A Culture of Recognition: It Will Rub Off on Everyone on Your Organization

Photo by istockphoto.com
Photo by istockphoto.com

Bob Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and author of Good Boss, Bad Boss and The No Asshole Rule (among others), is one of my go-to bloggers.

His Work Matters blog posts never fail to inspire me as well as challenge me. This week, one post in particular resonated as he wrote about the infectious nature of workplace culture. Bob quotes Xenios Thrasyvoulou, CEO of European-based start-up Peopleperhour.com, who said:

“Life is too short to waste it with people who don’t get it, whatever ‘it’ may be for you, so make sure you surround yourself with people who do.”

Good, smart people will rub off on you

Bob then added his own comment:

This is such good advice because human attitude and behaviors are so infectious. If you are surrounded with a bunch of smart, graceful, caring and action-oriented people, all that goodness will rub-off on you; and if you are surrounded with a bunch of people with the opposite attributes, that will infect you too. This is why who you choose to hang out with, hire, fire, spend time with, and avoid has so much influence on everything from acting like an asshole, to building a creative organization, to scaling-up excellence, to living a happy life.”

I couldn’t help but add my own thoughts to the post as Xenios’ advice is excellent. Bob is also correct that human attitudes and behaviors are infectious. I’d argue that is even more true in the microcosm of the workplace. We spend more time, more intensely, with the people we work with every day than any other group of humans. It stands to reason, we “infect” or are infected by the attitudes or behaviors of our work colleagues more than any others.

Every day, employees are infected with negativity and stress at work, and that affects far more than their own efforts. In fact, research out of Baylor showed “work stress not only comes home with us, but can easily affect our partners, who then bring that stress to their own workplaces.”

A culture of recognition infects everyone

We’ve found through our own research and the experience of our clients that creating a culture of recognition fosters an infectious environment that spreads appreciation and praise. I’m not talking about another “employee recognition program” – I mean the true change of organization culture in which employees naturally notice the good work and behaviors of their colleagues and take the time to pause and express their appreciation for it.

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Structuring such recognition around the behaviors that matter to the organization (usually codified as the core values) takes those values off the plaque on the wall and brings them to life in the daily work of employees. Now you’ve created a culture in which employees are praising (and being recognized for) good behaviors, not just good results.

Hiring into this culture is as tricky as hiring for any specific personality attribute. But those that can’t adapt to the culture tend to self-select out. The pressure to “be infected” is strong. Done correctly, organizations can also see where such appreciation isn’t happening as it likely should be. Now leadership can intervene and retrain or address why that is so.

Life’s too short to work hard and not know if what you do all day is meaningful or appreciated by others. We should all be so blessed as to work in an infectious culture of recognition. Is your organization culture infectious – in a good way or a bad way?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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