Create a Staff Recognition “Hero Habit”

“Good habits are as addictive as bad habits, and a lot more rewarding.”

– Harvey Mackay


Being consistent is the key to becoming effective in recognizing staff. Acknowledging the contributions and achievements of others needs to become a habit.

In his e-book Hero Habits, my friend and colleague Hugh Culvert, a productivity expert, suggests that habits form because of how we reward ourselves.

Most work-related tasks can be added to a to-do list (another habit). Once completed, crossing them off the list produces a feeling of satisfaction, which is a reward for completing the task.

Staff recognition is different from other aspects of what we do. Because the need to recognize staff for what they do never goes away, recognizing staff is not just another to-do list task and needs to become a habit.

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines a habit as “an automatic reaction to a specific situation, acquired by learning and repetition.”

This is what staff recognition must become. In a previous article, I suggested several ways to make staff recognition a habit. While these tools and techniques are useful to support the habit, what I failed to discuss was the motivation to create a habit.

Knowing that staff recognition is important and being committed to acknowledging the contributions of staff may not be enough. Based on his own experience of replacing unwanted habits with hero habits, Hugh concludes that, “there has to be a reward for every habit you want to feed.”

Whenever we encounter a situation, we react, with either a one-off response or with a habit-based routine. In some circumstances, the one-off response is what is needed. If I want to book a flight to Kelowna, that’s something I can add to my to-do list. The reward is crossing the task off my list (and anticipating the opportunity to meet Hugh for a cup of tea while I’m there).

But there are recurring scenarios in our lives to which our responses are governed by our habits, whether the habits are wanted or unwanted, and which translate into routine behaviour. Each comes with its own reward.

Reaction          >              Routine            >             Reward

Conveniently, one of the examples Hugh chose to include in Hero Habits is relevant to our focus on staff recognition:

Reaction I think about someone on my team who did a good job
Unwanted Habit Hero Habit
Routine I tell myself I’ll thank them when I have more time. It never happens. I stand up, walk down the hall and thank them
Reward I stay busy and avoid what might be an uncomfortable conversation. They feel good and I feel supportive

Hugh writes that, “Sometimes I’m motivated by just keeping a promise with myself. That’s enough reward to make me want to keep more promises. And sometimes I need to manufacture a reward.”

What is your reward for recognizing staff? Is it enough to feel that you have met your commitment to recognize and that you made the staff members feel valued and appreciated? Or do you need another reward? Maybe it’s something that is more tangible.

The secret to creating a Hero Habit is to start—to begin now to recognize staff more often.

“Your success was ignited by starting,” Hugh writes. “Just like a big fire, you have to start with a small flame. That’s also how you create a new habit — start small.

“Trust that by starting, repeating, and improving your new Hero Habit(s) it will serve you day after day.”


In Hero Habits, Hugh Culver provides tips to help you create Hero Habits in several aspects of your lives: getting more sleep, becoming a morning person, listening more effectively, eating better, and becoming fit. Download a free copy of Hero Habits at


Telling stories make recognition—and associated lessons–memorable


Use stories to make your message memorable. When recognizing a staff member publicly, it’s not enough to say, “Jane was a great help as we were getting ready to meet with a potential client.” Create a story that explains what Jane did and why it was important.

Begin by describing the situation Jane faced (upset customer, discovering a shortage of needed supplies, etc.) and what might have happened if she hadn’t acted as she did. How did she resolve the situation? Why was what she did important? What was the positive outcome? How do you feel about what she did?

“I had asked Jane to help me prepare to meet with a group that had the potential to become new clients. She wanted to include our new brochure in the information packages she was preparing, but discovered that they had not arrived from the printer. She knew these would be critical to our presentation. Our chances of landing the contract would be hurt if we didn’t have this important information. When she called, the printer told her the brochures were just coming off the press and wouldn’t be delivered until the day after the meeting. Without being told to do so, Jane drove to the printing plant to pick up the brochures. She added them to the folders we distributed at the meeting, and having this information helped us close the deal. We really appreciated Jane for taking the initiative—which is one of our values—to do what needed to be done.”

