Should you acknowledge service anniversaries? Yes, if they’re important to the staff member

Star award for service to the background of the auditorium

There are awkward moments that stand out in our memories forever, which can also be moments of learning and insight. This was one of them, when what I heard was different from what the speaker meant.

“Today is my anniversary,” the staff member said.

Normally, a wedding anniversary would be an opportunity to congratulate someone, but under the circumstances, I didn’t know what to say. This person was recently divorced. I wondered, what is the protocol? Does one continue to celebrate wedding anniversaries after the marriage has ended? What would be an appropriate response?

Luckily, she was a more effective communicator than me. She sensed my confusion.

“Oh, no. Not that kind of anniversary. Not my wedding anniversary. It was seven years ago today that I started working here. Today is my employment anniversary.”

“Oh yeah, right. That’s great. Congratulations. I didn’t know.”

Why you should know everyone’s service anniversary

But I should have. This is something I should have known about everyone with whom I worked, for a couple of reasons:

First, for some staff, service anniversaries matter. Like birthdays, they call for celebration. It’s important to be aware of these occasions and understand how individuals feel about them.

Secondly, service anniversaries and birthdays are natural times to reflect on how the person has contributed over the past year. These dates are recommended as a starting point to introduce recognition into the workplace.

The importance of observing service anniversaries as they occur is not an argument for formal programs, which typically focus on reaching employment milestones, which usually occur at five-year intervals.

While common in many workplaces, these celebrations of survival tend to be expensive, impersonal and ineffective in motivating staff and building loyalty.

Informal celebrations better than formal events

An informal approach can be more timely, more personal and more frequent (once a year, rather than once every five years). It is a better way to satisfy the need of staff members to feel valued as individuals and to receive specific feedback. It is better than praise for being part of a cohort that has nothing more in common than a similar starting date, or having hung around for five years without quitting, dying, or being fired.

Are you ready to celebrate the service anniversaries and birthdays of each of your staff members? Do you know these dates? If not, find them. Note them on your calendar and be prepared to provide a little extra recognition when these dates come along.

Finally, don’t allow yourself to be caught in a situation like I was, of being confused when someone says, “Today is my anniversary.”

Why would a company proclaim its distrust of employees?


Shortly after writing an article on the need for trust in the workplace for a culture of recognition to thrive, I came face-to-face with evidence of a company that appears not to get it.

Not trusting employees is bad enough, but this company took it to another level. It effectively proclaimed, for all to see, that it didn’t trust their employees—at least not when they were in charge of a company vehicle.

We’re all familiar with the question displayed on some companies’ vehicles: “How is my driving?” followed by a telephone number. We understand that this is not an invitation to call to praise how the company vehicle is being driven. I wonder what would happen if someone did.

“I want to tell you how well Unit #7 was being driven. The driver was following all the traffic rules and observed the speed limit. He slowed down for the school zone and stopped to let two elderly pedestrians cross the street.”

Not likely the message the person answering the phone would expect to hear. How would he/she respond? Would this praise ever reach the ears of the driver of Unit #7?

The message on the vehicle I was following left no room for confusion about what they wanted to hear from members of public.

“Poor driving? Dirty vehicle? Call 1 (800) I-TATTLE”

(Actually, I just made up the phone number, but it would be consistent with the message of distrust. I wonder if it’s available.)

Some will argue that this is a misinterpretation of the intent of the sign. It was only meant as a reminder to staff that whenever they drive a company vehicle they represent the company. When anyone sees a clean company vehicle driven in a safe and courteous manner this creates a positive (or at least not negative) impression.

This may have been the case, but at a high cost in terms of how current and potential employees might feel about the company. There may be several unintended consequences that arise from this message:

  • Everyone spends the day looking over their shoulder. Is management monitoring what they are doing, poised to pounce if an employee makes a mistake?
  • Employee engagement may be low. Who wants to put in extra effort in a workforce with a culture of distrust? Some may even want to give management a reason to distrust them.
  • Turnover may be high as staff members exit for jobs where they will feel trusted.
  • Staff members may begin to distrust each other. Any possibility for teamwork and collaboration will go out the window.
  • The company may find recruiting talent is a challenge. Who wants to join a company that proclaims its distrust to the world? “Come work where no one will trust you.”
  • The impact of staff recognition will be limited. If the staff feels management doesn’t trust them, they will be skeptical about what managers say, including when the message is “Good job!”

What about your organization? Examine your policies, practices and signs. Are they sending the unintended negative message that employees are not to be trusted?

