Timely—Making staff recognition prompt

This is the final article in a series focused on the five ingredients of GREAT staff recognition. It suggestions eight ways to make recognition Timely, plus there’s a bonus tip for those times when we failed to give people recognition as soon as we should have.

Pervious articles in this series:

Genuine—making recognition authentic (includes five practices that cause your staff recognition efforts to seem insincere and nine ways to ensure recognition appears Genuine)

Relevant—making recognition strategic (includes nine ways to make recognition Relevant)

Explicit—making recognition specific (includes seven tips to provide Explicit recognition)

Appropriate—making recognition personal (includes 10 suggestions to provide recognition that is Appropriate)

Timely—Making staff recognition prompt

Does this seem familiar? You observe a staff member performing a task well and you think, “That’s deserving of recognition. I’ll do that … later.”

You really intend to do it. 

Later, you will have more time to acknowledge the person’s contribution. Waiting allows time to figure out the best way to say, ”Well done!“ There will be time to write a thank-you note or to find a small token to express your appreciation.

But then life happens. You get even busier. A crisis demands your immediate response. Your praise goes unspoken and the contribution is forgotten.

Eventually, when there is a chance to say thank you, you begin, “I should have said something sooner.” 

Yes, you should have. Recognition too long delayed seems an insincere afterthought.

Worse yet, you say, “I can’t remember what you did, but I know you did a good job of something.”

When you don’t remember what happened, providing Explicit recognition is impossible, whereas recalling the details would strengthen your message of appreciation. It would  seem more Genuine.

Stop waiting for the right moment. Be spontaneous. Provide immediate feedback. When you see behaviour deserving of recognition, there’s no reason to put off saying or doing something.

Let people know you saw what they did and appreciate their contribution while what happened is still fresh in both of your minds. 

Smile. Give the staff member a pat on the back or a thumbs-up. Express your appreciation in a few words.

What you say or do may not be the most Appropriate way to recognize this individual, but immediate recognition sends a powerful message of appreciation.

Want to do more? You can always follow up on-the-spot recognition with some other gesture of appreciation if you wish, but when the recognition is Timely, something more may not be needed.

Here are eight ways to ensure recognition is Timely, plus a bonus tip:

  1. Add “recognize staff” to your daily to-do list. Recognition is important and best when delivered in a Timely fashion.
  2. Prepare to provide Timely recognition by stocking up on tools you will need to express appreciation when you witness behaviour that deserves to be recognized: thank-you cards, sticky notes, treats, small gifts, coffee shop gift cards, etc.
  3. Schedule time to recognize staff—a time to write notes, send emails, make phone calls, or to drop by to say thank you. It could be a few minutes each day or an hour or two once a week, but never wait any longer to acknowledge contributions. The longer you wait, the less Timely the recognition becomes.
  4. Using email or texts may be the most Timely way to recognize staff, but don’t always leave it at that. You can strengthen your message of appreciation by following up in person.
  5. E-cards are a simple way to provide Timely recognition.
  6. While recognition should be Timely, this doesn’t mean it must always be immediate. Let a staff member know you would like to meet to provide positive feedback. “When would be a good time, tomorrow or the next day, for us to meet so that I can recognize you for what you did recently?” Waiting for praise that they know is coming may increase the impact of your message of appreciation. 
  7. Recognition is most meaningful when it’s Timely, delivered immediately after you witness behaviour that you appreciate. However, there are times when this is not possible—you don’t want to interrupt what the deserving employee is doing, you are on your way to an appointment for which you can’t be late, or you are involved in a conversation with others (perhaps even congratulating them on a job well done). Plan to connect with this staff member as soon as is reasonably possible to recognition his/her contribution.
  8. If your recognition program requires a supervisor’s approval before recognition is bestowed, ensure the timeline for the approval process is short to ensure recognition is Timely.

Bonus Tip: No Statute of Limitations on Recognition—Most of us, at one time or another, have failed to give people recognition when we should have—soon after becoming aware that they had done a task well. We may have been distracted by other duties and now it seems too late to recognize the person. While recognition should ideally be Timely, being late with recognition is not a reason to forego it. Even recognition delayed is better than no recognition at all. What’s important is that it’s motivated by a Genuine sense of appreciation. You can then strengthen your message by including at least one other ingredient of GREAT staff recognition: make it Relevant, Explicit or Appropriate.

