Recognition as a Tool to Help Staff Develop Good Habits

One of the themes in my forthcoming book, Thanks, Again, is “Making Staff Recognition a Habit.”

A resource I accessed while researching this theme was Atomic Habits, by James Clear. In this bestselling book, Clear defines a habit as a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic.”

This is the type of behaviour for which we should recognize staff. Recognition is a way to help staff members develop habits that will make them successful (and eliminate those that impede their success).

Atomic Habits is built around a four-step Habit Loop from which Clear developed Four Laws of Behaviour Change:

  1. Cue: Make it obvious.
  2. Craving: Make it attractive
  3. Response: Make it easy.
  4. Reward: Make it satisfying.

If you wish to make staff recognition a habit, Clear’s Four Laws of Behaviour Change might work something like this:

You witness a staff member’s response to a situation in a way you wish to see them repeat (Cue). You realize that is a reason to recognize (the habit you wish to develop) this individual (Craving). You reach for a thank-you card from the box sitting on your desk (Response). Recognizing staff for doing their job well makes you feel good (Reward).

Repeat this behaviour often enough and staff recognition becomes a habit.

The behaviours for which we recognize staff should be actions that we want to see repeated. Ideally, the habits that we hope to see staff members develop are aligned with the habits they wish to develop.

The cue may come in the form of assigning a task, a text reminding the individual of a task, or the staff encountering a situation with which they are familiar to which they realize they should respond.

Every behaviour is preceded by a prediction. People believe that benefits will result from behaving in a particular way. In a recognition-rich work environment, the prediction that will make the behaviour attractive is the prospect of praise when the job is complete and done well.

Behaviours are more likely to be performed when they are easy. Tasks are made easier to accomplish when what is needed is readily available. Find ways to remove barriers to the successful completion of tasks. Encourage staff members to search for ways to overcome points of friction to make completing tasks easier. Tasks that are familiar or that people enjoy seem simpler and are more likely to be completed satisfactorily, creating opportunities for you to recognize staff.

Completing tasks satisfactorily feels good, which is rewarding to some. In Atomic Habits, Clear writes, “The first three laws of behaviour change—make it obvious, make it attractive, and make it easy—increase the odds that a behaviour will be performed this time. The fourth law of behaviour change—make it satisfying—increases the odds that a behaviour will be repeated next time. It completes the habit loop.” Being recognized for doing the job will increase the chances that the behaviour will be repeated—and that it will become a habit.

Let’s focus on providing exceptional customer service as an example of a desirable behaviour/habit that can be encouraged with recognition:

Cue: A customer enters or the telephone rings.

Craving: The staff member recalls from previous experience that satisfying a customer feels good and anticipates that serving a customer well could result in praise from the boss.

Response: Because the staff member has been trained in customer service, it’s easier for them to respond in ways that produce a positive customer experience.

Reward: In addition to the satisfaction that comes from creating a happy customer, the staff member may be rewarded by being recognized for a job well done.

Ideally, this recognition will be Timely, one of the ingredients of meaningful (GREAT) staff recognition. Clear writes that, “the speed of the reward is a crucial factor.” 

Recognition doesn’t have to wait until the task is completed. Recognition along the way adds to the sense of satisfaction that is necessary when encouraging habit development.

“Behaviours that make you feel good—that is, behaviours that are followed by an immediate sense of satisfaction or praise or encouragement or pleasure—are exactly the kind of behaviours you want to repeat in the future,” Clear writes.

Behaviour that you want to see repeated in the future is a habit you will encourage with staff recognition.

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