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

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


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 ( 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 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


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.