Want more ways to recognize staff? Subscribe to Briefly Noted to receive tips every two weeks on how to hire, engage and retain the right people. Or purchase Thanks! GREAT Job! for hundreds of tips, tools and techniques to boost morale, increase engagement and improve retention with high-value, low-cost staff recognition.

Explicit—Making staff recognition specific

This is the third in a series of articles focused on the five ingredients of meaningful staff recognition. The acronym GREAT reminds us that recognition must be Genuine and your message of appreciation become stronger as you add one or more of the other ingredients: Relevant, Explicit, Appropriate and Timely.

The first article focused on how being Genuine makes recognition authentic and identified five practices that make your attempts to recognize staff appear insincere and suggested nine ways to ensure recognition is and appears to be authentic. The second article included nine suggestions of being Relevant that make recognition a strategic tool to focus staff on the organization’s mission, values and goals.

This article suggests seven ways to make staff recognition Explicit by using specific descriptions of what is being acknowledged, which demonstrates that you are paying to what staff members do.

Up next, how recognition that is Appropriate shows you see and know staff members as individuals.

“Recognition is the highlighter pen of behaviour.”

— Cindy Ventrice, author

Explicit may be the simplest of the ingredients of GREAT staff recognition to explain.

It begins with The Oxford Canadian Dictionary definition of Explicit as, “expressly stated or conveyed, leaving nothing merely implied; stated in detail.” Other definitions include the phrase, “leaving nothing to the imagination.”

Applied to staff recognition, this means describing what the recipient did in as specific terms as is reasonable.

Providing Explicit recognition shows that you are paying attention. You know and understand what people do and how their efforts contribute to your organization’s success and that of the staff member.

Being seen as paying attention has a powerful impact on the level of staff disengagement. The Gallup Organization found that when staff received positive input from leaders, disengagement is very low (only about one per cent). When feedback is negative, disengagement increases to 22 per cent, but when staff leaders are ignoring them, the disengagement rate increases to 40 per cent.

Staff may interpret Explicit recognition as evidence you respect them as individuals. You care enough to learn about what they do, and why what they do is important to the organization.

Simply saying, “You are doing a good job” without any description falls short.

Explicit recognition also conveys a message about what is important—it reminds staff of what they need to do to perform their jobs well.

What gets acknowledged (because it important) is what gets repeated. You get more of what you praise.

Being Explicit when praising staff members allows you to recognize specific contributions by otherwise underperforming staff members without fearing that the person will use the fact that you recognized them previously against you if you criticize their work in the future. You are focusing on just one aspect of their work, not providing an overall assessment.

This small bit of praise may even help turn around their underperformance.

Here are seven ways to use Explicit recognition to strengthen your message of appreciation:

  1. Set up staff members for success by communicating clear expectations. 
  2. Recognize both outcomes (meeting pre-defined goals, completing a project on time, etc.) and behaviour (listening to a patient’s concerns, keeping filing up-to-date, etc.).
  3. Success breeds success. Create opportunities to celebrate success by encouraging staff members to set reasonable goals. Praise their efforts when the goals are realized.
  4. Before giving into the temptation to recognize staff with a general “well-done” compliment, ask yourself, “Why am I thanking this person? What did he/she do that I feel warrants praise?” The answer will be the key to unlocking more Explicit recognition.
  5. Consider using a pneumonic device to organize your message of appreciation. Here are a couple of possibilities: SAR (What was the Situation? What Action did the person take? What was the Result?) or SAIL (Situation, Action, What was the Impact? How did his/her action Link to the organization’s values or goals?)
  6. Often recognition programs are filled with ambiguous phrases about “going above and beyond” or “outstanding service.” While reaching these levels of performance certainly deserves to be acknowledged, it’s important not to ignore the day-to-day contributions of staff members who consistently fulfil the expectations associated with their jobs. It is this performance, along with occasional achievements that go above and beyond, that make organizations successful. 
  7. What’s being recognized: looking busy or being productive? Sometimes it’s difficult to tell. Some people can look busy, without really achieving anything. Some managers, who fail to focus on the results that staff members achieve, praise people because busy-ness can be easier to see than outcomes. Recognition should acknowledge staff for doing what’s important—efforts that reflect the values of the organization and help it achieve its goals.

