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.

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?

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!

Could my Mom sit in on my interview?

Silhouette of a large helicopter on a white backgroundAbout a year ago, Briefly Noted readers helped identify the most ridiculous interview questions ever asked. Today, I would like to hear about your experiences and your thoughts about another phenomena associated with recruitment: the involvement of “helicopter” parents in their children’s job searches.

Helicopter parents are overprotective parents who discourage children’s independence by taking an excessive interest in their children’s lives, including involvement in their job searches.

How would you respond if a candidate asked to bring his mother or father to the interview? Or if a parent simply showed up with the candidate? Perhaps you have experienced this situation. Or maybe the candidate showed up with a friend or spouse. What did you do? What did you say?

Please email your thoughts and experiences to

This request was prompted by the release in August of the results of research conducted on behalf of staffing firm OfficeTeam. The purpose was to discover how senior managers feel about helicopter parents who become actively involved in their children’s job searches.

The researchers collected more than 500 responses from managers in Canada and the United States.

Respondents were asked to select one of the three statements which “most closely describes how you feel when a candidate’s parent is involved in the job search process.” (See box for the results.)

Which one of the following statements most closely describes how you feel when a candidate’s parent is involved in the job search process?

It’s annoying—job seekers should handle things on their own 35%
I wouldn’t recommend it, but I’ll let it slide 34%
It’s totally fine for job seekers to get help from their parents 29%
Don’t know/No answer 1%

The researchers also invited respondents to recount the most unusual or surprising behaviours they’ve heard or seen from parents of job searchers. Here are a few of their responses:

“A woman brought a cake to try to convince us to hire her daughter.”

“One parent asked if she could do the interview for her child because he had somewhere else to be.”

“One mom knocked on the office door during an interview and asked if she could sit in.”

“A job seeker was texting his parent the questions I was asking during the interview and waiting for a response.”

I’ll report what Briefly Noted readers have to say in a future issue. Your input will remain anonymous unless you give permission for the use of your name.


Top 7 Dates to Add to Your Annual Recognition Calendar



While staff recognition should be ongoing and not driven by the calendar, there are a few dates during the year that are just natural opportunities to let staff know they are valued as individuals and team members, and appreciated for what they do.

  1. Work Anniversaries & Birthdays – These are natural times to chat with individuals to reflect on their success of the previous year. Letting people know they are appreciated around these dates may help improve staff retention. Researchers have found that job hunting increases six to nine per cent around service anniversaries and by 12 per cent in the weeks prior to an employee’s birthday (perhaps even more before significant birthdays, such as 40 or 50).
  2. Peer Recognition Day—When it was published in 2011, Thanks! GREAT Job! included the suggestion to designate the third Tuesday of each month a day to remind staff of the power of peer recognition and to encourage them to express appreciation for the support co-workers provide and the contributions they make.
  3. Employee Appreciation Day (first Friday in March) – Established by the National Association for Employee Recognition (now Recognition Professionals International) as a reminder to managers and leaders of the value of recognizing staff.
  4. Mother’s, Father’s and Grandparents’ Day– Send a note to children and thank them for sharing their parent or grandparent, or to the parents of your staff members thanking them for doing such a good job of raising someone who is now a contributing member of your staff.
  5. Thanksgiving Day (second Monday in October in Canada and the fourth Thursday of November in the United States) – The name says it all and saying thank you is too important to celebrate it only once. Thank those who make your organization successful.
  6. National Boss Day (October 16) – Since 1958, October 16 or the closest work day has been an opportunity for everyone to thank their bosses for the support and leadership they provide all year long.
  7. Job-Specific Weeks and Days – Administrative Professional Week (last full week in April), World Teachers’ Day (October 5), and National Nurses Week (May 6-12) are just three examples of job-specific dates that might provide an opportunity to thank your team.

Related Article: Resolved to increase staff recognition? Start easily with these tips