By using a story when recognizing Jane, the manager did more that express her appreciation. The story of Jane’s success was also a reminder to others of a company value—showing initiative—and a concrete example of behaviour that reflected this value.

In their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip and Dan Heath write about the value of stories to prepare others to face similar situations. “Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps us perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment. Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.”

The story of Jane’s contribution roughly follows the “Magic V-Shaped Storytelling Formula” developed by Dave Lieber, a professional speaker and columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Learn more about this storytelling technique—and experience an enjoyable example of a story well-told—by watching Dave’s TED Talk.

Movie Classic Highlights Similarities Between the Deliberations of Juries and Interview Panels


The 1957 movie 12 Angry Men provides another example of the similarities between how crime investigators of film and fiction solve mysteries and how interviewers should decide which candidates to hire.

The film begins with the judge’s charge to the jury to determine guilt or innocence based on the evidence presented in court, much as interview panels should decide who to hire based on what they learn about jobseekers’ past performance during the interview. Unfortunately, other factors such as emotions, biases, time restraints and pressure to conform can all thwart the goal of making evidence-based decisions.

Soon after entering the jury room, the foreman calls for a preliminary vote. Eleven hands are raised to convict. Only juror number 8, played by Henry Fonda, is not prepared to vote to send the 18-year-old defendant to the electric chair.

“Do you really think he’s innocent?” another juror asks.

“I don’t know,” he responds. “We’re talking about someone’s life here. We can’t decide this in five minutes. Suppose we’re wrong.” He feels that juries—and I would add interview panels—should take the time necessary to fully consider the evidence before reaching their decision.

The foreman attempts to quell the jurors’ anger by asking juror number 8 to explain why he voted against conviction, in the hope that the others can persuade him to change his vote. “Perhaps if the gentleman down there who is disagreeing with us . . . could let us know what you’re thinking, and we might be able to show you why you’re mixed up.”

The ensuing conversation reveals what motivated the jurors to vote as they did.

Some interviewers and jurors seem to feel that they time spent in the courtroom, or asking interview questions and listening to the candidates’ responses, completes their commitment to the process. It’s time to get it over with so they can return to their regular lives.

Juror number 7, for one, had a reason to wrap up deliberations quickly. “Yeah, we can get out of here pretty quick. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I got tickets to the ball game.”

Other jurors based their decision on stereotypes, citing the boy’s upbringing in a slum and his previous brushes with the law. “You’re not going to tell me we are supposed to believe this kid, knowing what he’s been through. Listen, I’ve lived among them all my life. You can’t believe a word they say. You know that they are born liars,” juror number 10 says.

Others admitted to being convinced of the guilt of the accused from the moment they first saw him sitting at the defence table, just as some hiring decisions are made based on first impressions. “I knew she wasn’t right as soon as I met her.”

It fell to juror number 8 to encourage the group to set their biases and emotions aside and focus on the evidence they heard in court, just as panels must consider what they learn about candidates’ past performance during interviews. “It’s not about your feelings. It’s about the facts,” he says.

Despite resistance from some other jurors, he succeeds in leading the jury to focus on each piece of evidence and the testimony of the witnesses. The deliberations progress, with other jurors applying their background knowledge and expertise to the discussion.

Here is where interview panels have an advantage over juries, which are composed of individuals randomly selected from the general population. The person assembling an interview panel can draw in people who will bring specific talents and knowledge to the task. This expertise can be valuable throughout the process, from deciding what competencies the ideal candidate should have to screening applications, writing and asking interview questions and, finally, making a hiring decision.

The value of considering the input of all members of the jury or the interview panel is illustrated by the observation by juror number 9 about the eyewitness who claimed to have seen the boy stab his father, which proved critical to the jury’s decision to acquit.

What juror number 9 saw was something everyone else missed. “Eleven of us didn’t see this,” juror number 8 says. “Only you saw it.”

Based on the evidence presented in the film, acquittal was the right outcome, but one that would have never been reached if juror number 8 had not had the courage to resist the pressure to make a quick decision. Interview panel members must also resist the pressure to decide who to hire until all the evidence of past performance gathered during the interview is examined.

