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