What we can learn about launching an enhanced staff recognition strategy from a restaurant’s disastrous grand opening

Grand Opening Sign Template

At first blush, opening a new restaurant and ramping up staff recognition would appear to have nothing in common—that is, until we realize that both involve creating expectations in the minds of others which, once established, must be met.

Let’s begin with the restaurant’s disastrous grand opening, which occurred more than two decades ago. It’s a tale that may be instructive to any leaders wishing to ramp up their organization’s staff recognition strategy.

It seemed that the entire community was starved for a new place to eat. On opening day, almost everyone appeared to have lined up to be among the first to dine in the new restaurant. Tired of waiting, some left in disgust.

For those who were eventually seated, the wait to be served was even longer. The staff was overwhelmed. They weren’t prepared for the number of people who showed up. The kitchen was slow. Orders were mixed up. Servers found themselves explaining that the kitchen had run out of menu items.

The high expectations set by announcing the restaurant’s grand opening were not met.

Even in that pre-social media era, word spread quickly. Within days, the lineups had disappeared. Most tables were unoccupied. A few months later, the restaurant closed.

What is the lesson to remember as you prepare to ramp up staff recognition?

Begin slowly. Eschew a “grand opening” in favour of a “soft opening.” Don’t set expectations which might not be met immediately. Give yourself time to work out the kinks before making a grand announcement about how you intend to increase the amount of recognition staff members will receive.

A similarly cautious approach is what this restaurant should have adopted prior to its opening. If it had, the restaurant might have had a successful start and still be preparing and serving meals.

You don’t ever want to close the doors on your enhanced staff recognition strategy, an outcome which you are likely to avoid by beginning small and quietly—a “soft launch.”

Here are a few ways to soft launch your staff recognition plans:

  • Quietly increase what you do to recognize staff—more pats on the back, more OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthank-you notes, more praise written on sticky notes left on desks or attached to computer screens.
  • Schedule time at meetings for staff to recognize their peers.
  • Create a “wall of success,” where you post good news about staff: positive notes from happy customers, positive news about work and personal accomplishments, and certificates of achievement.
  • Spend time with staff in the break room or at their workstations. Thank them for specific contributions. Ask about their work. Listen to their comments. Seek their advice.
  • Leave treats on desks with a note of appreciation.

Suggested Action: Ramp up your staff recognition activities slowly. Keep things low key. Take time to work out the kinks before publicly launching your enhanced staff recognition strategy.



How to ramp up staff recognition is a topic discussed during the Staff Recognition: One Piece at a Time program. Email nmscott@telus.net or phone (780) 232-3828 to learn more or to schedule a workshop for your leaders.


9 responses you can use the next time some says, “I don’t recognize staff because I . . .”

More action, less excuses - handwriting on a napkin with a cup oChances are that if you are reading this article, you’re among the converted. Telling you that staff recognition is important is like preaching to the choir. You already get it!

But not everyone does. There are managers and supervisors who don’t believe. You likely know some of them. They can rattle off a list of reasons for not recognizing staff.

We (the “believers”) know that most of these reasons really aren’t valid, but what can we say to help them understand that their reasons for not recognizing staff are just “excuses, rationalizations and cop-outs” and help them understand why staff recognition is important?

Here are suggestions for what you might say in response to the nine reasons (while writing Thanks! GREAT Job! I discovered 22 of them) you are most likely to hear:

Excuse #1: Don’t know how – Recognition begins with two simple words: Thank you. Everything else you will learn about how to recognize staff is a refinement, just different ways to convey your message of appreciation. Discover new ways to recognize staff by checking out the “High-Value, Low-Cost Staff Recognition Tips” in every issue of Briefly Noted. Read Thanks! GREAT Job! Pick up a book by Bob Nelson or Chester Elton and Adrian Gosick. Google “staff recognition ideas.”

Excuse #2: Don’t have time – If you truly believe staff recognition is important, you will find the time, because staff recognition need not take much time: a pat on the back, a few words of praise delivered in-person or with a handwritten note. By recognizing staff, you may be actually saving yourself time. People who feel valued and appreciated are more engaged, and more engaged employees require less supervision. People are more likely to stay where they are appreciated, improving staff retention and reducing the time you expend to recruit, interview and train newcomers.

Excuse #3: Don’t need to thank people just for doing their job – We cheer athletes and performers just for doing their jobs, don’t we? We cheer them just for showing up for work (running onto the field or stepping onto the stage). And we cheer even louder when they do their jobs well. Why should it be different when staff members perform well and meet expectations?

Excuse #4: Don’t want to overdo it – It’s hard to imagine that happening. While people complain they aren’t recognized, no one ever complains about getting too much praise. The only caveat is that recognition will become meaningless when it isn’t deserved and the person doing the recognizing is only going through the motions. True recognition means the person providing the recognition understands what the recipient did and why it was important.

Excuse #5: Don’t want to miss someone – Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.” When you don’t recognize anyone, you won’t just miss someone, you will miss everyone deserving of recognition.

