Offering Employee Recognition the Right Way

Jim Kouzes

Q: I realize recognition is important to keep my staff motivated, but can it be overdone? I see other department heads coming up with all kinds of "rewards" programs that, frankly, just look plain silly to me. And I'm not sure they even work!

A: Certainly recognition can be overdone, even made trivial. However, there really is no denying that the need to be 'recognized' is essential to all of us. While every leader has his or her own approach to acknowledging the work of others—whether direct reports, colleagues, or teammates—the important thing to remember is that the recognition you offer needs to be genuine, sincere, and comfortable for you as the 'giver' of praise. It also must be personal and meaningful to the recipient. No silly "rewards" programs if that doesn't fit who you are and what your direct reports find important. However, the fact remains that the need to be recognized for who we are is part of our basic human nature.

Do others NEED praise and encouragement to do their work? No, probably not. But in research that Barry and I have conducted, when we asked respondents, "When you get encouragement, does it help you perform at a higher level?" about 98 percent said yes. Consider that against other research that reports about one-third of North American workers who say they never are recognized for a job well done while slightly more (44 percent) report that they receive little recognition for a job well done. Only 50 percent of managers say they give recognition for high performance. If you are working in an industry (which is nearly every industry these days) where loyal talent can mean the difference between staying viable through good times and bad, this could represent a powerful competitive advantage for you to positively impact your organization's bottom line.

Whatever approach you take to acknowledging others, keep a lookout for actions to recognize. Make it a habit to show your appreciation at least twice a day to two different people. Chances are you'll never hear complaints of being thanked too much.

Jim Kouzes is the Dean's Executive Professor of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. Together with Barry Posner, he is the author of The Leadership Challenge and over a twenty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development. He can be reached at jim@kouzes.com.

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