Melissa Lanier is Director of Talent Development at GES

Survey after survey has shown the connection between recognition and business results. Most managers know they should recognize the people on their team, but they don’t, or not often enough. According to leadership expert Jim Kouzes, about one-third of North American workers say they’re never been recognized for a job well done, while slightly more (44 percent) report that they receive little recognition for a job well done.

Ready to recognize?

Here are five ways to put a spark into your recognition efforts:

1. Make it happen in the moment- Perhaps you feel like recognition might mean more at the department meeting. Or maybe you’d like time to get the words just right. Don't put it off. By the end of the quarter or the end of the year, the employee may be wondering if you even know they’re alive. Don’t wait. It is fine to use formal recognition opportunities, like department meetings, to reinforce the positive behavior. Take the opportunity in the moment to “catch someone” doing a great job and make them feel great about it.

“Here’s one time when it is okay for a manager to ‘shoot from the hip.’ As soon as you notice someone doing something worth mentioning, take the next step and actually call them out for it.” – David Witt – The Ken Blanchard Company

2. Spread it around- Sometimes even well-intentioned managers recognize one person or team more than others. There are many reasons why this happens. Is it easier to recognize the recruiting team because you were once a recruiter and you know how hard the job can be? Sure it is. But part of growing your responsibility as a leader is demonstrating that you value everyone on the team. Fairness is key. If people on your team perceive that recognition is arbitrary or based on “favorites” you will actually lower the morale.

For example, if you manage a sales team and you recognize someone for exceeding a target, you should then recognize others who exceeded the target. This is also important when people work in different functions on a broader team. If you consistently recognize the sales team and don’t mention the sales support team, you will be sending the wrong message.

3. Share the love- You put in long hours, lots of effort and likely receive very little appreciation. When someone finally provides you with some well-earned recognition, you might forget to share the spotlight with your team. Leaders don’t succeed alone. When someone takes the time to recognize you, share the credit with your team. What better way to recognize your team than to say, “I couldn’t have done it without…”

In a survey developed by Accountemps, 35 percent of workers and 30 percent of chief financial officers polled cited frequent recognition of accomplishments as the most effective non-monetary reward.

4. Make it real- When you tell people you appreciate their contribution, be specific. You might be tempted to say “great job today.” Instead of providing high-level kudos, comment on the specifics that made the performance exceptional. For example, “I was very impressed with how prepared you were for our meeting with Marketing. All that backup data really helped us make our case.” Sometimes you will have to ask some questions to get the relevant details—particularly if you didn't observe the success firsthand. Take the time to get it right.

“General praise like ‘You do great work’ can actually have the opposite effect, leaving your employees wondering ‘Does he have any idea what I really do around here?’” - The 24 Carrot Manager - Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

5. Get creative- Don’t assume that one size will fit all when it comes to recognition. Select a type of appreciation that fits the employee’s desired form of recognition and the value of the achievement you would like to recognize. It’s important to be creative and draw on your knowledge of the person you want to recognize. In fact, one of the 30 leadership behaviors that have been identified by Kouses and Pozner in The Leadership Challenge is, “I make sure that people are creatively rewarded for their contributions to the success of our projects.”

“One of the most common complaints about recognition is that far too often it’s highly predictable, routine and impersonal. A one-size-fits-all approach to recognition feels insincere, forced and thoughtless.” The Leadership Challenge – Kouzes & Posner


Need some help getting started? Here are 10 creative ideas:

1.  Send a letter of praise to their spouse or family.

2.  Remember a special day (birthday, anniversary) and write a note in the card.

3.  Provide a standing ovation from the entire team.

4.  Give them tickets to a ball game or a play.

5.  Create a yearbook with pictures of accomplishments for the year.

6.  Give them a great, new business book.

7.  Ask them to mentor a new hire.

8.  Take them to see an inspirational movie on Friday and then send them home early.

9.  Pay to get their car washed.

10. Bring them a cup of coffee or other favorite morning beverage during a deadline week.

(Adapted from The 24 Carrot Manager - Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton)

What are you doing to make recognition more meaningful? Share your creative suggestions below!