Making a small difference is better than doing nothing


What if we applied the same argument used against attempts to reduce our carbon footprint to other aspects of our lives, including staff recognition?

“Why bother?” some say about initiatives intended to slow climate change. Whatever we do will have so little impact that it’s not worth changing one’s lifestyle. Canada is responsible for only 1.6 per cent of the greenhouse gas released worldwide, so whatever we do will be insignificant. China, India and the United States are the big carbon emitters, so it’s up to them to act.

A line from the movie Casablanca may capture this thinking. The efforts of one person—or even a group of people—to slow climate change won’t “amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” I am confident that’s not how most people think about what they can achieve, whether it’s in the realm of climate change or in other aspects of their lives.

People believe they can make a difference

Edward Everett Hale, a 19th century American author and clergyman captured the belief of many people that they can make a difference. “I’m just one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

This is what gets people up in the morning—the belief they will make a difference in both their work and their personal lives.

Even though they only see students for a short time each day, teachers believe that they are making a difference by educating them to become contributing members of society.

Even though they only see a few patients a day, nurses, physiotherapists and other health-care professionals feel they are making a difference to the health of Canadians.

Even though what they can donate and how much they can volunteer is limited, people still believe that they make a difference to the people served by charities and organizations they support.

Recognition can make a difference to the work environment

Even though you are only able to recognize a small portion of the good work occurring around you, you are making a difference. You contribute to establishing a positive culture in your workplace every time you recognize staff members or colleagues for what they achieve and how they contribute.

Hand write with green marker Thank you

The impact of what you say and do can spread beyond the recipients of your words of appreciation. People who are recognized are more likely to recognize others, which increases the number of positive messages heard within the workplace.

Could you be doing more to recognize others? Could you be making a bigger difference? Likely you could, just as we could do more for the environment by driving less, turning down the thermostat, or using a travel mug instead of a takeaway cup at our local coffee shop.

The key is to focus on what you are doing, rather than on what you could be doing. Every time you write a thank-you note, give someone a pat on the back, or congratulate someone, you are making a difference. The recipients of your acknowledgement feel appreciated, while you are also helping make your work environment a more positive place—the type of place where people want to be.

Now, go find a reason to recognize someone—perhaps for an environmentally friendly action.

Name-blind recruitment meant to exclude biases from hiring process

Businesswoman Hand Holding Resume

Here’s an uncomfortable truth: as much as we might protest that our hiring decisions are bias-free, we are all susceptible to biases when deciding who to hire—even when deciding who to invite for an interview. Whether we’re conscious of them or not, biases can impede our ability to make the best possible hiring decisions. Biases shrink the pool from which to draw future employees.

Writing in the February 21, 2017 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Jay J. Van Bavel and Tessa V. West, both associate professors of psychology at New York University, explained that “biases stem from our preference for people who are similar to us, provide a feeling of safety, or feel familiar. Indeed, research has shown that men and women alike start to treat minorities differently within milliseconds of seeing them.”

Intent on improving its hiring practices, the federal government recently committed “name-blind recruitment.” In an article in the Globe and Mail, Canadian Press reporter Paola Loriggio wrote that names, email addresses, country of origin and other identifying information will be removed from application forms. This is meant to remove biases from the screening process, based on people’s cultural or ethnic backgrounds.

At present, the change is limited to six departments, but may be expanded to all departments after the impact of the change has been assessed in a study to be completed by October.

In announcing the initiative, Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board, said name-blind recruitment has been adopted by several universities and several European organizations, including the British civil service.

Orchestras began using blind auditions decades ago. Musicians are screened from the selection panel during their audition. Since this approach was introduced, the number of women hired by orchestras has increased dramatically.

The Globe and Mail article cites a 2012 University of Toronto study which found that “job applicants with English-sounding names were 35 per cent more likely to receive a callback than those with Indian or Chinese names, which they said suggested an unconscious bias.”

Van Bavel and West referred to other research that “found that white candidates receive 50 per cent more callbacks for interviews than black candidates with the exact same resume—all that differed was the name of the candidate.”

In this same article, the authors propose a solution to overcome the problem of recruiter bias. “The key is taking the bias out of the hiring process, instead of trying to take the bias out of the person.”

This involves avoiding the use of words that may “subtly encourage or discourage different kids of applicants,” in employment ads, expanding the search for candidates beyond the usual places, and being consistent in how you evaluate resumes, ask questions and decide who to hire.

