You Asked About Leaders Who Are Reluctant to Recognize

The Question: What is your suggestion for a teacher who wants to implement more recognition when the school administration is struggling to do so? How do I encourage this value from the ground up?

97 Staff Recognition Tips in Just 60 Minutes participant

The Answer:  Administrators have their reasons for being hesitant to recognize staff. Over the years, I have written about these so-called reasons. Most can be dismissed as excuses, rationalizations and cop-outs and all can be eliminated as barriers to recognizing staff.

Let’s focus on the three most common reasons and suggest ways that staff can become evangelists for staff recognition and help their bosses “see the light.”

Not understanding the importance of staff recognition––They just don’t get it, but you can help rescue them from their recognition skepticism.

Share your thoughts about staff recognition. Why do you believe it’s important? Point them toward research that demonstrates the impact of staff recognition in workplaces. Some things you could mention:

  • The number one reason identified by the Gallup Organization for voluntarily leaving jobs was not feeling appreciated.
  • Deloitte found that organizations with a staff recognition program had 31 per cent lower voluntary turnover than those without.
  • Of employees surveyed by Quantum Workplace and BambooHR, 52.5 per cent stated they wanted to receive more recognition from their manager.
  • When O.C. Tanner asked, “What is the most important thing that your manager or company currently does that would cause you to produce great work?” 37 per cent said that more recognition would encourage them to produce better work. Only 13 per cent mentioned the next item on the list. 
  • Forbes cites research that shows that recognition has an impact on trust levels. Ninety per cent of employees who were recognized or thanked in the past month trust their boss, while among those who have not been recognized, trust drops to 48 per cent.
  • The Achievers Workforce Institute found that half of all employees recognized within the past week were very engaged. This dropped to less than a third for employees recognized in the last month and only 16 per cent for those recognized more than a year ago.

Bring the research closer to home. Suggest a brief staff survey. Here some questions that could be asked:

  • I would work harder if I received more recognition for the work I do.
  • I feel appreciated for what I do.
  • It is important to me that I receive regular and frequent feedback.
  • My supervisor knows and cares about how  important feedback is to me.
  • Which do you receive more of at work? Praise. Criticism. Neither. Both equally.

Click here for more survey questions.

Let your administrator feel what it feels like to recognized. Praise them for something they did. 

No role model –– They have never witnessed someone recognizing a staff member and haven’t seen the impact on recipients. 

You can become the role model they need. Find different ways to recognize your colleagues. Write thank-you notes. Leave praise on sticky notes. Express gratitude on the bulletin board in the staffroom. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”(Or in your school.)

Encourage your administrator to express appreciation to another staff member. Identify someone who performed in way that warrants recognition. Describe what they did and express your belief that they would value words of praise from their leader. Suggest ways the administrator could express appreciation. Later, ask how the recipient responded to the recognition. Or ask the recipient how they felt about receiving recognition and report their positive reaction back to the administrator.

You will be helping the administrator understand how recognition can impact others and helping them become a role model for themselves.

Don’t know how––Show them. Share your notes from the session you attended. Refer them to My 7 favourite high-value, low-cost staff recognition tips and techniques. Have them check out the staff recognition tips on my website. Encourage them to subscribe to my newsletter, Briefly Noted, which contains at least four simple staff recognition tips in every issue.

Buy them a book about staff recognition. Thanks! GREAT Job! is the first one that comes to mind (is my bias showing?) Other good choices include 1,501 Ways to Reward Employees or The 1001 Rewards and Recognition Fieldbook by Dr. Bob Nelson, The Carrot Principle or Managing with Carrots by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, and Make Their Day! by Cindy Ventrice.

Recognition that removes winter’s chill

While staff recognition knows no season, there are certain staff recognition practices that seem better suited to certain seasons. This thought prompted me to write Recognition for a Summer’s Day six months ago, followed three months later with examples of how recognition could fall like autumn leaves.

In the third article in this series, my focus shifts to ways of recognizing staff during the winter season (December, January and February).

Since this season includes the celebration of Christmas, the exit of the old year and the beginning of a new year, it’s natural to look back on what was and look forward to what could be. That makes it a perfect opportunity for revisiting recognition practices.