Relevant: Making staff recognition strategic

This is the second in a series of articles focused on the five ingredients of meaningful staff recognition. The acronym GREAT reminds us that recognition must be Genuine and your message of appreciation becomes stronger as you add one or more of the other ingredients: Relevant, Explicit, Appropriate and Timely.

The first article focused on how being Genuine makes recognition authentic. It identified five practices that make your attempts to recognize staff appear insincere and suggested nines ways to make it clear that your appreciation is Genuine. This article includes nine suggestions for making a strategic tool to focus staff on the organization’s missions, values and goals.

Up next, how recognition that is Explicit shows you’re paying attention to staff and what they do.

Values are not just words, values are what we live by. They’re about the causes that we champion and the people we fight for.”

– John Kerry

Effective staff recognition begins with knowing what to recognize. A good place to begin is with your organization’s mission statement, values and goals.

These documents define your organization. They are the map and compass that point the organization in the right direction.

Unfortunately, these words will not become the guide they should be if once created they are ignored—posted on the wall where they are never read or discussed.

They become as useless as a map tucked into a backpack that is never taken out and studied by hikers before they walk into the woods hoping that they will arrive at their destination.

Staff members want to know what is expected of them. How does what they do fit into the big picture? How does their work contribute to the organization achieving its goals?

Which behaviours are expected of them that will reflect the organization’s values, such as customer service excellence, collaboration and innovation?

Results of the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2015 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement survey  show that 77 per cent of employees surveyed said that having a clear understanding of their organization’s vision and mission was important to their job satisfaction and engagement.

This is where staff recognition, when it is Relevant, becomes a strategic tool, translating what’s in mission statements, values and goals into staff members’ everyday reality.

When recognition is linked to what the organization says is important it reminds recipients and others what is expected. It helps create your workplace culture.

Relevant recognition is a tool you can use to point out that what staff members did made a difference—to their community, to their colleagues, or to helping the organization fulfil its purpose.

Here are nine ways to use Relevant staff recognition as a strategic tool to keep everyone focused on the organization’s path forward:

  • Highlight how staff members’ actions reflect the organization’s values or will help it reach its goals. Emphasize how what a teacher did in the classroom contributed to student learning, or how what was done in a warehouse resulted in orders being filled quickly, which created satisfied customers.
  • Review your mission and value statements. List behaviours that will move your organization closer to these desired outcomes. When you witness these behaviours, acknowledge them and thank the staff member. 
  • Let staff know which behaviours you expect. Make a list. Publish it. Talk about how what’s on the list relates to the organization’s values. Praise people when you see these behaviours.
  • Brainstorm with your leadership team in order to identify behaviours that reflect values. What does “compassion,” “Innovation” or “risk-taking” look like?
  • People want to feel that they are doing meaningful work. Use recognition to show them that what they do makes a difference and is valued. 
  • Involve staff in defining what values look like in practice. What behaviours reflect values such as “customer service excellence,” “teamwork,” “collaboration,” “innovations,” etc.? These are the behaviours for which staff should be recognized when they occur.
  • Focus on one value for a week. Be especially alert for behaviours that reflect that value (but don’t forget to recognize staff for behaviours reflecting other values when you witness them). When the week is over, assess what happened. Did you discover evidence of the value in action? How did you link recognition of what the staff member did to the value? Did you talk about the importance of the value? What value will you focus on next week?
  • Reread your mission and values statements. Ask yourself: Am I recognizing staff—or punishing them—for risk-taking, innovation, honesty, exceeding customer expectations, teamwork, continuous learning, etc.?
  • Listen carefully when customers praise staff members’ actions. They are telling you what is important to them and why they continue to do business with you. Are these the same behaviours for which you recognize staff?

