In praise of recognition…

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We agree that receiving recognition is something of value. The opportunity is to pause and reflect on our ability and commitment to deliver this regularly to our colleagues.

Why bother…

Recognition, the validation of what is positive, is one of the key ingredients in helping people grow. It is impactful because it answers a fundamental human need, the need to feel valued for what we do. Leaders are in a unique position to deliver or withhold such recognition. This is about sharing sincere, authentic recognition; not rewards.

Research from the field of neuroscience indicates that success has a much greater influence on the brain than failure. Ask yourself what percentage of the feedback you provide is focused on what is right versus what is wrong and needs correcting.

Giving recognition has a positive result on:

  • Sense of achievement
  • Increased self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Motivation
  • Loyalty

Additionally, recognition connects the person being recognized to the person or group doing the recognizing, resulting in a greater sense of ownership and connection.

Differentiating between types of recognition…

Ideally, recognition identifies strengths and highlights performance with the goal of seeing these repeated in the future. We can further distinguish recognition into two different forms:

Praise…is about the deed or task.

  • Observations about behaviours and accomplishments
  • Refers to something a person has done or is doing
  • Focused on the activity or result

Acknowledgement… is about the doer or person.

  • Observations about the person, their strengths, their attributes (tenacity, optimism, etc.)
  • Refers to who the person is being…how they bring themselves to the task
  • Focuses on the process and characteristics that enable the person to learn, take action or make a change

Consider the following example of acknowledgement: During the merger period, I noticed your empathy and optimism and this helped mobilize others and move them forward. I would like to see you demonstrate these characteristics to another situation by managing the project of our new flagship branch.

Praise: Your report was clear and the content was organized in a logical sequence. This helped me read it with ease. Thank you.

“The most intolerable state is the absence of acknowledgment.” Henry James

Practices to take your recognition up a notch…

Start by exploring how you as a leader and your organization can increase intrinsic or internal motivation – what comes from within an individual; rather than relying solely on recognition (some suggestions on this method are included below).

A recent article in The New York Times (July 2014) by Amy Wrzesniewski and Barry Schwartz states that employees driven more by internal motivators demonstrate a greater level of persistence, creativity, energy and well-being which increased their performance levels. This aligns with the content of the book Drive by Daniel Pink (2009) which focuses on autonomy, mastery and purpose – the three elements of intrinsic motivation. Within the book, Pink shares insights from six business thinkers including Jim Collins who suggests some ways to create a culture that supports greater self-motivation:

  1. Lead with questions rather than answers.
  2. Engage in dialogue and debate, not coercion.
  3. Conduct post-mortems without blame.
  4. Make it easy for employees and customers to speak up when they identify a problem.

An example of autonomy at work at Whole Foods…rather than department managers doing the hiring of a new staff member, after a 30 day trial period on the team, the prospective teammates vote on whether to hire that person full-time.

For more information check out and pick up a copy of Drive by Daniel Pink.

For those who prefer video – here is a link to Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation –

Additional suggestions…

  • Recognize effort, not just results – this is acknowledgement
  • Notice details to provide specific feedback
  • Include the impact the action/accomplishment had – on you, the team, clients, others
  • Use handwritten notes or cards whenever you can
  • Recognize those who recognize others – this shows that you value sharing of credit
  • Foster a culture of gratitude
  • Raise the profile of quiet contributors; those who are steady performers who tend to fall under the radar screen
  • Don’t hold back sharing your appreciation waiting for a major accomplishment – focus on small appreciative actions

Call to action…

  1. Reflect on both your capability and commitment to providing recognition.
  2. Practice sharing acknowledgement as a powerful form of feedback.
  3. Identify ways to increase autonomy, opportunities for mastery and deeper understanding of purpose with your team.