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Building Relationships Through Recognition

By DeVry University

April 28, 2020
8 min read

Dale Carnegie, a famed author and lecturer, stated, “People work for money but go the extra mile for praise, recognition, and rewards.”

Throughout our careers and personal lives, many of us have seen the positive impact giving recognition can have on others. So why is it that it can sometimes seem difficult to give praise where praise is due?

In the following video, we focus on the importance of recognition, how it can help build and maintain relationships, and how to make giving recognition part everyday life.

Video Transcription

We all know that recognition goes a long way to building relationships. If it's easy, why don't we do it more often? This session will focus on the types of recognition, why giving recognition may be difficult to do, how to give recognition, and how to make it a part of your everyday life.

Meet the Presenter

Hi, I'm Toni Lang, Director of Human Resources at DeVry University. I've spent the majority of my career in the field of human resources, working with leaders and colleagues on development engagement. Today I'd like to talk to you about recognition. I am a very grateful person, grateful for what I do, for the people I work with, a wonderful family and friends. So why is it so difficult at times to show that gratitude by recognizing those I care about the most?

The Story of the Dipper and the Bucket

If you have not heard the story of The Dipper and the Bucket, let me share it with you. It originated in the 1960s with Dr. Donald Clifton and Tom Rath. Clifton was a psychologist and founder of the Clifton Strengths School in Lincoln, Nebraska. In every booth of Kings restaurant in Nebraska was a small card containing the story of The Dipper and the Bucket. Such a simple idea made a great deal of sense to many people.

The card tells the story of an invisible bucket and a dipper which we each have. Each person's bucket is emptied or filled throughout the day by the interactions we have with others. When we use our invisible dipper to fill the buckets of others, by saying or doing things that create positive emotions in others, we also fill our own bucket.

So how do we fill our bucket at work? The best way to fill someone's bucket at work is through recognition. The act of giving recognition to a colleague, direct report, or peer helps to fill that bucket every day.

Benefits of Recognition

So, if recognition fills our bucket, why is it so difficult to do? Well, before I address that, I think we can all agree to the benefits of recognition, let's review a few.

  • Increase and evoke productivity

    The act of recognizing desired behavior increases the repetition of that behavior and therefore productivity.

  • Greater employee satisfaction and enjoyment of work

    More time spent focusing on the job and less on unproductive behaviors.

  • Higher loyalty and satisfaction scores from customers

    Happy employees usually mean happy customers.

  • Teamwork between employees is enhanced

    Innovation is higher, as is creativity

  • Increases retention and lowers negative effects such as absenteeism and stress

    As managers, recognition lets colleagues know that we care about creating an environment where individuals feel appreciated for their contributions and accomplishments.

  • Builds a culture that attracts and retains the best talent

Why Don't We Give Recognition More Often?

So again, I ask, if recognition is easy why don't we do it more often? Well, there's many reasons:

  • Beliefs

    One may be your beliefs. I've heard some leaders in the past who say that employees are only motivated by money, so their paycheck is the only recognition they need.

  • High Performance Expectations

    You may be a harsh critic and have set high performance expectations, making recognition, difficult to give.

  • Focused on Strengths and Weaknesses

    Maybe you're focused on weaknesses and strengths, like my parents when I was growing up. My parents focused more on the one C, versus the many Bs and As that I received.

  • Lack of Time

    Lack of time is an excuse I hear most often.

  • Concern of Favoritism

    Our leaders or colleagues are concerned that individual recognition would be seen as favoritism, reducing team morale. It's not if you focus on every direct report. Again, little things that matter.

  • Recognition Doesn’t Come Naturally

    Another reason recognition is not easy is we don't do it. And the reason why we don't is that it does not come naturally, which is why a habit of recognition becomes so critical. And remember, it must be personalized. I've also heard, "I say thank you all the time." But are you giving recognition the right way?

Different Types of Recognition

Let's look at the different types of recognition. There's formal recognition, informal, and in the moment.

  • Formal Recognition

    Formal recognition is a bit more detailed - it has a nomination process, a selection process. It usually culminates in a ceremony where your employees are honored in front of their peers and organization. Some examples may include performance awards or safety awards.