Genuine: Making staff recognition authentic

The five ingredients of GREAT staff recognition

The acronym GREAT is a reminder of the ingredients of powerful staff recognition. To be most meaningful and valued by recipients, GREAT recognition must be Genuine (inspired by a sincere sense of appreciation for what the person did). Your message of appreciation becomes stronger as other ingredients are added: Relevant (linked to what your organization feels is important), Explicit (includes a specific description of what the recipient did), Appropriate (reflecting the interests and recognition needs and the preferences of the recipient) and Timely (delivered soon after the behaviour occurs).

This is the first of a series of five articles, each of which will focus on different ingredient for GREAT staff recognition.

Why do staff members value the recognition that some leaders provide while other attempts to recognize employees fall flat?

Why are some leaders able to recognize staff in ways that boost morale, increase engagement and improve retention, while what other leaders do seems to make no difference?

Is it that some people just write better thank-you notes, give better rewards or offer better praise?

The truth is that the value and effectiveness of staff recognition is not determined by what you do, but by why you do it, as assessed by those who are recognized.

Recognition must be seen as inspired by a sincere sense of appreciation for what the recipients achieved or how they contributed. 

Recognition must be Genuine. It is the essential ingredient.

If recognition is not motivated by a sincere sense of appreciation—if it’s not Genuine—the suggestions that I (and others) make about how to recognize staff will not be effective. 

The ability to recognize others in ways that they perceive as Genuine depends on how staff members feel about the people providing the recognition, and that comes down to two concepts: trust and respect.

Do staff members know, respect and trust you? Do you know, respect and trust them?

When Michael Burchell and Jennifer Robin, authors of The Great Workplace, asked,Is your organization a great place to work?” and “Why?” what they heard from staff members who felt they worked in a great place was that, “they believe their leaders to be credible, respectful and fair—they trust them.”

Researchers find that providing recognition appears to increase trust levels. Ninety per cent of employees who receive recognition trust the boss who provides the recognition, while only 48 per cent of staff members who are not being recognized trust their bosses.

Without respect and trust, attempts at recognition will be seen to be empty rituals, rather than Genuine expressions of appreciation for what people achieve and how they contribute.

One common practice that destroys a leader’s credibility is recognizing everyone the same way. They do not want to treat anyone differently, because this may be seen as “unfair” and might upset other staff. Some even use this fear as an excuse for never recognizing anyone.

Staff members know that different people contribute in different ways at different levels of effectiveness. Most accept that there will be differences in how individuals are recognized. They understand, as Thomas Jefferson did, that “Nothing is more unequal than the equal treatment of unequal people.”

Avoid other practices that make attempts at recognition appear insincere, such as:

  • Following praise with the word “but,” a verbal eraser that cancels everything that went before.
  • Sandwiching criticism between two layers of praise, which appears to buffer criticism, rather than acknowledging contributions.
  • Immediately assigning new tasks, without allowing time for the recipient to savour the recognition.
  • Attempting to recognize an individual you don’t know (and who doesn’t know you), whose name you can’t pronounce, and whose contribution you don’t understand.
  • Laying it on too thick, hoping that at least one platitude will fit the circumstances.

On the other hand, there are ways to recognize staff that make it clear that your appreciation is Genuine:

  • Recognize people only when you sincerely believe they deserve to be recognized, not because “it’s the thing to do” or because someone said you should recognize staff more (although you probably should).
  • Separate positive feedback from the negative, except when conducting performance appraisals, during which both are expected.
  • Ensure that your body language and tone of voice are in sync with your words of praise.
  • Include as many of the other ingredients of GREAT staff recognition—Relevant, Explicit, Appropriate and Timely—as you can in your message. The more ingredients you include—and they don’t all need to be present every time—the stronger your message of appreciation.
  • Be emotional. Show recognition comes from the heart. Let them know how good you feel about what they did.
  • Be consistent. Recognize what deserves to be recognized, no matter who did it, when or where. Never recognize what doesn’t warrant recognition, just because you feel bad that Joe has not been recognized recently. Wait and watch. His turn will come.
  • Keep it short and simple. The longer and more flowery a presentation, the more artificial it seems.
  • Provide honest feedback. When someone screws up, tell him. When he succeeds, tell him. Both types of feedback will be more believable. 

Up next: Relevant: Making staff recognition strategic

Like Trump, some staff members always need more recognition

I haven’t read Mary Trump’s family memoir and likely won’t. 

