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?

How personality styles affect conflict on your team

Think about a few times when you’ve been angry. It could be a situation where you were just furious about a situation, locked in a debate or angry to have learned something unsettling. 

What did you do? How did you handle the conflict? 

Most of us have a sort of default way that we handle being upset. Here are four common reactions:

  • You say, “bring it on!” and head right into conflict, ready to be honest and direct
  • While you’re fine discussing anything with anyone, you’re uneasy being directly confronted or if you feel the conflict is a rejection of your ideas or values
  • You don’t like upset and do your best to be a peacemaker and mediator (and sometimes even try to change the topic or agree with things you don’t really support just to keep others placated)
  • You dislike being pulled into conflict (especially if it feels like a personal attack) and you want time to research and evaluate a position, response or options

Now, this isn’t a case where the way we react is BETTER or WORSE, or WRONG or RIGHT. 

The way we deal with conflict is related to our personality style (there are different tools for understanding yourself and others and at Padraig, we use the Everything DiSC Assessments with our clients). 

The reason that we react so differently to conflict is because our personality style influences:

  • How we approach situations 
  • What we tell ourselves about things happening around us
  • How we prioritize tasks we need to accomplish 
  • How we interact with others at work and in our personal lives.

Common causes of conflict

Conflict in any environment frequently arises when there are competing goals or pressures. It might be that there is some competition over resources or perhaps confusion over policies, rules or regulations – or friction between different positions of authority or responsibility.

Then consider that the people disagreeing over these issues may also have very different personality styles; suddenly perceptions, values and character traits are adding to the potential for conflict. 

Sometimes the conflict arises when you both share the same personality styles (consider two take-charge dominant personalities who enjoy a good fight, erm, discussion or, alternately, two people-pleasing steady personalities who avoid conflict and don’t want to upset each other). 

Being able to identify your own personality style and the personality styles of your team members and colleagues can be very helpful. If you can understand what motivates them and what is irritating for them, you can tailor your approach. Think of it as learning to speak their language. 

It’s obviously easier to figure out with the folks you work with on a daily or weekly basis and a little trickier if you’re having conflict with someone in a branch office somewhere else in the world. 

Ways to assess personality styles

There are a few ways you can try to figure out where you and others fall in terms of personality style – and ultimately conflict style. Here are some ideas:

Make observations: Watch how your team members react to various situations: 

  • What’s their usual default reaction to conflict? (NB: we highlighted four common reactions at the start of this blog)
  • Are they considered abrasive, outgoing, calm or organized? 
  • Do they like to make decisions quickly, consider others’ reactions when making decisions, wait to see what the group thinks before they vote or are they all about numbers and research? 
  • How do they communicate? 

People can learn to adjust their behavior but most of us have a default way of reacting when we’re under stress. When you see patterns, you can make an educated guess about personality style.

Listen to what others say: If you routinely hear that so-and-so always needs to comb through every financial detail and consider every possibility or that this person makes snap decisions and can’t stand long explanations, you can glean some insights that might confirm your own suspicions. If you trust someone not to gossip or create office drama, you could ask their opinion about how a colleague approaches certain things (but be careful – you want to solve conflict, not create more of it!).

Go straight to the horse’s mouth: Rather than trying to guess, you could go right to the person you’re in conflict with and broach the topic in a non-confrontational way. For example, you could say, “I feel like I am always very direct, but that might not be comfortable for you. Do you agree?” or, “I know that my need for detail can grate on your nerves. Is that a fair statement?” And then, based on their response, you can talk about ways to work through the conflict together. 

Take a workshop: Learning how to correctly identify your own personality style and that of your team members can be the first step to a better work relationship. Learning together at a workshop gives everyone on the team a common language to use and problem-solving skills geared to communicate better with diverse personality styles.   

Conflict is a matter of perspective

There is a very important thing to remember when conflict arises. Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston, has written five New York Times bestsellers. The most recent was published in 2018 after she spent seven years studying the future of leadership.

One of the many interesting results of Brown’s decades of research is that she found that people need to explain the cause of the conflict. But to do that, we often make up an explanation – and our brains feel good about filling in the blanks (accurate or not) and reward us with the feel-good hormone serotonin.

She emphasizes that what we assume to have caused the conflict may not be the truth, but we get that rush of serotonin to reinforce the ideas. Now, consider that if we’re making assumptions about conflict, the invented story might actually make the conflict worse. 

It’s really hard not to get drawn into conflict. Instead of deciding to win an argument or prove your perspective, take a step back. 

One of our favorite ideas to share with clients is to “listen to understand” (rather than listening to respond). It’s human nature to listen to RESPOND, but if you listen to understand the other person’s perspective it’s much easier to determine what that person thinks is causing the conflict. 

Cause and effect

Ideally, you’re going to determine what is the source of strife and determine the conflict style of the person (or people) involved. Then you can anticipate how your style and theirs are similar and different – with a goal of finding out how to help your styles work together and how to make conflict productive.. 

For example, using the language of the DiSC profiles that we use with our clients:

  • If you’re both take-charge Dominant-D personalities, you could clash (and take no prisoners) if you disagree. You may not resolve things in one conversation and may need to take breaks so you can stay respectful and productive. 
  • If you’re both people-pleasing Steady-S personalities, neither of you likes conflict (you usually try to avoid it!). The problem is that ignoring issues doesn’t resolve things – it usually makes them fester until tempers blow. You’ll need to initiate working through the conflict.
  • If the conflict is between a Dominant and a Steady personality, the stakes are very different. In this case, you’re going to have to try to ensure the Dominant-D doesn’t railroad the quiet and patient Steady-S (and the Steady-S has to resolve to be honest and forthcoming, remembering that a Dominant-D personality likes concise information given quickly and is sensitive to being disrespected). The Steady-S may think they have avoided uncomfortable conflict by staying silent but keeping feelings bottled up wears you down over time; the Dominant-D will be surprised, dismayed and possibly disgruntled if it comes out later that silence didn’t signal agreement.
  • The other personalities handle conflict differently so the interplay among personalities is always variable. For example, an Influential-i is sensitive to disapproval from the team, loves new ideas and happily works in broad strokes; it may be harder for an Influential-i to admit there is a problem and be honest about their position. The Conscientious-C personality is very analytical and may seem to other personalities to get overly mired in detail. It’s easy to see where an “i” might find a “C” very irritating and slow when making decisions (and conversely the “C” might think the “i” is flighty and not grounded in fact). 

The beauty of realizing that different people have different conflict styles (because we’re not all the same personality style!) is that we can use that knowledge to help to see things from another perspective.

Instead of judging someone as domineering, flighty, sensitive or slow, we can instead appreciate that we all have different characteristics. The bonus? Sometimes it’s very helpful to rely on colleagues who see the world completely different than you do. 

To make the most of the diversity around you, and still manage conflict, there are six simple shifts you can make to tackle the bad kind of team conflict

Being able to communicate in a way that others who see things differently than you can understand and appreciate will help to resolve conflict and build a better working relationship. 

Coach’s Questions

What conflict styles are making your work challenging? What would you like to see change, in your relationships with these folks? Given our ideas above, how can we help?