What do you do to exclude biases from your hiring practices? Would name-blind recruiting work for you?


Participants in Nelson Scott’s Interview Right to Hire Right workshop explore ways to prevent biases from creeping into their hiring decisions. Contact Nelson to learn more or to schedule training for your leadership team: or (780) 433-1443.

The missing element that will sink your staff recognition efforts

“No legacy is so rich as honesty.”

– William Shakespeare, All’s Well That Ends Well

TRUST Business Concept and TRUST FUND achievement, announcement, assistance

Sometimes what we say and do is inconsistent with our stated beliefs. I discovered one such inconsistency recently when I revisited the chapter on peer recognition in Thanks! GREAT Job! as I prepared to write a short book on the role of managers in encouraging and supporting peer recognition.

I was surprised by the disconnect between something I wrote and the title of the chapter, “Trust Recognition to Those Who Know Best.”

Trust is one of three relationships—along with pride and camaraderie—which Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin identified in The Great Workplace as commonly present in companies that appear on lists of great places to work, based on the work of The Great Places to Work Institute. Over four decades and in several countries, the Institute has been responsible for creating lists of the best places to work, including the one published annually in Fortune magazine. I highlighted the importance they place on those three relationships in a previous article.

“Specifically, [employees] believe their leaders to be credible, respectful and fair—they trust them (emphasis added). They also take pride in what they do, and they share a sense of camaraderie with their co-workers. Without trust, pride, and camaraderie, any measure of business success is diminished,” wrote Burchell and Robin.

Not trusting staff to know who to recognize

Organizations frequently include trust, respect and fairness when listing their values. Recognition should reinforce these values (which is a way to make recognition Relevant, one of the ingredients of GREAT staff recognition), but often staff recognition programs seem to reflect a completely different set of values. Managers don’t seem to trust employees to recognize the right people for the right reasons. They don’t respect their judgment. This seems unfair.

This is obvious in formal staff recognition programs that rely on peer nominations to identify award winners. It seems a valid approach until we examine what happens between the time—often a considerable amount of time—when nominations are submitted and the awards are presented. Like most formal programs, these well-intentioned initiatives often become bogged down by myriad rules and policies.

Rather than permitting nominations to stand on their own, they must be reviewed by a committee created to assess whether the recognition is deserved or whether the person was just doing their job. Frequently, before the committee confirms the peer-nominated award, a supervisor must sign-off on the nomination. The purpose of this extra step is to ensure that no one is recognized if there are concerns about the person’s performance, and to confirm—from the supervisor’s perspective—that the person’s behaviour actually deserves recognition.

This is not the way peer recognition should be. It’s about trusting staff to know who deserves to be recognized and how best to provide that recognition.

Managers are a catalyst and support for peer recognition

The role of managers related to peer recognition is quite simple. Be the catalyst to get peer recognition going. Provide opportunities for staff to recognize colleagues. Give them some tools and tips they can use to recognize co-workers.

Then get out of the way and let it happen. Policies, rules and guidelines are not required. Leave it to staff members, and peer recognition will unfold as it should.

Of course, things won’t always go smoothly. The new book will include a section describing what can go wrong with peer recognition, and why this seldom matters.

It’s advice I should have had in mind when I wrote Thanks! GREAT Job!

Despite writing about trusting staff and proposing that there should be “few, if any, rules,” I still proceeded to suggest where a rule was required to avoid a problem that I anticipated might occur. But I didn’t explain why I felt it was necessary and I never considered that it really wouldn’t matter if what I was concerned about happened.

“Recognition ball” is an activity to encourage peer recognition during staff meetings. Staff members have the opportunity to toss a soft sponge ball from one to another. The person holding the recognition ball has the opportunity to recognize a co-worker.

A rule that really isn’t needed

After expressing appreciation to the colleague, the person throws the ball to someone else—and now, here comes the unnecessary rule— “anyone but the person who was just recognized.”

Why did I think this rule was needed? To avoid creating a situation where two people volley the recognition ball between them, each recognizing the person who just recognized him/her and excluding others from the activity.

Really, how likely is this to occur? And would it matter if it did? Surely we can trust staff members to understand the need to be more inclusive in distributing recognition.

Rules written in anticipation of what is unlikely to occur—and which won’t matter if it does—erode the trust necessary for staff recognition to flourish, whether from managers or from colleagues.

What rules do you have surrounding your staff recognition efforts that are really unnecessary?

This sports story isn’t about hockey, it’s about leadership

While it appeared to be no more than another sports story, something in the announcement of the hiring of a head coach for the Las Vegas Golden Knights made it about more than hockey.

