Middle school principal is our 2017 Staff Recognition All-Star


The 2017 Staff Recognition All-Star takes an inclusive approach with his staff.

Nominator Russ Keating writes that at Ecole Pine Grove Middle School in Edson, where Staff Recognition All-Star James Randall is principal, “All staff are treated as valued members of the school team.”

Both teachers and support staff are involved in school development activities. “Special event days are supported through the purchase of event T-Shirts (Orange T-Shirt Day, Pink Shirt Day) for all staff members,” Keating wrote.

Principal Randal acknowledges staff members for how they contribute and what they achieve, both at school and during their non-work hours. “In the weekly staff email, individual staff members are recognized for school activities that were organized the prior week. Staff is also recognized for accomplishments that occur outside of school hours, such as professional awards and community awards,” Keating wrote.

The purpose of the annual search for Staff Recognition All-Stars is to salute those who do a good job of using simple, cost-effective ways to recognize others for what they do, in ways that the recipients value.

While these people don’t have to be in a leadership or management position—peer recognition may be the most powerful type of recognition that anyone will ever receive—those identified over the years have usually been principals, managers or supervisors.

This is hardly surprising, as leaders are “expected” to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of staff whose work they supervise.

In a small way, discovering Staff Recognition All-Stars is a statement that recognition doesn’t always have to come from above. It is a way to recognize the recognizers.

As the 19th century industrialist Andrew Carnegie observed, “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.” In other words, leaders desire to be recognized as much as anyone in the organization.

Each year, the names of the Staff Recognition All-Stars are announced just prior to National Boss Day (October 16), which is a reminder to staff to thank their bosses for the support and leadership they provide.

Who do you know who is a Staff Recognition All-Star? Next year’s search will begin in August 2018.


A question about questions, for which there is no simple answer

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The question I am asked most often is one I can’t answer: “I am interviewing next week (or tomorrow or this afternoon). What questions should I ask?”

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. It all depends. For what position are you hiring? Obviously, that will influence your choice of questions. Questions you might ask a prospective teacher will be different than what you would ask if you were hiring an administrative assistant, a tradesperson or a barista.

Even then, there is still no one set of “right” questions, which will work for every principal who has a teaching position to fill, or every manager who needs to replace a long-serving assistant who is about to retire.

There are many other factors that suggest which questions to ask. Each school, business office or other workplace is unique in some way.

While similar in some ways, one school’s culture and focus will be different from that of another school. One coffee shop may be as unlike another coffee shop as it is from a corporate office or a construction site.

To be successful in one setting, a new employee will need to possess competencies which might not be required in another, outwardly similar setting. Understanding this, and what’s important within your organization, is an essential starting point to ask questions that let you hire the right people for your workplace.

There are three aspects of any organization that need to be considered before deciding what to ask when you next interview:

Top Performers – These are the people who come to mind when someone ask, “Who are the best people with whom you have ever worked?” Top performers are the people who you wish you could clone. What do these top performers do that makes them successful? What skills and attitudes do they bring to work? How do they handle common workplace situations? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you understand what you are looking for when hiring, which in turn, will point you toward the questions you should ask.

Values –– Values are important because they define the workplace culture. They should be part of your focus when interviewing. Ask questions to determine if candidates will be a good cultural fit. If “teamwork” is a value, ask about a time when the candidate was a member of work team. If there’s a value related to “customer service excellence,” ask about times when they served customers. You will be looking for behaviours that are consistent with your values.

Goals –– Where is your organization going? What does the future hold? What’s in your strategic plan? What skills and competencies are required to get your organization to the future you envision? Write questions that will determine who has the competencies which you have deemed to be essential to your future success.


Through his writing, speaking and training, Nelson Scott assists leaders fulfil their commitment to hire, engage and retain the right staff. He can be contacted at nmscott@telus.net or (780) 232-3828.

What the workplace needs now is . . .


Recognition Appreciation Praise Word Collage 3d Illustration

What the world needs now is love, sweet love

It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love,

No not just for some but for everyone.

– Burt Bacharach, songwriter, What the World Needs Now

That world includes workplaces, where love most appropriately takes the form of staff recognition.

What brings this to mind is a recent column in Vue Weekly, Edmonton’s alternative weekly newspaper. Columnist Ashley Dryburgh reflected on the power of love to overcome white supremacy in the aftermath of events in Charlottesville, Va., during the summer.

One passage particularly resonated with me:

“It means, firstly, that love demands that we do something. Good intentions are not enough. Secondly, that these actions are ongoing. Thirdly, that love is not passive and finally that love is not ill-informed: action in ignorance is not an act of love.”

Each of her four observations about love are equally true when we think about how we let staff know that they are appreciated for what they do:

1. Appreciation demands action. Feeling appreciation for what an employee did doesn’t mean anything if you don’t let that person know how you feel. Express your appreciation with a few words of praise delivered in public or in private. Put your thoughts in writing. Reward the behaviour you appreciate and want to see more of.

2. Recognition needs to be ongoing. During some of my workshop programs, I tell the story of a couple who are sitting in their living room. Both are reading; he a newspaper and she a book, which she puts down before addressing her husband. “You never say you love me.”

He sets aside the newspaper. “I told you I loved you on the day we got married, 30 years ago. If that changes, I will let you know.”

Most of us would agree that this is not a strategy on which to build a long-term relationship. Why then, would we expect it to be any more effective in the workplace? We often welcome newcomers with enthusiasm, telling them how glad we are that they have joined the team. Then nothing—those initial words are followed by years of silence. They never hear any words of appreciation or encouragement. Whether we are talking about love or recognition, silence is never effective. These messages deserve to be repeated.

3. Recognition is never passive. Recognizing staff in ways that recipients will value and feel is meaningful requires effort. You need to know what the person did and why it was important. It also helps if you know the recipients well enough to recognize them in ways that match their interests and recognition preferences.

4. Recognition is not ill-informed. When “recognition” is delivered by someone who does not know the recipient or understand what he/she did, it’s obvious to everyone that the person is just going through the motions. It’s simply an empty ritual.

It reminds me of the 1970’s British television comedy Are You Being Served? which frequently featured visits by the elderly owner of the Grace Brothers to the ladies’ and gentlemen’s clothing department. These visits always took the same form—a ritual, which began with the owner’s words, “You’re all doing very, very well,” to which the staff would respond in unison, “Thank you, Mr. Grace.”

The essential ingredient of staff recognition was missing. To be meaningful, recognition must be motivated by a Genuine sense of appreciation.


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 www.hughculver.com


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.

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.

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?