Employee Recognition: It’s About Focusing on “How,” Not Just “What”

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I’m often asked questions like, “Derek, what do you think is the key to effective employee recognition?”

The answer, frankly, depends on the situation of the organization and person asking. But one answer that is true across all situations is this: Focus on the “How,” not just the “What.”

By that, I mean be sure you are recognizing how employees are achieving their goals (preferably, how they are demonstrating your core values and desired behaviors) while they are achieving what you need them to accomplish.

A “how much” solution to a “how” problem

Dov Seidman in Forbes put this another way when discussing results of research he shared more fully in his book How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything.

Once again, we’ve been applying a ‘how much’ solution to a ‘HOW’ problem…

This is a Eureka moment for employee engagement: we’ve cracked the code on what truly inspires employees. The source of engagement has nothing to do with breaking bread (or bread sticks) and everything to do with the extent to which trust, values and mission actually inspire and drive daily activities and interactions…

When trust, values and a purpose-driven mission exist to a statistically significant degree and guide leadership, decision-making and behavior, these ‘enablers’ give rise to a highly inspired group of super-engaged employees.

The analysis also tells us that when trust, values and a purpose-inspired mission do not drive behavior in a company, far fewer of these engagement traits exist. Even worse, extremely low levels of these engagement sources produce a ‘disconnected’ group of employees who work against or even sabotage company objectives.”

Critical to a culture of recognition

This dives back into the discussion around recognition gone wrong and poor employee recognition program examples. It doesn’t matter how many pizza lunches or birthday cakes you provide if you are not doing the far more important things – recognizing individuals and teams who live your values while achieving your mission.

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This is critical to recognition program success and, more importantly, creating a culture of recognition, because it connects your mission and values with the daily work of the employee. It helps employees understand in very concrete terms how their daily work contributes in a valuable, meaningful way to the success of the team, department and company as a whole.

Does your organization focus too much on the “how much” or the “what” and not enough on the “how?”

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.


1 Comment on “Employee Recognition: It’s About Focusing on “How,” Not Just “What”

  1. It is wonderful to see that this topic is finally getting the attention it deserves.  Thank you for positng this article. Giving Meaningful Recognition versus Simple Recognition is quite easy yet rarely done. 

    is a verb, which implies action. Acceptance, ownership, recollection, and the
    willingness to admit to a certain fact or perception are all part of what it
    takes to recognize something. Simple Recognition utilizes all of these actions,
    yet only on the most superficial level. Oftentimes, companies (and people),
    would rather go to elaborate effort to give Simple Recognition in the form of a
    company logoed plastic cup or an extra jeans day during the week, rather than
    take a moment to give a personal, honest “Thank you for all the hours you spent
    making sure the product launched so flawlessly”. I have been privy to quite a
    bit of feedback regarding various “appreciation socials” given during the
    workday, all of which can be summed up in the statement, “I wish the company
    would just give us a raise to show how much they appreciate the work we do,
    rather than spending all this money for gourmet cupcakes, ice cream, and all
    the other socials they require us to attend that just take me away from the
    pile of work ‘I have to do”. Tell me; does this sound as though the method of appreciation
    was meaningful to the receiver?

    In order for
    recognition to have any meaning to the receiver, it has to be honest.
    Recognition must also come from an honest place within the giver, no ulterior
    motives or sub-conscious malicious drivers, in order to resonate as meaningful.
    In my first position in a call center, I had terrific managers and a fantastic
    mentor. The focus was all about being the best that we could be so that we
    could give our callers the best the company had to offer. This message of
    “best” didn’t just trickle down from the top, it was a downpour saturating
    everyone over which it washed. The reason each team member was able to thrive
    in this call center was that our managers and mentors instilled in us, by
    example, that it is good to let people know how much you appreciate what they
    do for you, or how well they handled a difficult call, or what a calming
    manner they had, etc. Our managers treated us like people, not products; always
    giving their honest feedback with the goal of helping us rise to a higher level
    of our professional selves. When the company was in the process of being
    acquired and morale was low due to the uncertainty of our fate and poor
    treatment by the new company, our managers formed a Spirit Committee. This
    committee was funded from their own pockets because the departmental budget did
    not allow for it, nor were they likely to receive approval otherwise. As a
    committee we organized weekly pot luck lunches, etc., as well as my favorite
    (and the one the team still remembers today even though we have long ago gone
    our separate ways), the Valentine’s Day Secret Admirer Swap. Each member of the
    call center could pay twenty-five cents to send a previously approved, anonymous message of
    appreciation to other call center members. The receiver of the message could
    spend a quarter to discover the identity of the message sender. Additionally (through
    the generous donation of FAO Schwartz where one of the committee members worked
    part-time), we were able to offer team members the opportunity to send balloons
    to one another (for the nominal fee of fifty cents per balloon). The money we
    raised was raffled off within the call center. Imagine how you would feel about
    your job if you walked into a vast call center (there were over 100 of us) that
    was filled with red, white, and pink balloons floating above every cubicle. The
    visual effect was magical, yet the emotional effect lasted for months. We
    worked harder than ever and went from a ten percent dropped call rate to a mere
    three percent – unheard of in the industry.  

    So what made
    this Valentine’s Day Swap meaningful as opposed to the extra Jeans Day or the
    ice cream? For starters, the ice cream was paid for from the executive team’s working budget with no personal connection to any of the people they were thanking (and had not
    intentions of getting to know), whereas the Valentine’s Day Swap was paid for
    personally by managers who were fully, personally involved in the success of
    their charges. Secondly, generic “socials” do not produce a personal connection
    to each person one is trying to thank. Generally, employees file down at the
    appointed time, suffer through the heart-warming speech, grab the goodie and get
    back to work. With the Valentine’s Day Swap, team members, management included,
    were complimenting each other on the work they do, the help they provide, and
    the difference they make in the lives of others.

    When it comes
    to giving recognition to the people who keep your business running, ask yourself, honestly, how you would feel and what opinion
    you would have of the company if you were on the receiving end of whatever
    token you are planning to give. Ask yourself if the token of appreciation holds
    any real value to the receiver, or is it simply to make you feel as though you
    have done something that you are expected to do.

    There are so
    many ways to give Meaningful Recognition. Most of them are simple. All of them
    will require an action on our part. All of them will have a positive effect on
    the quality of service you provide to your clients. Whether you are on the
    giving or receiving end, you feel truly better about who you are and the work
    you do, that you can’t help but pass that feeling on to your purchasing
    clients, who in turn pass the feeling about working with you along to those
    they come in contact with.

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