employee recognition

For effective employee recognition, consider the individual

If I ask managers and directors if they celebrate achievements with their teams, most will say they definitely have some employee recognition strategies.

And yet, if we’re doing a team workshop, I’ll hear murmurs of discontent from team members who aren’t feeling they get the recognition they deserve orand this is importantthey don’t feel good about the way their hard work is recognized. 

A recurring theme is that many leaders take a one-size-fits-all approach to employee recognition: 

  • Yup, thanked the team because we finished the quarter/project. 
  • Gave them all lunch. Or dinner. Or took them all out to celebrate.
  • Presented gift cards or bonuses to key people. 
  • Said thank you to XX and XX in front of everyone for their extra effort.

While it seems fair and intentional, too often this kind of cookie-cutter approach misses the mark. 

To be effective, employee recognition needs to be meaningful to the employee.

When you are leading a variety of personalities, you build strong teams by developing relationships so that you knowreally knowyour team members. 

For recognition to be most effective, it helps to know what people value and what makes them feel valued. 

Everyone is different and what makes one person feel appreciated might make someone else uncomfortable and another team member feel undervalued.

Here are four tips for effective employee recognition:

  1. Keep employee recognition on your radar.
    First and foremost, remembering to recognize employees for good work, even more than correcting errors and poor work, is essential. This is more than just showing gratitude periodically or at prescribed times, but actually making meaningful and merit-based recognition part of your corporate culture. 
    If you routinely thank team members in the same way it loses meaning, the same way everyone running a race and getting a ribbon doesn’t feel like much of an achievement.

    Additionally, recognition must seem fair and balancedand earned or deservedand not as though you have certain favorites. Some leaders keep notes to remind themselves of when, why and how they praise each employee (which, by the way, can be helpful when it comes time to figure out bonuses, promotions or assigning special projects).

    Start by building a company culture of gratitude and happiness and watching for moments to celebrate together. You’ll find that demonstrating gratitude for milestones can help motivate team members to keep working toward a goal.

    While you can and should celebrate as a team, you need to single out the MVPs, little victories and extraordinary moments.
  2. Remember that simple gestures and genuine thanks can mean more than money or things.
    Sometimes we get so trapped into monetized values for rewarding team members that we forget there are myriad ways to show and express gratitude (and many of them don’t require an additional budget!).

    A simple and effective way for leaders to recognize effort is to give credit to people who contribute big, bold ideas and conscientious effort that goes above and beyond the norm.

    Can you think of a time you contributed something to a team project that someone else took credit for or didn’t acknowledge? It stings.

    When someone on your team is behind an important part of a deal or project, acknowledge it. There are various ways that this could happen, ranging from a toast at a celebratory dinner to a handwritten thank you note or copying them on a memo to the board and acknowledging their important contribution.
  3. Consider that bigger achievements warrant bigger recognition.
    One size does not fit all. Perhaps you have a team member who catches an error on an invoice from a supplier one that would have saved your company money, but dishonestly (and at the expense of the relationship with your supplier if discovered). You can thank them for their diligence, maybe at a team meeting, and also use it as an opportunity to reinforce that this is a wonderful example of living out the corporate value of conducting business with integrity. (Tying behaviors to corporate values is a great way to reinforce organizational goals for your team.)

    If another team member hears that a client’s shipment has been bungled and pulls out all the stops on a holiday weekend to get the client’s delivery through on time, this warrants more than a simple thank you. The way you recognize this team member’s dedication and ingenuity has to recognize the scope of the save they made for your company.

    While both actions deserve acknowledgement, a “way to go” and a gift card to each person doesn’t seem equitable or fair, does it?

    It’s all about figuring out what gets applause and what gets a standing ovation – or what deserves a rave review for others to see.
  4. Personalize the recognition to each person.
    When leaders really know their team members, and by that I mean their individual personality styles, they recognize that different people appreciate being recognized in very different ways.

    Some folks do NOT want to be recognized in front of others. They genuinely don’t like to be singled out in front of a group. They would much rather be thanked privately or given credit as a contributor on a report than have a shout out or a toast in front of the group (for some people, having to go out to a group dinner is actually tiring or stressful and not fun!).

    You’ll also find that while affirmative words are an effective way to thank some of your team members, others really do appreciate gifts or tokens of appreciation. They’re the ones who really relish having a plaque to commemorate their contribution to a project or who get very motivated by incentives like prizes or trips.

    Then there are others who really value time either at a celebration or time off in lieu to do something with their families or friends.

    Being able to tailor your leadership to various personality styles takes more than just getting to know people on a personal level. Our DiSC Management profile helps you figure out how to recognize the needs of your team members and how to adapt and work better with each personality style.

Coach’s Questions: 

Can you think of a time when the way you celebrated someone’s achievements and it didn’t seem to go over the way you thought it would? Are there ways you could tailor employee recognition to different personalities on your team? What’s something you can do differently this week to individualize employee recognition?

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