For my purposes, the title says it all: Too Much and Never Enough.

Those last two words really resonate. They say so much about President Donald Trump and remind me of one way in which he is similar to a few people with whom I have worked.

Like Trump, no matter how often they are praised, it is never enough.

Simply put, some staff members need more recognition than their colleagues. 

I think the first time I encountered this recognition-deficit feeling was not in someone I supervised, but in the question asked by the editor of a small newspaper where I worked as a reporter when I was still in my teens.

Every week it was the same. “What do you think of this week’s paper? It looks pretty good, doesn’t it?”

To my eye it looked pretty much like the previous week’s newspaper, but I always agreed that the current edition really stood out from the past issues.

As an educational administrator, certain teachers stood out because of their need to be recognized frequently. Heather (not her real name, of course) seemed to always come forward to show what she had accomplished, hoping, I assume, that I would see the quality of her work and praise her for what she had done.

In truth, what she did was deserving of recognition and I was happy to satisfy her need for praise.

Others accomplished as much but did so more quietly, which meant they may have received less praise when they likely deserved more. 

When the term Appropriate is used to describe one of the ingredients of GREAT (Genuine, Relevant, Explicit, Appropriate and Timely) staff recognition, the emphasis is on knowing individuals well enough to be able to recognize them in ways that reflect their interests and their preference for public or private recognition.

Recognizing the need of some people for more praise than others seem to need can be added to that list.

However, there is a potential for misinterpretation of this observation. Is it permission to provide less recognition to most staff so that certain staff can receive more? Or should you recognize these high-need staff members for contributions for which others might not be recognized?

Certainly not in both cases. Recognition should be given to all who deserve it as often as they deserve it.

Even when you attempt to provide more recognition to those who need more, the recognition must always be driven by a sincere sense of appreciation for what the person did. It must be Genuine.

Simple recognition techniques will likely satisfy the high-need people’s thirst for recognition.

“John, this week’s newspaper does look good.”

For staff like Heather, a few words of praise are all that’s needed, whether written on a sticky note left on her desk, in a text message or email, or via a “pat on the back” when you meet in the hallway.

And, there must be something that could be said to the U.S. president.

How about, “You provide hosts of late-night talk shows with lots of great material for their monologues?”

It might work in the moment, but no matter how much recognition he receives, it’s never enough.

How what Trump said about Trudeau at NATO meeting relates to staff recognition

Screen Shot 2019-12-12 at 9.36.53 AMWhat the 70th anniversary gathering of NATO leaders will be best remembered for has nothing to do with what was on the agenda.

Ever since it happened, everyone is talking about a conversation among a few of the leaders, including Justin Trudeau, in which they were overheard joking about Donald Trump, and also what the U.S. president said later about the prime minister.

These exchanges have become fodder for late night talk show hosts and even spawned a skit on Saturday Night Live.

I will leave it to political pundits to speculate on the implications of what some have described as a “diplomatic disaster,” and focus here on Trump’s response from a staff recognition perspective.

“He’s two-faced,” Trump said in response to reporters’ questions about the incident, before immediately adding, “I find him to be a nice guy.”

What was he saying here? What message did he want reporters to take away? That Trudeau is “two-faced” or he is “a nice guy?”

The workplace equivalent might sound something like this: “You did a good job on this report, but it was late.”

Consider the enduring message that emerges from this sentence. What’s important is not that the report was well written, but that it was late. What began as praise morphed into criticism as soon as the word “but” was inserted.

This simple three-letter word becomes a verbal eraser. What went before is insignificant. As I wrote in Thanks! GREAT Job! “Everything before the but is b***s***.” (Actually the word is spelled out in the book).

If Trump had been like some managers, he might have said, “Justin Is a nice guy, but he can be two-faced!”

This type of message is consistent with the “recognition” found in some of Trump’s tweets.

It is important that staff receive the feedback they deserve—criticism when they under-perform and praise when they meet and exceed expectations.

But it’s a mistake to deliver both positive and negative feedback at the same time. Mixed messages combining praise and criticism confuse people, who don’t know which is foremost in the mind of the manager: Trudeau is two-faced or Justin is a nice guy.

