weaving recognition into culture
Culture | March 31, 2017
It is time to give the power of recognition back into the hands of employees – each and every one of them. We have too many people in the workplace who either believe that they aren’t empowered to give recognition or feel that it isn’t their responsibility to do so. And we’ve let this linger for far too long.
Gallup told us, long ago, that recognition leads to higher productivity and better financial performance and went ahead to insert the statement “In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work” into their Q12 instrument. We’ve also heard how it is important to recognize at least 60% of the employees in an organization. Not only this, a recent global study by O.C. Tanner talks about how handing out recognition is great for the giver too. However, despite knowing it all, recognition at the workplace is always someone else’s responsibility.
As custodians of the organizational culture, it becomes our responsibility to stop shifting the blame and change how recognition works. Fortunately, while there is no magic pill, one can start with a few easy steps:
Step 1 – Start small & keep it simple
Best intentions fail because we look for one big solution that will serve everyone. Let’s accept that there isn’t one. Start small. Handwritten notes, mentions in team meetings, honorary lunches – all simple yet powerful gestures go a long way in making an employee feel special. As long as it is genuine and fair, it will work.
Don’t take shortcuts. Don’t just say “Great job!” and stop there. Call out explicitly why the employee is getting the appreciation. Ensure that the manager makes the effort to say those few extra words. “Thank you for taking ownership of the project, and influencing stakeholders to invest X extra dollars,” works wonders. “Great job!” does not.
More importantly, make it easy for your employees to hand out recognition. Pull away all those lengthy approval processes, long forms and justifications. Trust your employees. If you can’t, then you have a deeper problem that you should be tackling first. Keep your panels, forms and approvals for big awards but ensure you make it easy for an employee or manager to hand out thank-you notes, spot awards and celebratory lunches. Your process needs to be as simple as 1, 2 and 3. If you add a 4, it is highly likely that the manager considers it too much effort.
Step 2 – Communicate
I cannot emphasize on this enough. No matter how often you communicate the importance of recognition and the process, you can always do more. Talk about how managers are faring as compared to industry standards, expectations, and peers. Include numbers in monthly reviews, talk about mechanisms, and go the whole way. Get your entire management chain to talk about it. Let them get sick of hearing about recognition. They will finally understand that it matters and you will see results – not only in numbers but also in quality.
Step 3 – Make it a part of everyday life
Messages die unless constantly reinforced. You may decide to turn down the pressure once you see recognition rise. Think again. Wait until it becomes a habit. The mantra for recognition is lost because it so simple: Do it often. Do it well. There’s a reason why Gallop says to recognize every seven days, and not a month or quarter. Great work or effort alone needs appreciation. It needs appreciation on time. It is a great habit to build, to be able to see great things being done and to be able to send out a thank you without hesitation, to be able to tell people how inspiring your peer is. That is the culture we all ultimately want to live in and it will happen if you drive it.
There is one caveat that I must leave you with. As important it is to enable recognition, it is also important to enable managers to know what to recognize. There is always the danger of ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ if not done properly. Reward the right things. Identify what to recognize and go wild once you see that behavior demonstrated. But also coach managers on how not to misuse this freedom. Try to incorporate effectiveness measures into your recognition programs.
78% of employees strive to work harder when they observe others receiving recognition. 85% feel that watching others receive recognition helps build a better culture. If this doesn’t get you running, I don’t know what will.