Excuse #6: Don’t get any recognition myself—never have—don’t need it – This isn’t about you, it’s about the people with whom you work, who deserve and want to be recognized. But then, maybe it is about you. What if you had been recognized regularly? How would you have felt? What difference would that have made?

Excuse #7: Don’t think it’s my job to recognize people – If not yours, whose? What the boss thinks is important to staff members. They want to know the boss understands what they do and knows when they have done it well. They want to feel appreciated for their contributions and achievements by the person whose opinion matters most.

Excuse #8: Don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable by singling them out for recognition – Good point! While some people enjoy being recognized publicly, others don’t. Learn the recognition preferences of the people with whom you work. Ask which they prefer—to be recognized publicly or in private? There are alternatives to public recognition: during a one-on-one meeting in your office, in a thank-you note, or in a message of appreciation written on a sticky note attached to their computer.

Excuse #9: Don’t have any money in the budget for recognition – Simple, frequent recognition always trumps expensive, but infrequent recognition. There are hundreds of ways to recognize staff which recipients will value, but which cost little or nothing to use. The key is that recognition be inspired a Genuine sense of appreciation and that the message be strengthened by being Relevant, Explicit, Appropriate and Timely—in other words, GREAT staff recognition.

Suggested Action: Who do you know who appears hesitant to recognize staff? Schedule a meeting to discuss this reluctance to recognize. Ask why. Help this person understand why the reasons for not recognizing staff are invalid.

Most popular 2017 blogs answered readers’ questions or included lists

blog, blog, blog - blogging concept on a napkin with cup of esprLooking at the most popular of my blog posts for 2017, two themes emerged. First, articles written in response to questions from readers are among the most read (three of the top five posts were based on readers’ questions).

The other type of articles, which proved popular, included lists (for example, 9 do’s and don’ts, 10 ways to say thank you, 7 questions to ask).

What does this mean? In the future, I should write more articles that include lists and more in response to your questions, which will only be possible if you ask me questions about hiring, engaging, recognizing and retaining the right staff.

Please email your questions to nmscott@telus.net.

Here are the most popular blog posts of 2017:

You Asked: About the best ways to raise morale

9 Interview Dos and Don’ts

You asked: How do I avoid getting false recommendations from previous employers?

Why I took the easy route and gave gift cards at Christmas

Should I thank someone who sends me a thank-you card?

Grab this tool to navigate your way through the interview journey

Should I acknowledge service anniversaries? Yes, if they are important to the staff member

10 ways to say thank you on National Boss Day

7 questions to ask to recognize staff Appropriately

Suggested Action: Email your questions about hiring, engaging, recognizing and retaining the right staff to nmscott@telus.net.

Humorous commercial exposes serious workplace problem


Managers can be guilty of imagining that their problems are so complex they cannot be solved without the input of a truly wise person. They overlook the obvious and are oblivious to the contribution of mere mortals.

This was illustrated in a FedEx commercial, which features an executive who is struggling with what appears to be an insurmountable problem.

“Hey Jerry, what’s up?” his administrative assistant says. “You looked stressed.”

“Oh, problems with our international shipping, as usual.”

“What, still?”

“Yep, but I am doing my best not to let it get to me.”

Doing his best involves well-known stress-busters, such as meditation, acupuncture, tai chi and a Japanese Zen garden.

“Is it working?” she asks.


“What about switching to FedEx, the reliable way to ship internationally?”

Upon hearing this, a guru, who is floating crossed-legged above the Zen garden says, “Your path is now clear.”

Jerry’s stress immediately falls away. Now he has only to express gratitude.

“Thank you, Guru.”

What just happened here? Who deserved credit for proposing a solution which eliminated so much stress?

Certainly, from our perspective, the answer is as obvious as the solution: the administrative assistant.

But the executive had a different view, seeing the solution as coming from the wise man from whom he sought advice. Perhaps with time he will come to realize the true source of the wisdom he sought and thank the assistant for providing the answer.

As this commercial shows, there is always a possibility that recognition may be misdirected. One staff member will be praised for the contributions of another.

Some may seize on this as another reason (to be added to the 22 excuses, rationalizations and cop-outs identified and rebutted in my book, Thanks! GREAT Job!) for not recognizing staff: fear that the wrong people will be recognized.

But fear should never prevent us from doing what needs to be done. Despite the possibility that your recognition may occasionally be bestowed on the wrong person, you should continue to recognize staff for how you believe they have contributed.

This may disappoint the person who deserved recognition, but this transgression will soon be forgotten in a workplace with a recognition-rich culture. Or the recipient of the misdirected recognition could step forward to right the record.


Exposing the reasons some give for not recognizing staff as just excuses, rationalizations and cop-outs is just one topic discussed during my Staff Recognition: One Piece at a Time program. Contact me to learn more and to schedule training for your leadership team (nmscott@telus.net or 780-232-3828).

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

questions and solutions need serious answers helps or support de

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.