The worst examples of ambiguous messages result from advice attributed to American businesswoman Mary Kay Ashe. “Sandwich criticism between two layers of praise.”

During some of my staff recognition programs, I test the validity of the “sandwich” approach by asking participants to describe the last sandwich they ate. 

Typically they describe the filling (ham and Swiss cheese, egg salad, vegetables). Few ever mention the bread that holds the sandwich together. They remember the filling, not what’s on the outside.

(A recent exception: a participant began by saying that his wife used gluten-free bread for his sandwich. “It tasted awful!”) 

If people don’t remember the bread that was used to make a sandwich, why would we expect them to remember the two layers of praise that proceed and follow criticism?

Most won’t, but they will see recognition being used to buffer bad news. The danger is that they will soon see any praise as a prelude to criticism. Mentally they will add “but” to any recognition, even if those providing the recognition have no intention of following recognition with negative feedback.

Employing the sandwich technique, or following words of appreciation with “but,” makes it difficult for any future recognition to be perceived as Genuine—the essential ingredient of meaningful staff recognition. Recipients will wait for the second (negative) shoe to fall.

Like most “rules” surrounding staff recognition, the separation of praise and criticism is not absolute. There are a couple of exceptions.

During performance appraisals, staff members expect to hear about both what they do well and what they could do differently.

Another exception is when a manager follows negative feedback with an expression of confidence that the staff member will act on the advice just received.

“Julie, it’s important to ask questions to understand the customer’s expectations before trying to resolve her complaint. Based on how well you were able to implement the suggestions I made a few weeks ago about how to greet customers, I am confident in your ability to apply this advice and become more effective in dealing with customer complaints.”

Maybe that’s what Trump was trying to do. “Trudeau was two-faced, but he won’t joke with other world leaders about my behaviour again because he’s such a nice guy.”

Nah, I don’t think so. He said what he thought, and then decided to buffer it with a few positive words. Just like some managers would do.

This article about staff recognition includes Explicit content

Chalkboard writing: Explicit content sign

There’s something I need to get something off my chest. I need to make a confession.

I have always been uncomfortable listing Explicit as one of the ingredients of meaningful staff recognition.

It not that there’s really anything wrong with the word when you consider its definition in The Oxford Canadian Dictionary: “expressly stated or conveyed, leaving nothing merely implied; stated in detail.”

In other words, be specific when describing what the recipient did that warrants recognition.

Explicit is the word to convey that, while also making it possible to use the acronym GREAT as a reminder of the five ingredients of meaningful staff recognition.

But I remain uneasy about the word.

The source of that unease is that is the word explicit is often used to warn that a film or book may not be suitable for all audiences. “Warning: May contain Explicit content.”

There is another definition found in The Oxford Canadian Dictionary: “describing or representing nudity or intimate sexual activity.”

Other dictionaries add the phrase “and violence” in this definition of explicit. One includes “leaving nothing to the imagination” in its definition.

Thinking about it, that’s what we should do when recognizing the contributions of others. Leave nothing to the imagination. Provide a detailed description of what the individual did.

This serves two purposes. First, it shows you are paying attention to what the person is doing, which makes your words of appreciation feel Genuine. Secondly, the explicit description you provide serves as a reminder of your expectations. This is the exact behaviour you want to see repeated.

Providing explicit descriptions of what recipients did that is deserving of recognition is a topic that participants explore during my Staff Recognition: One Piece at a Time workshops.

Being specific is not just important when recognizing staff. It’s also important when interviewing candidates to fill a vacancy.

Participants in my Interview Right to Hire Right workshops learn what to do when candidates respond to the interviewer’s questions with l answers which are too general, too removed (it’s sometimes called “viewing from 30,000-feet”) to really understand what the candidate has done. Participants practise techniques to obtain detailed, “ground level” responses when they request examples of actions candidates took when in circumstances similar to those experienced by people within your organization.


Nelson Scott writes and speaks about how to hire and use staff recognition to engage and retain the right people. To learn more, or to schedule Nelson to speak at your next conference, convention or staff training event, email nmscott@telus.net or call (780) 232-3828.

