Nineteen years ago, I walked out the door and left my dream job with Xerox.  I was a casualty of lack of recognition.  My management teams, just like so many others, were never trained in how to give recognition, so they took the road most travelled.  They did nothing.   It wasn’t personal, but at that time, it sure felt that way to me.


One of the most basic human needs is the need for recognition.  We seek it from our family, our friends, our working colleagues, and our managers.  Forget the fact that it motivates people; it often gives people confidence to reach higher.  So why don’t people offer recognition more often?  They simply don’t know how.  Let’s fix that in three, easy steps…


1. Describe, in detail, the performance you are recognizing and why it deserves recognition.

The purpose of this first step is to establish the credibility of your recognition.  The person you are recognizing realizes that you’re not overpraising or flattering him or her, because you are describing a specific act, or acts, with the accompanying results.


This also provides protection from an employee who might bring this up six months later, at the performance appraisal: “I don’t get it!  Six months ago, you said I was doing great.  Where’s my big raise?”  If the recognition is described in detail, your response will be, “I don’t believe I said you were doing great.  What I said was you did a great job getting out the quarterly bulletin.   As you know, there are many aspects of your job that go into your performance review.”


2. Give recognition by expressing your personal appreciation.

Personal appreciation fulfills the basic human need for recognition.  This also lets the person know you are sincere and your words are your own.  Keep in mind that expressing your personal appreciation as you give recognition does not require outstanding performance.  I hope that one of your objectives is to increase morale and levels of performance among those who typically don’t receive much positive feedback. They are the ones who aren’t extremely competent, but they also are not extremely incompetent.  “The forgotten group,” as I’ve often called them, typically make up the majority of the team you are working with. Your personal appreciation and recognition can help to motivate those in the “forgotten group” to be more effective. You can inspire each person to excel as an individual, and also inspire them to work to help the team as a whole.


3. Offer your help in making the employee’s work effective, rewarding and challenging.

Many employees fall into a routine:  They do their jobs by habit, without thinking of ways they could work more effectively or make the job more rewarding.  This is a wonderful time to offer your help in making the employee’s work effective and rewarding.  By giving recognition, you’ve created enthusiasm for that particular employee towards their work.  Now, try to guide the employee toward using that enthusiasm to approach his or her job in a more creative way.  Once again, this lets the person you are recognizing know of your sincerity.  It may also open up a reserved person and provide valuable insight as to how to motivate this person even more.


Please, make sure you don’t undercut this recognition with words like “but” and “if.”  For example:  “You did a great job filling in for Tom when he had the flu, Jim.  If you could channel that level of effort to other aspects of your job, you could go to the top!”  What a sad way to demotivate an individual you attempted to inspire.


As a manager, a parent, a coach, or even as a friend, please remember how important this simple act of recognition can be.  A true act of recognition is also an act of kindness, and it can mean a great deal to many people.  If you do make a concerted effort to give more recognition to those around you, I’m confident you will be doing more than just fulfilling a basic human all of us crave.  You will also be taking a big step in helping many to soar higher then they ever thought possible.

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