With every holiday card you write to staff members, express appreciation for at least one contribution the individual made during the past year.


Create an Advent calendar of gratitude. Each day during December, open a door to expose a message expressing gratitude to an individual or team.


’Tis the season of school concerts. Provide opportunities for parents to leave work to attend their children’s daytime performances.


Personally deliver candy canes (or another sweet treat) to the workstation of everyone on your team, along with an Explicit description of something that the person did that you appreciate.


What challenges did your organization face during the past year? How were they overcome? Remind the people who helped solve these issues that you know and remember what they did by thanking them again.


Reflect on your team’s list accomplishments during the previous 12 months. If specific successes can be traced to the efforts of one person or to a group of employees, ensure that their contributions are acknowledged.


Year-end is a good time to review your staff recognition practices. Think back on what you did to recognize staff over the past year. What worked? What didn’t? What staff recognition techniques appear less effective? What worked for some staff members but not others? Have you recognized staff frequently enough? How could you improve your staff recognition practices? Use what you learn to improve your staff recognition plan for the new year.


Help prepare staff to set New Year’s resolutions by asking, “Where do you see your career in five years? What steps can you take during the next 12 months that will help you get there? How could I help you move closer to your career goals?”


Retail stores and offices may be closed on Christmas Day so that staff can spend time with their families but there are organizations for which December 25 is just like any other day. There is no pause button they can push just because it is Christmas. Police, health-care workers and firefighters are the first that come to mind, but there are many other organizations that operate 24/7, 365 days a year—hotels, restaurants, utility companies, media organizations, etc. 

If you are a supervisor or manager who has the day off but there are others who must work or be on call during the holiday, take a moment to think about them. Sure, they will receive extra pay, but money isn’t everything. Let them know that you appreciate them sacrificing time with family and friends. Think particularly about those who volunteer to work on a holiday so that co-workers can spend time with their families. Send them a text or email expressing your appreciation. Give them a phone call or drop in for a few minutes to express appreciation in person. Arrange for them to receive a special treat during their break.


On a chilly winter morning, greet people as they arrive with a steaming mug of hot chocolate.


End the year with a message for each of your staff members. Describe what you value most about having had them on the team over the past year. Focus on the individual’s contributions to the organization as well as on what their work team achieved. Finding contributions to highlight will be easier than you think. When you sit down to write your emails, you will discover that two or three contributions jump out for each person. Don’t be surprised if you hear from some staff members that you have given them the “best Christmas gift ever” from a manager or employer.


Have you ever wondered how many letters Santa Claus receives each January? From Halloween to Christmas Eve, children send him lists of the toys, books and games they would like to find under the tree. What happens after Christmas? How many children thank Santa for the gifts he delivered? Encourage the children in your home to spend part of the holiday season expressing gratitude for what they received. Santa would certainly appreciate hearing from them—his mailbox is quite empty after December 25—nothing there but a bunch of bills. And you will be contributing to building a future generation of leaders who know how to say thank you and how to recognize those with whom they will work. 


During the holiday season, think of others. Your family and friends, of course, but also the people who deliver your mail or newspaper and pick up your garbage and recycling. And there are those who are less fortunate. Donate to charities, support your local food bank, etc.


If you don’t work for an organization that operates 24/7 during the holidays, think of those who are required to be on duty—police, firefighters, health-care workers. Take a few minutes away from your celebrations to drop off a special treat to them.


Avoid missing key dates in staff members’ lives, such as service anniversaries and birthdays, by entering these in your calendar at the beginning of the year.


In early January, start preparing to celebrate what will happen over the next 12 months with a yearbook that will record the success story of your organization and staff. Throughout the year, gather examples of what individuals and the team achieve and how they contribute to the organization’s success. Collect media coverage and also positive notes from customers (remember to also provide copies to the individuals who customers identify as exceptional, as you receive them). Take photos of employees at work. Record key events and milestones as they occur during the year, noting the employees responsible for these specific successes. Capture information on new hires, retirements and significant service anniversaries. Bring all this information together in a yearbook you unveil at a year-end celebration. Then begin collecting next year’s moments to remember and celebrate. Create a tradition of celebratory yearbooks in your organization.