Don’t expect recognition to be Timely if you work at this hotel

Employee Of The Month Poster Frame

Following the Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, we stopped by a nearby hotel in search of air conditioning (it was 35 degrees Celsius—and felt like 47C!) and a cold drink. In the lobby, I discovered a display which is part (hopefully not all) of the business’s staff recognition program.

It celebrates the hotel’s monthly front- and back-of-the-house stars, which seems to be a variation of the employee-of-the-month theme, and a leader for the quarter.

This might have become one of those “that’s-interesting” moments, after which I would have continued my search for a cold drink, if I hadn’t looked at the information below the photos.

Something here didn’t seem quite right.

It was the beginning of July and the people whose photos were on display were the stars for March 2018 and the leader of the quarter for the fourth quarter of 2017.

Allow me to do the math. It had been three months since the end of March and the final quarter of 2018 is now closer than the fourth quarter of 2017. The gap between the time these individuals had achieved the results for which they are being recognized and the public acknowledgement of their success seemed unreasonably long.

What could explain this?

Perhaps those responsible for identifying who to recognize each month solicit nominations from others right up until the end of the month and require time to process that input before making their selection.

Then there’s a need to arrange for photographs to be taken and to have the display updated.

That might be a reasonable explanation if the display honouring the March stars was exhibited throughout April, but surely by July there would have been other staff whose performance had met the criteria to become stars of the month for April, May and maybe June.

The way it appears to visitors to the hotel, including potential employees and perhaps even to its current staff members, is that selecting stars of the month and a leader for the quarter is not a priority. Those responsible for the program have other tasks that they feel are more important than celebrating employees’ success. Staff recognition isn’t at the top of anyone’s to-do list.

This is disappointing. One of the ingredients of GREAT staff recognition is that it be Timely. As time passes, the impact of recognition fades. Recognition is most meaningful when it occurs soon after the action for which an individual is being praised. Being Timely should be measured in hours or days—not weeks or months.

Suggested Action: Examine your staff recognition strategy. How long do deserving individuals have to wait to be recognized? Is the recognition they receive Timely? If not, how can you shorten the time between the actions for which people are recognized and when they are recognized?

During my Thanks! GREAT Job! presentation and my Staff Recognition: One Piece at a Time workshop, participants explore how each of the ingredients of GREAT staff recognition strengthens the message of appreciation. Email nmscott@telus.net or call (780) 232-3828 to learn more, or to schedule a program for your convention or conference, or for training for your staff.

It takes more than trinkets and tokens to convey your message of appreciation.

Different Champion Golden Trophy, Trophies. Winners Cups On Blue

When people in leadership positions think about recognizing staff, the question that often arises is, what can we give them to show they are appreciated? 

The possibilities are without limit. Trophies, certificates, gift cards, merchandise, thank-you notes, recognition events and letters of commendation to be placed in personnel files are just the beginning. We all have our favourite ways to recognize staff and ways in which we prefer to be recognized.

All of these tokens of appreciation work for some, but not for all. There is no equivalent of a Swiss Army knife, which we can use successfully to recognize all staff. One-size-fits-all doesn’t exist. One-size only fits one.

You will discover that some people value trophies, certificates or plaques, while others quickly relegate these items to the local landfill. Some will treasure and save handwritten thank-you notes, but others will assign value only to formal letters from the boss (or the boss’s boss), which can be added to their personnel file. 

Only one person determines the value of recognition—the recipient. Therefore, it’s important to know them well enough to recognize them in Appropriate ways. Ask questions to discover what’s important to individuals. What are their interests and recognition preferences?

What you learn can be used to discover the best tools to help convey your message of appreciation, but even knowing the answers to these questions doesn’t guarantee success in recognizing staff. 

Identifying the right tools to recognize staff is important, but recognition isn’t about favourite treats, mugs decorated with cartoon characters or books by authors who recipients like. These are just objectives, tokens and trinkets. 

They help convey the message of appreciation, but on their own they will not express your gratitude. That depends on how the recognition is presented. Providing an Appropriate token of appreciation may strengthen your message of appreciation, but the message of appreciation is expressed in words, not with trinkets. Recognition comes from the heart, not from a catalogue of merchandise.

