23 AUG, 2016

Recognize Employees for What Matters Most—and Make It Personal

two young cheerful men doing high-five while their coworkers sitting at the office table

Effective managers understand the importance of recognizing employees for their achievements. They want to acknowledge a job well done, encourage employees to continue working hard, and create an atmosphere that—through demonstrations of gratitude—inspires commitment. To make the most of recognition, managers must understand who they’re recognizing, how that employee wants to be recognized, and what behaviors they’re reinforcing through recognition.

Who are the employees you recognize most?

Some employees want to be in the spotlight, and as such, they’re more likely to highlight their achievements in conversations. This makes it easy for a manager to identify an opportunity for recognition. However, there are other employees who are just as effective (and maybe even more effective) who aren’t as vocal about their accomplishments. Don’t lose sight of introverted employees who may be exceeding expectations, but are doing so without a lot of fanfare.

Tip: Have a system to track individual team member behaviors, as well as the results they produce so you can recognize everyone for their individual contributions.

How are you personalizing the recognition you provide?

If you praise someone for a “job well done” during their annual performance review, that’s great. But what did they specifically do that was so great, and what about the other 364 days of the year? Recognizing employees’ efforts once a year—and without a personalized approach—isn’t going to encourage the employee behavior you want.

A manager’s role is to understand each employee’s skills and abilities, as well as how that employee wants to be recognized when they put those skills to use. A genuine verbal or written “thank you” for investing in the organization might be all the recognition one employee needs to stay engaged. Another employee may need to receive public recognition through a social setting for their efforts to feel appreciated. (That same public recognition may horrify a more reserved employee.)

Tip: Find out what makes recognition meaningful for each of your employees and then use that information to ensure management is meeting individual employee needs.

What behaviors are you reinforcing through recognition?

When you align your recognition program with organizational values, goals, and strategies, employees understand what behaviors are required and expected. For example, when you recognize an employee for saving the company money even though it was done by decreasing the quality of your product, that sends a message to other employees about the way business gets done. By comparison, when you celebrate someone for taking the initiative to solve a problem “while still delivering excellent customer service,” it provides a very different definition of success for employees.

Recognition that contradicts your core values or that celebrates questionable behaviors will only discourage the dedicated employees you most want to inspire.

Tip: Focus on recognizing consistent, concrete actions and results that support your company culture.

To recognize employees and make it personal—be sure to:

  • Align the recognition with a core company value (e.g., teamwork, customer service)
  • Track recognition moments to ensure you’re regularly communicating your gratitude for everyone’s efforts and not just a few select members of the team
  • Express your appreciation in the specific way each employee wants to be recognized (e.g., a social posting, an e-card, a physical note, a verbal “thank you”)

When managers use meaningful, personalized recognition to highlight how employees’ contributions positively impact the company, it’s not only the right thing to do—it’s also a powerful tool to engage employees and create a culture of gratitude.


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