How often have innocent men and women been wrongfully convicted because of rushed judgments? How often have the wrong people been hired—and the right people turned away—because it wasn’t expedient for an interview to examine evidence thoroughly?

Don’t allow this ever to be said of your hiring decisions.


During Interview Right to Hire Right workshops, participants develop their skills to gather and analyze evidence on which to base hiring decisions. Contact Nelson to learn more or schedule training for the leaders within your organization. Email: Phone: (780) 433-1443.

Stanley Cup Winners Show How to Celebrate Team Awards


About a week ago, the Pittsburg Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators 2-0 in Game Six, to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby was awarded the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the National Hockey League, also for the second year in a row.

The NHL championship trophy is unique in professional sports for a couple of reasons. While it is a team award, the league engraves the names of the players, coaches and others associated with the team on the base of the Cup.

Another tradition is the opportunity that each member of the winning team has to take the Cup for a day, for a personal celebration of the team’s success. For many players, this involves taking the Cup back to their hometown to allow family, and friends with whom the player grew up and played minor hockey, a chance to get close and personal with the trophy.

Other organizations could follow the NHL’s lead when they win awards, rather than immediately locking their award away in a trophy case following a few brief remarks acknowledging that receiving the award was the product of the efforts of everyone on the team.

Here are five ways to celebrate like your team just won the Stanley Cup:

Take a photo – In a tradition that began with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s, the winning team gathers at centre ice for an informal photo of the team clustered around the Cup. Gather your winning team for a photo with the award.

Engrave the players’ names – Not possible, you say? (There’s no room. The award is made of a material unsuitable for engraving. The award isn’t yours—it must be returned to the “league” to be presented to someone else next month or next year.) Well, consider this as a challenge to be creative. Write the names on a paper collar that will be wrapped around the base of the trophy. Add a temporary stand on which to display the trophy. Have everyone sign their names on the wall behind where the trophy is displayed.

Take the trophy out for a night on the town—or at least for lunch. But there’s a voice out there saying, if we take the trophy out of the display case it might be damaged or even lost. Here again, thinking about the history of the Stanley Cup can be instructive. It’s been dented, broken and even kicked into Ottawa’s Rideau Canal, but still there isn’t a hockey player anywhere, from novice to senior citizen leagues, who wouldn’t give anything to score the Stanley Cup winning goal and have his (or her) name engraved on this 125-year-old trophy.

Allow each player his day with the award – Some may just leave it on their desk for the day. Others will take it home to show the family or take it out for a celebration.

Create your own “Conn Smythe” award – Not just one award, but one for each person on your work team. This need not be a tangible award, but could take the form of a public acknowledgement of the unique contribution of each team member, or be handwritten notes of appreciation.

When recognition you received didn’t resonate, say something

bigstock--PuzzledWoman172343627There are times when recognition misses the mark. The recognition is simply not Appropriate for the person whose contributions are being acknowledged.

When we are the ones guilty of selecting the wrong way to recognize another person, we can learn from the experience. We can observe how people respond to the recognition and appreciate when the recipient lets us know that what we said or did just didn’t resonate.

On the other hand, what if you are the person being recognized in a way that made you uncomfortable or in a way that didn’t match your recognition preferences? How should you respond when this happens?

You should let the person who recognized know that how you were recognized was not meaningful to you. Perhaps public recognition makes you feel ill at ease; you prefer to be recognized privately. It could be that you aren’t the type of person who displays certificates and plaques. The gift you received as part of the recognition is something you will never use.

Timing is critical when giving this feedback. It would be improper to interrupt the recognition to let the person know that you don’t value the gesture. Doing so would be awkward, potentially embarrassing, and might make the person delivering recognition reluctant to recognize others in the future.

For now, politely accept the recognition when it’s offered. Later, request an opportunity to speak to this person privately to provide your feedback. Most people who are committed to staff recognition will value the honesty of your input. No one wants what they do to recognize others to be a wasted effort.

I still think about the young woman with whom I worked many years ago, who thanked me for the liqueur I gave her as a Secret Santa gift, but who quietly told me later, “I don’t drink, but I’ll give it to my parents. They will enjoy it.”

