The 3 Keys to Effective Employee Recognition

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Employee recognition done right is easy, but it’s not simple. An article in Time magazine reminded me of this truism, inspiring me to share with you these three requirements for effective, meaningful and impactful employee recognition.

What You Say

Drive-by recognition or praise is not enough. A brief, “Hey, great job!” isn’t effective recognition. When recognizing or praising someone for their work, be sure your words are:

  • Specific – Tell the person not just what they did, but how their efforts helped you, the client or the company as a whole.
  • Personal – Call out the person’s unique contribution or talent worthy of recognition.
  • Meaningful – Always link the recognition moment to the bigger picture or greater goal. Help people see the broad value of their work.

How You Say It

The tone and context of your message of recognition is equally important for effective recognition. Make sure what you say is:

  • Sincere – Make sure you mean your words of praise. False flattery or under-handed compliments demean your message of recognition.
  • Focused – Don’t cloud your praise with an additional “ask” (“Great job on the MacGuffin project! Can you apply the same approach to the Smith task?”) or confuse it with a compliment sandwich (“Great job on the MacGuffin project, but you could have also included more data. I’m sure you’ll do even better next time!”)

When You Say It

Timing of recognition matters. That’s why the “employee of the month” (or worse, “employee of the quarter”) or annual recognition events fail to deliver on the promise of strategic recognition. Be sure the recognition you give is:

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  • Timely  – Recognition is a powerful, positive way to reinforce action or behaviors you want to see again and again, but that power is diluted the longer you wait to recognize someone. Make sure you share your detailed, specific praise soon after the event worthy of recognition.
  • Frequent – Recognition should never be viewed as a “one-and-done” task or something you put on your calendar to do every other Friday. Just as recognition should be timely, it should also occur every time you see exceptional behaviors, actions or outcomes.

How do you typically recognize others? What’s the most common way you’ve been recognized?

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


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