People may not always remember the gifts they receive—they may not always value the gifts they receive—but they will remember the words you spoke and how those made them feel. 

Suggested Action: Examine your staff recognition practices. Are they trinket-based or does your recognition begin with words, with tokens of appreciation used only to strengthen that message?


Participants in Staff Recognition: One Piece at a Time workshops identify ways to use Appropriate tokens and other tools to strengthen their messages of appreciation. Email nmscott@telus.net or call (780) 232-3828 to learn more or to schedule a workshop for members of your leadership team.

10 tips to recognize staff in ways they will remember for the “right” reasons


“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

When Nancy was called into her boss’s office to assist her in preparing for a presentation, she didn’t anticipate that she was in for a recognition experience. She still remembers it, more than a decade later, but not for reasons that her now-former employer would have wished.

While retrieving a laptop that was stored under her boss’s desk, she discovered a framed picture, with a plaque bearing her name.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Oh that,” said her boss. “It’s for you. Some type of performance award. I guess I should have given it to you a few weeks ago. You can take it now if you want it.”

How did Nancy feel about this award? How does she feel about it today? Not pride for what she accomplished. Not appreciation for the company’s gratitude. No, what she still feels is how little importance her boss appeared to attach to the award.

“The recognition lost its meaning because of how it was presented,” she says. “It negated the value of the award and its purposes.”

How Nancy experienced recognition undercut what could have been a sincere expression of appreciation. The company had well-defined criteria for the award and had invested in what it considered to be a suitable token of appreciation. But it had not prepared Nancy’s supervisor to provide recognition in a way that would create a meaningful experience. The boss did not understand that the way recognition is presented—what is said and done—is far more important than either awards or events at which the recognition is delivered.

With the passage of time, people may forget most of the circumstances that surrounded their recognition, but one memory will always remain. They will never forget how the experience made them feel.

Happily, there are techniques that managers and supervisors can use to ensure that recognition is genuine and that it will be presented in ways recipients will value and remember for the right reasons:

  1. Involve the right people in making the presentation. The person delivering recognition should know and be known to the recipient. This may not be the CEO who, although important to the company, may not be as significant in the recipient’s work life as her boss, or maybe the boss’s boss.
  2. Know about the recipient. What are his hobbies? How does she like to spend family time? What are his career goals? Why does she like to read? What is his favourite treat? How does she prefer to be recognized? The more you know about individual staff members, the better you are able to provide Appropriate recognition.
  1. Respect the employee’s preference to be recognized in public or in private. Shy, introverted people dread being called up in front of an audience. Some will actually skip recognition events to avoid the experience, while their more extroverted colleagues will love it.
  1. Make it personal. Recognition is most meaningful when experienced in-person. The impact of your words increases when you can synchronize your body language and tone of voice with your message. If face-to-face recognition is not possible, put your words of appreciation in writing, remembering that a handwritten note is more meaningful than a formal letter or an impersonal email. In his book Megatrends, American futurist John Naisbitt wrote: “The more high technology around us, the more the need for the human touch.”
  1. Be Explicit when describing what the recipient did. When recognition includes specific examples, it shows that you are paying attention to what the employee does.
  1. Ensure recognition is Timely. The longer you wait to acknowledge an employee’s contribution, the less its impact. Delayed recognition is like a glass of champagne that stands too long. It loses its fizz.
  1. Maintain the right balance between being prepared (knowing what the recipient did, why it was important and what you are going to say) and being in the moment. Over-scripted recognition lacks the spontaneity that adds to the meaningfulness of the gesture of gratitude.
  1. Exercise caution when using humour. Many a manager has negated the value of praise they just bestowed by attempting standup comedy. “Maybe we should have given George a gift certificate for a new tie. Where did you get that one . . . at clown school?”
  1. Separate recognition from other feedback. A recognition event is not a performance appraisal. When the manager says, “Susan did a great job on that report, but it was two weeks late,” the word “but” serves as a verbal eraser, eliminating the positive impact of the words that went before.
  1. Avoid following recognition with a request to take on another task. “You did such an outstanding job, I know you will excited to hear that I am going to assign you an even more difficult and time-consuming project.”  Don’t let recognition morph into a form of punishment for achieving success.