  • Informal Recognition

    Informal recognition is usually given when employees hit a milestone, or at the conclusion of a project. Some examples of informal recognition could be a simple thank you card. It could be a team lunch or copying a supervisor on a thank you to an employee. Maybe it's a spot award.

  • Day to Day Recognition

    Day to day recognition is where you recognize a direct report, peer, colleague that has done something well. It could be that new hire who handled a very difficult call with a customer, or maybe an experienced colleague that got in front of the leadership for the first time giving a presentation. So, whether you are a brand-new colleague or seasoned professional, everyone likes to have their bucket filled by recognition.

  • In the Moment

    Let's talk a little bit about in the moment. In the moment, doesn't take a lot of time. There are five simple steps to follow to make sure the recognition is thoughtful. Let me review the steps with you and give you an example. So, if I was facilitating a workshop and I had a participant in the workshop who's asking really great questions and other colleagues were learning from them, this may be something that I would say in the moment.

  • Step 1 [Explain the behavior you appreciate]: “Jane, I really appreciate how engaged you've been in this training session.”

  • Step 2 [Give an example of the behavior/results]: “You asked great questions and shared some wonderful examples.”

  • Step 3 [Explain “why” it is important]: “Your questions helped everyone in class better understand the topic.”

  • Step 4 [Express your appreciation]: “Thank you.”

  • Step 5 [Summarize with a request to continue the positive behavior]: “I can't wait to hear more of your questions and stories as we continue.”

Here's another example. Let's see if you can identify the steps. “Thank you, Mike, for gathering the budget numbers for me and entering them into the spreadsheet so quickly and without errors. Thanks to your great work, I was able to justify a needed piece of equipment for our new project.”

Essentials of Recognizing Colleagues

Now that you know the steps of providing recognition, let's review the essentials of recognizing colleagues.

  1. Be Genuine

    Give it your full attention and be sincere. Express your gratitude.

  2. Pay Attention; Be a Walk Around Leader

    Especially now that we're virtual, it's extremely important that you notice the little things. Great leaders are always on the lookout for small things to recognize with colleagues.

  3. Be Timely

    Try to recognize the individual as soon as you can after the contribution or accomplishment. This makes the link between the behavior and the reward clear. It also builds confidence.

  4. Treat the recognition as events by not mixing it with other business

    If the recognition takes place during a team meeting, make sure to carve out enough time at the meeting to focus on the individual being honored.

  5. Personalize Recognition

    Recognize that people are motivated by different things and appreciate different things. Some people appreciate being recognized publicly; others may become embarrassed. Know your colleagues.

  6. Set the Example

    Do what you wish others would do for you.

  7. [Reward above, below and sideways]

    Be grateful and express your thanks for work colleagues in every direction – your peers, direct reports and leaders. Yes, leaders need recognition too.

  8. [Find what works for you.]

One tip that I would like to leave you with is the penny tip. The best suggestion that I heard came from a peer. He said he would put three pennies in his pocket at the beginning of every day; the pennies represented recognition. His goal was to give those pennies away every day, not physically, but metaphorically. If he left work with those pennies in his pocket, he tried harder the next day. There were days where he scheduled time to give those pennies away until the behavior became a habit.

So, you need to find out what works for you. But don't forget to make others smile by filling their buckets with recognition.

Finally, let me leave you with a few suggestions on how to recognize colleagues and teams:

  • Breakfast with the Boss

    A good one is breakfast with the boss, so bring in a catered breakfast for your team and designate yourself the waiter, serving all your wonderful colleagues.

  • Morphing Trophy

    You could have a morphing trophy, where every week you recognize a different person. You put what they did on a Post-it note and attach it to the trophy. At the end of 52 weeks, think about what that trophy looks like. Retire the trophy then.

  • Other Suggestions

    Colleague of the month – acknowledge colleagues in meetings, or maybe it's a virtual brag board, especially now.

I hope you found this information helpful. Remember to stop and recognize the little things your colleagues, peer, and leaders do well, it makes a huge difference.

Thank you for watching.

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