Observe National Handwriting Day (January 23) by writing thank-you notes to members of your staff.

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

Not all staff recognition tips are worth implementing — here’s how to test them

Tip #1_

In Briefly Noted, the collection of articles and tips I publish every two weeks, there are always a few staff recognition tips.

Click here to subscribe to Briefly Noted.

I don’t know what readers do with these suggestions. I hope some adopt these ideas for their own use but I know that there are others who reject the ideas.  

“This suggestion makes no sense. It wouldn’t work for me or my staff.”

Unfortunately, those people may go on to generalize that recognizing staff isn’t for them, citing several reasons (i.e. excuses) such as, “It’s not in the budget” or “I don’t have time.”

Some people may wonder what rejecting these suggestions says about them. “If this idea is worth including in the newsletter it must work, so does this mean there is something wrong with me?”

No, there is nothing wrong with you. What may work for some people when recognizing staff won’t work for others. I have always accepted that.

When I was collecting the more than 200 staff recognition tips, tools and techniques that appear in Thanks! GREAT Job!, I made this observation:

“A few may cause you to scratch your head. How could they possibly work? Don’t feel that this reaction reflects a deficit in your understanding of staff recognition. I share your sense of bewilderment about some of these techniques. I have included ideas that I couldn’t imagine using myself, but which have worked for others.”

My thinking has not changed. I don’t expect that all the suggestions I make will be—or should be—embraced by everyone who reads them.

What I publish in newsletter appears under a heading that was also included in the subtitle of my book: “High-Value, Low-Cost Staff Recognition Tips.”

Let’s break that phrase down.

There is only one person who is able to assess the value of any gesture of appreciation—whether it is of “high-value” or not—and that is the recipient of that recognition. What works for one person or group of people may not work for another individual or team.

This is why it is important that we know the people whose contributions and achievements deserve to be recognized. What’s important to them? What are their interests? What are their recognition preferences?

Related article: 7 Questions to Ask to Recognize Staff Appropriately

The other requirement for creating a recognition-rich work environment is that what is being done to recognize staff be “low cost,” which can be measured in different ways.

There is the financial cost, of course, but there are other resources to be considered, including the time required, the amount of effort, and something that could be described as the “emotional” cost of recognition.

How does it feel to use a particular method of recognizing staff? Is this something that you feel comfortable doing? Or is recognizing staff in this manner stressful for the person providing the recognition?

With these thoughts in mind, I begin my program, 97 Staff Recognition Tips in Just 60 (or 75 or 90) Minutes, with “Tip #1: Staff Recognition 3 A’s:”

It sets out three ways to respond to any staff recognition tip, tool or technique you encounter, whether it be during my program, in Briefly Noted, in my book or elsewhere:

Adopt – The first consideration is how you feel about the tool and technique that is suggested. Can you afford it financially? Do you have the time? And how do you feel about recognizing staff in this way? If you don’t feel comfortable with a technique, it likely won’t work as well for you as it does for some others.

Think also of your staff and workplace. Will this technique work for them and in your workplace? Does this approach fit the culture? If you conclude it works for you and will work for the staff in your organization, adopt the suggestion. It will likely make people feel valued for who they are and appreciated for what they do.

Adapt – There may be tools or techniques that you feel aren’t quite right for you, your staff and your workplace but if tweaked a bit they just might work. Before rejecting any suggestion, ask yourself what adjustments are necessary to come up with a staff recognition tool or technique that would work for you and others in your workplace.

An idea you adapt may be a useful addition to your staff recognition toolkit.

Abandon – And then there are those tips, tools and techniques that simply would not make any sense in your work environment. You wouldn’t feel comfortable using them. The cost would be too high or there is no budget for staff recognition. Your workload and schedule doesn’t permit you to devote the time and effort necessary to make the technique work.

Those are tools or techniques that might work for some but they’re not for you, your staff or in your workplace.

That’s OK. I get it. No one expects that all staff recognition suggestions would work for everyone, everywhere. Reject those that feel wrong. There are many more ideas out there that are better-suited to your situation.