The team will debut in the NHL during the 2017-18 season. When introducing Gerald Gallant as the team’s first-ever coach, Bill Foley, who heads the ownership consortium, said, “it really felt like we needed someone who was a player’s coach, someone who players would like and play hard for.”

Being liked by players may seem inconsistent with the professional sports coach Hockey Coachstereotype—gruff, never satisfied with anyone’s performance, always yelling, a boss who doesn’t care what his employees think. It’s not a popularity contest. It’s all about getting the job done—it’s about winning.

Yet that’s likely not the most effective approach to coaching professionals—or leading a team in any work environment. Whether it’s a professional sports team, an elementary school or a financial institution, staff members will be more engaged and work harder if they like the boss.

Years ago, when I was responsible for recruiting and selecting people to take leadership roles in schools, I used a standardized interview protocol which consisted of about 70 questions. I have forgotten most of them but there is one I remember: “Do you want your staff to like you?”

Typically, the would-be school administrators would respond that being liked was less important than being respected by their staff. This answer may have reflected the conventional wisdom but it was wrong. Being liked by your staff is important. The research upon which this interview question was based concluded that employees were likely to work harder for a supervisor they liked.

This didn’t mean that respect was unimportant. It is important but it is not automatic. It must be earned. People may respect the position, but they are unlikely to like or respect the person who occupies the position unless this is someone who they feel knows, likes and trusts them.

These perceptions are based on how employees are treated and how they feel the boss feels about them. Supervisors who demonstrate their respect for their staff are more likely to earn respect from their staff.

These are the people who become a players’ coach, a teachers’ principal, or a customer service representatives’ manager. These are the people who get to know their staff members as individuals and understand what they do so that they are able to provide GREAT staff recognition.

These are the coaches, principals and managers whose staff members are more engaged and more productive—although, in the case of the Golden Knights, not too productive. The Golden Knights will play in the Pacific division, which means they will be competing against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.

Go Oilers Go!

The ingredients of GREAT staff recognition are inherent in peer recognition

With Peer Recognition Day (third Tuesday of every month) just around the corner, now would be a good time to reflect on how the five ingredients of GREAT staff recognition are obvious when talking about peer recognition.

climbing team silhouette

Staff recognition is about the relationship between the person providing the recognition and the person being recognized. Certainly, the relationship between managers and the people they supervise is different than the relationships between co-workers. Because of the relationship that exists among staff members, peer recognition is fertile ground for ingredients that combine to create GREAT staff recognition.

The acronym GREAT is a reminder that staff recognition must begin with a Genuine sense of appreciation for what the recipient did. The message of appreciation becomes stronger with the addition of other ingredients: Relevant, Explicit, Appropriate and Timely.


Recognition must be inspired by a sincere sense of appreciation for what the individual or team has done.

The traditional view of staff recognition is that it comes from above. Managers and supervisors are expected to express appreciation to staff member for a job well done. It’s part of their job, isn’t it? Recognition that comes from a colleague is unexpected. No one’s job description requires that he/she “recognize co-workers.” Because it appears spontaneous, peer recognition seems Genuine.


Recognition should be rooted in what the organization believes is important, which is often expressed it its mission statement, values and goals.

Staff members who work side-by-side understand what their peers do. They have experienced challenges and setbacks similar to those which their co-workers overcame to succeed. They know why the things their colleagues do are important. Staff members often depend on their co-workers to provide information or complete tasks on time—so staff can do their jobs and the team can succeed. Because staff members understand what’s important, peer recognition is Relevant.


Recognition should include specific descriptions of what the recipient did to earn it.

The boss sees the forest, but staff members see and care about the trees, which ensures the forest grows and thrives. Because they understand the job, colleagues can comment on the small aspects of the job that need to be addressed to be successful, which makes it easier to make peer recognition Explicit.


Recognition should reflect the recipient’s recognition preferences and interests.

Most of the time, staff members know their co-workers better than managers do. They know them as individuals—what’s important to them, where they like go for lunch or for coffee, or whether they prefer to be recognized privately or in public. They hear them talk about their families, how they spend their non-work time, or where they plan to vacation. With all this information, they can recognize their colleagues in ways that are Appropriate.


Recognition should be delivered soon after the action that triggers recognition.

Staff members witness what their colleagues do. They are the first to benefit from tasks their colleagues complete or information they provide. They can express appreciation immediately. This is why peer recognition can be Timely.