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Untapped Power of Recognition: Investing in Praise and Feedback

One of the most effective forms of organizational power in today’s workplace is recognition power. However, in speaking with countless executives and supervisors over the years and as confirmed in our recent survey, I’ve realized an unsettling trend: recognition power is often the most overlooked.

Expanding recognition power enhances engagement, satisfaction, employee retention, collaboration, innovation, performance. Why would a leader neglect such a powerful leadership tool? Too often recognition is confused with tangible rewards so the short- and long-term benefits are missed.

Let’s explore the potential behind recognition power.

What is recognition power?

Some leaders think recognition is limited to tangible rewards – a bonus, a raise, a promotion – and consequently ignore the intangible power of praise and recognition.

One leader told me, “They get a paycheck and an annual review, that’s enough recognition.” News flash: These are not enough. In a 2010 Harvard Business Review brief, researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer explained that most people today are motivated by a sense of progress. In particular, the  younger generations – the Gen X’ers and Millenials – thrive on constant praise, recognition and feedback.

Without recognition, high performers revert to being average. If excellence receives little response, why put effort into any task?  Why use discretionary effort or display initiative?

Benefits and examples of recognition power

Recognition takes time rather than money. It can actually be quite easy. The following are some effective examples I’ve seen implemented to achieve different results:

1.) Recognition from customers

A study of nurses found that hand written thank you notes was the most meaningful recognition possible. For call center customer service representatives,  it was a weekly printout of voicemail surveys praising them.

2.) Recognition from the team

Instead of relying on management to recognize performance, the team can provide timely and specific recognition. One director I’ve worked with would have a quick, five-minute meeting on a Friday afternoon and ask, “Who helped you this week?”

When someone spoke up the person they thanked was given a Klondike bar – a Klondike bar!   The simple act boosted engagement and created a culture where the staff recognized each other.

3.) Recognition as respect

A labor dispute was brewing because a plant leader didn’t say a simple “hello” to his workers. Many in the workforce interpreted this as disregard. The simple act of informing an introverted manager of how his action was being interpreted changed the tone and contributed to improved trust, respect and communication.

4.) Recognition as visibility and pride

Another form of recognition is when a worker’s performance is recognized by upper management. For example, when an employee prepares a key report, recommendation, or suggestion, he or she should have his or her name on the report or be asked to attend the meeting wherein it is presented. This not only offers intrinsic pride but also increases confidence and sustains excellence.

5.) Recognition of innovative thinking and initiative

Organizations require innovation to stay competitive and effective. If you want to foster a culture of innovation in your organization, then you must recognize initiative, not just outcome. One leader would start her staff meeting by asking, “Who has tried something new?” This simple question set an expectation that out-of-the-box thinking was important, even if the idea was not a slam dunk success. After all, the Lisa computer was the precursor to the Mac. We have to recognize those who overcome any fear of failure by speaking out, by engaging people and issues, and by proposing new solutions and alternatives.

While recognition is not currently a common practice, it is one that sustains performance, encourages thinking, and supports initiative. Recognition has a return on investment that every leader must recognize. What additional approaches or techniques have you seen or used to recognize others? Share your ideas in the comments below.