Here’s your takeaway:

Every time you read or hear a staff recognition tip, ask yourself:

Is this a tool or technique that will work in my situation that I should adopt?

If not, ask:

Could I adapt this tip to make it work for me, my staff and my workplace?

If not, then:

Abandon the idea and move on. There are lots of other ways to recognize staff which would be a better fit for your circumstances.

I am committed to including a few tips in every edition of Briefly Noted. And if you have found a technique or tool that works for you, I invite you to email it to so I can share it with other Briefly Noted readers. 

We can all learn how to do more to recognize staff from each other.

Linking staff recognition to career goals will help you retain top performers

Coach Motivate To Personal Development, Success And Career GrowtHow would your staff members describe their current position—as a career or a job?

According to a Harris Poll study commissioned by CareerBuilder, only half of the employees surveyed felt their job could be described as a career. The other 50 per cent “feel like they have just a job.”

People who want to get ahead in their career aren’t being offered opportunities to learn new skills necessary to advance their careers.

A new release on the company’s website summarizes the study’s findings: “Only 37 per cent of those surveyed said they were satisfied with the ‘training and learning opportunities’ they have at work. Most employees (58 per cent) felt their employer didn’t offer the kinds of learning opportunities they need to advance their career.”

If training was available, most respondents said they would take advantage of those learning opportunities. 

“If offered, 73 per cent of employees whose companies do not currently offer educational opportunities or workshops outside of work hours say they would be likely to participate if they were available.”

This research provides a basis for using training and other career development as tools to recognize staff in meaningful ways and to help you retain top performers.

I believe that career-oriented staff members would stay longer if they perceived that their employer cared about their career development.

CareerBuilder CEO Irina Novoselsky says, “To attract and retain talent, hiring managers need to meet their hiring, on-boarding and career expectations and provide the perks, work-life balance and career advancement opportunities they demand.” 

Previously, I have written about a question that is often asked during interviews that I feel is better left until after a job candidate has been hired. Asking, “What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in five years?” during an interview has little potential to yield any information that will help you decide which candidate is the right person to hire.

But after you have made your hiring decision, this is a topic to explore with your new staff member. 

The response you hear after hiring will better reflect where the new staff members want their careers to take them than the well-rehearsed answer you may hear during interviews. Those interview answers are more influenced by books and courses that prepare jobseekers to be interviewed than describing where they actually would like to be in five years’ time.

Meet with newly hired—and existing staff members—individually. What are their career plans? Where do they hope to be in five or 10 years? Explain that as an organization, you are committed to help staff grow their careers. Use this information when planning how to recognize individuals. 

Here are a few ways to incorporate training and other staff development tactics into your staff recognition efforts:

  • Always be prepared to help those who work hard to achieve their career goals. Provide them with opportunities to take on tasks which will require them to develop new skills or will raise their profile within the organization. Encourage them to apply for promotions when they become available, even if that means you may lose a top performer.
  • Provide mentoring—from you or from someone else—to assist them to fulfil their dreams.
  • Acknowledge staff members for what they do that moves them closer to their goals. Reward their contributions with opportunities to learn new skills that will enable them to achieve the future they envision.
  • Express appreciation by inviting staff members who consistently do their job well to step outside their comfort zone. Is there something new they would like to try their hand at? It will be a chance for them to master new skills, which will benefit their career and make them a greater asset to your organization.
  • Before assigning a task, reflect on how it might relate to an individual’s career goals. Explain how you considered their goals when deciding who should take on the task.
  • Recognize people by giving them authority. Invite them to run a meeting, to head up a project, to control a budget, or to decide which piece of equipment to buy. It’s even better if what you are asking them to do links to their career goals.
  • When marking service anniversaries, focus not on the fact that the employees have hung around for five years, but on how their career has developed during that time.
  • Invite staff members to share with their colleagues one goal they are working toward. It could be work-related, personal or career oriented. Encourage their colleagues to look for opportunities to cheer their co-workers on, or to celebrate the goal’s successful achievement.
  • Help prepare staff to set New Year’s resolutions by asking, “Where do you see your career in five years? What steps can you take during the next 12 months that will help get you there?”

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