I still appreciate her willingness to let me know that this was not right the gift for her. I am thankful for the opportunity she gave me to learn, so I would not repeat this error. The experience and her feedback have made me more careful when selecting how to recognize others, to ensure that whatever gesture I choose is correct.

When you have the opportunity to provide feedback, do so. You will help others become better recognizers.


During his staff recognition programs, Nelson Scott provides participants with the tools they need to recognize staff in ways they will value.

Biases can put jobseekers at the head of the queue, but shouldn’t

Outstanding Person In Green

When we discuss biases in the context of hiring, the focus is usually on how unreasonable preconceptions shrink the talent pool. We usually ignore the impact of what might be called “positive biases”—such as the school that applicants attended, where they worked previously, or being part of a group known to be hard workers—which move applicants to the front of the line.

These positive biases can lead to bad decisions just as easily as biases that immediately exclude some applicants from consideration. Let’s examine the case of Jacob (not his real name), the son of an acquaintance, and how he found his summer job.

Jacob attends an American university on an athletic scholarship. Because of the school’s academic calendar, Jacob was not available to start work until about a month after students from Canadian universities are able to join the temporary job market. This made finding a summer job even more of challenge. Most summer positions would be filled before Jacob could start work.

Knowing this, our young jobseeker wrote to a few potential employers, explaining his unique situation. One responded with an email, promising an interview when Jacob returned home.

Why did the employer do this? What made Jacob stand out? Why was he willing to hold a position for this student?

When Jacob met with him, the employer explained that he was attracted to Jacob because he was a student athlete and attended university in the state where his wife grew up. He added that his brother-in-law had competed in the same sport as Jacob while attending a rival university in the same state.

There was no mention of what appeared in Jacob’s resume or his experience. The only focus was on the connections to what the employer’s wife’s family had done in the past..

Does this mean that Jacob was the wrong person for the job? It’s hard to tell, but based on what I know about Jacob, I am confident all will work out for the best. He will work hard and is well-suited to the physical demands associated with the job.

If this hiring works out, it will be a case of good luck, however, rather than the consequence of using an effective approach to hiring staff

The outcome of this biased hiring decision could have been different. The decision to hire Jacob, based on non-work factors, could have been a failure.

The best way to avoid bad hiring decision is for managers with vacancies to fill to set aside biases and focus on evidence of past performance to predict if the candidate is right or wrong for the job.


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.

7 ways to respond when recognized

Young Woman Showing Her Heartfelt Gratitude

Recognition is a way to let people know that you appreciate what they did and that the behaviour should be repeated. That’s what happens when you are the one who recognizes, but you’ll not always be the one giving recognition. Sometimes you will be the recipient.

How you respond when recognized is important. A proper response can encourage more recognition—behaviour you feel they should repeat. You want to see this person recognize staff and co-workers more often (and it would be nice if you were recognized occasionally, as well).

Here are seven suggestions of what to say or do when you are on the receiving end of recognition.

  1. Enjoy the moment. You deserve it. You did your job well. The person who is recognizing you has judged what you did as worthy of recognition. Just go with it.
  1. Smile. This signals that you appreciate the gesture.
  1. Say “thank you.” This is the simplest and most apropos response. Nothing else really needs to be said (although saying more can be useful).
  1. Describe how recognition makes you feel. “I appreciate your kind words. They make me feel good about what I do.”
  1. Trust the person delivering the recognition. Resist the temptation to humbly dismiss recognition as unnecessary or undeserved with phrases such as:

“It was nothing.”

“I was just doing my job.”

“No big deal.”

Obviously, to the person delivering the recognition it was a big deal. It was something. It’s not just about doing your job; it’s about doing your job well. When you dismiss recognition, you risk discouraging the very behaviour you want to see more often.

  1. Don’t feel you must reciprocate by immediately praising the other person. Doing so may seem insincere. For now, it’s about you. The other person’s turn will come. Soon you will witness this person act in way you truly appreciate. That is your time to express appreciation.
  1. Share the praise when appropriate. Let the person who recognized you know how others contributed. “Thanks for your feedback. It wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance I received from Michelle and Jacob. I’ll let them know that you appreciated what we were able to accomplish.”