One of the most powerful retention tools you can have in your toolbox is to have a culture that proactively values recognition. Here I am defining recognition as the simple act of acknowledging, approving, or appreciating a behavior, action, service, or attitude. Anytime you treat someone like a worthwhile human being can be considered recognition.
You can give recognition to anyone, anytime—a staff member, leader, colleague, customer, family member, or friend. To raise our awareness, we’ll begin with these questions:
• About you: When was the last time you felt appreciated at work or at home the way you wanted to be recognized? What happened? How was the recognition and appreciation demonstrated to you? How did it make you feel—about work or your life? How did you feel about the person giving you the recognition?
• About others: When was the last time you recognized someone at work or at home the way they wanted to be recognized? What happened? How did you show your appreciation and give the recognition? How did the person react? How did it make you feel?
There are some facts, barriers, and principles that we can take into account.
I invite you to look at six of each from my experience in giving and receiving recognition.
Six Recognition Facts
1. Recognition builds trust and morale.
2. Recognition is an investment in your most valuable resource and improves engagement, performance, and retention.
3. People need to be appreciated to feel positive about their jobs.
4. It is everyone’s responsibility (especially the leader’s) to recognize good things in coworkers.
5. One size does not fit all; people are motivated differently at different times.
6. Managers think they give it 90% of the time, but employees think they get it 10% of the time.
Six Barriers to Giving Recognition
People may think the following:
1. It takes too much time, so during an annual review is enough.
2. It costs money.
3. It will make staff “soft.”
4. It is only appropriate for superstars and highly extraordinary results.
5. It is understood and doesn’t need to be openly stated or demonstrated.
6. I’ve not received it much myself, so I don’t know how to give it.
Six Principles for Giving Recognition Well
1. Be specific: What did they do exactly?
2. Be timely: Recognize good performance soon after they did it.
3. Be sincere: Give recognition from the heart and use “I statements.”
4. Be personal: Recognition should meet the needs of the receiver, not
5. Be proportional: Recognition should match what they did.
6. Be regular: Recognition should be often enough that it is not a foreign concept.
The manner of giving is worth as much or more than the gift. All it takes is your heart being open and your attention. Know your people as you decide how best to recognize them and their work. Here are some low- and no-cost ways for you to express recognition and appreciation.
Recognition and Appreciation Options that Cost Little or Nothing
• Always say hello and goodbye.
• Let people know why what they are doing is important and meaningful to you and others.
• Offer a simple and heartfelt thank-you and be specific about what that means.
• Go to the staff member’s workspace with only one objective: to thank them personally.
• Have coffee/lunch with people you don’t always see to ask them about their work and ideas.
• Give credit where credit is due to the right person/s.
• Send personal, handwritten notes expressing appreciation for a job well done.
• Delegate things you like to do.
• Ask staff what recognition they appreciate; don’t assume.
• Offer workshops for growth and development in an area that interests the employee.
• Mention achievements in in-house newsletters.
• Call them on their birthday and/or work anniversary.
• Create symbols of teamwork like T-shirts, mugs, pins, and posters.
• Welcome people back from happy and sad events, vacation, illness, and such.
• Include celebrations and appreciation in meeting agendas.
When thinking about giving and receiving recognition, I hope it is easy to see how simple it can be, and how good it feels to both give and to receive. You might ask yourself, “What can I do right now, or tomorrow, to improve the recognition and appreciation seen, heard, and felt by people close to me at work and at home?”
Here’s a handy little way to jump-start your thinking: Take a few minutes to think of at least one person whom you want to recognize.
• Who is this person?
• What is this person’s professional or personal contribution? What specifically did they do/say that you want to recognize?
• What is the performance result or the positive impact of what they did or said?
• What kind of recognition would this person appreciate?
It’s so easy, and you will be rewarded for your efforts by the loyalty of your staff as long as you pay attention to the six principles of giving recognition well. This can also result in making any staff member feel better about themselves and their work; your recognition alone could lead to your staff’s increased productivity. After all, anyone who is still working for you must be doing something right, right? Find out what that right thing is and delight them with your praise.
This is why I believe “nurture right” is your ticket to high retention. It isn’t “coddle right” or “hope right” or anything else. It’s about planting the right plant in the right soil, with the right amount of sunshine and nourishment, and then checking in regularly to make sure it’s doing what it’s meant to do and getting what it needs to flourish. It’s simple, really. People need nourishment, too.
Roxi Bahar Hewertson is a leadership expert, executive coach and organizational development expert with more than three decades of practical experience in the worlds of higher education, business, and non-profits. She is the CEO of Highland Consulting Group, Inc. and author of both “Hire Right, Fire Right: A Leader’s Guide To Finding And Keeping Your Best People” (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), from which this piece is excerpted, and “Lead Like it Matters…Because it Does. ”