The Key Driver of Talent Attraction, Retention and Engagement: Recognition

well done“Nice work!” “Excellent job!” “Great effort!” “A+!!”

Many managers forget what teachers have known for years: People respond well to recognition for their hard work. Just as teachers write their kudos and use stickers on their students’ worksheets, managers can employ simple methods to reward their workers as well. Recognition need not be costly to be effective. Here are some best practices.

1. Define what should be recognized. It is important for an organization to define the behaviors or outcomes that are deemed worthy of recognition. A great way to develop a guideline is for senior leadership to brainstorm a list of employee actions that contribute to the organization’s success and mission. Ideas can range from bringing in a certain amount of revenue, to receiving a positive comment from a customer, to simply volunteering to help a coworker. This list should be shared with all managers and used as a guideline for giving recognition.

Management can also create a “chance points” program using a list of recognition-worthy actions. Employees track their own efforts and earn points through their actions. At the end of the month, each point turns into a raffle ticket to win a prize.

When the desired actions or outcomes are clearly defined, employee recognition can be streamlined throughout the orga­nization, helping to create an electric culture of recognition.

PREMIUM CONTENT: 2012 Staffing Company Survey: Employee Incentives

2. Be sincere. All too often, companies turn recognition programs into just another task that needs regular attention. Employees can tell when a manager just “goes through the motions” of providing recognition, but has lost interest in showing genuine appreciation for staff members’ efforts, which can diminish the meaning of the program. If sincere appreciation is lost from a recognition program, it will no longer be effective.

3. Recognize in public and in private. Public and private recognition can be appropriate depending on the situation, and the best results come from employing both methods. Public recognition is highly effective because it gives employees structure so they know what to expect. If top performing employees are recognized at each monthly meeting, employees have a goal they can work toward. For many employees, being congratulated in front of peers can actually be the most rewarding aspect of receiving praise.

Alternately, not all people like to be the center of attention. To praise employees who do not like to be in the spotlight, public recognition should be toned down so it does not end up actually hindering their engagement.

Private recognition can also be very effective in showing appreciation. It is easier for managers to give more frequently, and can be as simple as a quick “on-the-spot” verbal thank you. Whether it is an e-mail, voice mail, handwritten note, or just stopping by in person, letting employees know that they have done a good job goes a long way and only takes a few moments.

4. Balance the criticism. A common word that accompanies managers’ feedback is “but.” Telling an employee, “You did a great job on the vast majority of this project, but …” effectively causing the employee to forget the first part of the sentence. While managers should not shy away from providing constructive feedback, they should, be aware of how criticism can adversely affect an employee’s perception of recognition efforts overall.

Oftentimes, people get upset with themselves for making mistakes, and they tend to focus on the shortcomings you have illuminated, rather than any positive feedback you may have provided. Separating positive feedback from suggestions for improvement (even just in separate sentences) is more effective in getting the proper message across.

If a manager has been providing more constructive criticism than usual, it could be a good idea to balance the criticism by increasing recognition efforts when the employee performs well. As a general rule, constructive criticism is best used to help employees improve performance, not engagement.

5. When in doubt, ask! Not all employees want the same things, so ask individual employees how they would like to be rewarded. Although this is the most straightforward approach, oftentimes managers overlook the simplicity of open communication with employees. Telling employees you want to recognize them in a way that is meaningful to them shows genuine interest and appreciation in advance, which is a great first step in providing effective recognition.

In my next post, I will the last five best practices in establishing a recognition program.

MORE: Give Them Carrots

Kevin Sheridan
Kevin Sheridan is a New York Times best-selling author, a frequent keynote speaker and the chief engagement officer of Kevin Sheridan LLC. He can be reached at kevin (at) kevinsheridanllc (dot) com.

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  1. […] “Nice work!” “Excellent job!” “Great effort!” “A+!!” Many managers forget what teachers have known for years: People respond well to recognition for their hard work.  […]

  2. […] “Nice work!” “Excellent job!” “Great effort!” “A+!!” Many managers forget what teachers have known for years: People respond well to recognition for their hard work.  […]

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