I know I always get a warm-fuzzy when someone thanks me and I get to say, “You’re very welcome.” Try it in your everyday encounters, just take the moment to say thank yous and you’re welcomes. I find both phases can be humbling in very good ways.
  5. Be open. Praise people in groups with their peers and other L M &/or L-Ms. DO NOT turn the attempt to recognize someone into a neck-sack bloating boast session. State the recognition for everyone to witness and move on. Lingering in recognition too long becomes awkward and embarrassing.
  6. Recognize justly. DO NOT pick favorites to continuously  recognize. It’s a trap! This is where I find real effort to be paramount on the L M & L-M’s part. Refer to strategy 1 Be aware!
  7. Recognize continuously. Give recognition on a regular basis, people do great things everyday. Be cautious not to be overly praising because it will devalue recognition moving forward.
  8. Avoid group recognition. It’s a trap! A big L M & L-M fail falls into this category. It is the sign of oblivion and laziness. Not everyone in a group participates at an equal level, when a group is recognized it devalues the efforts of those who really put forth the effort. It is perfectly okay to exclude members of the group who did not exert effort in an accomplishment.
  9. Recognize the facts. DO NOT embellish. Awkward!

By no means are these 9 steps the all-encompassing be-all-end-all to patting someone’s back. These steps do play a big part in a sound foundation. Real effort is entailed in recognition, more so in the informal recognition like I have been discussing here.

Please feel free to refer to the example of Bob’s accomplishment in Step 2.

People want to be patted on the back, proverbially because some people really do not like to be touched. Plus, you really do not know where they have been! Give a handshake if appropriate. Recognition takes time and time is money in the business world. I encourage everyone to invest in seeing people and what they do every day. We do not have to merely recognize those we work with, but we can extend this to everyone. When a server keeps your beer full, thank them. When a store clerk grabs another dozen eggs because one is broke in your carton, thank them. When someone thanks you, say, “You are very welcome,” and mean it. Others’ day will be brighter and you will feel lighter and more appreciative of the things which go on around us!

In the workplace, if not done regularly, recognition may be seen through skeptical lens. Over time and properly utilized recognition strategies will become like a virus. Most will be infected and want to do extras because they want validated and accepted. The cost is time and awareness if properly done.

Note: Leaders, managers, and leader-managers are not the only ones who can recognize someone. I find peer and customer recognition to be especially important and rewarding. Go out there and pat some backs!

Author: Gary

I am a Native Oregonian and grew up on the south side of the central coast in the small town of Bandon. After serving in the US Navy for 11 years I returned home to pursue my passion in leadership. I graduated from the University of Oregon with two degrees in Sociology and Planning, Public Policy, & Management. After a few years of working I returned to academic pursuits. I earned my Masters of Business Administration with a heavy emphasis on Servant Leadership from Northwest Christian University. Life took a twist and I left the Eugene, Oregon area and moved to the Portland, Oregon circus! I currently work for a very large company and have enjoyed great benefits which have allowed me to continue my life long pursuit of knowledge. I have completed Six Sigma Master Black Belt coursework with Villanova University as well as a certificate from University of Notre Dame in Executive Management. Recently, I earned my second Master's Degree from Michigan State University in Management, Strategy, & Leadership. I have lived a pretty good life and I keep things honest. No mincing of words from me and sometimes that means I drop a little bomb in my language. Please, forgive me if my language becomes a little brutish. I pride myself on being able to learn from anyone and any circumstance.

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