In Culture, Employee Engagement

Today’s people leaders are learning that perks don’t do it. Great talent is attracted to culture, values, and good managers that enable them to do their best work. A core of good management is the ability to give appreciation. Saying “Thank you” is the first step. The next is formal recognition.

When a manager, executive, or peer affirms a success, the employee knows their contribution is valuable. But how does recognition relate to business objectives? How can a business develop a feedback culture where recognition is applied at all levels? The ability to give good feedback does not come naturally, and sometimes remembering to give compliments is harder than giving constructive feedback.

Social recognition taps into behavior and drives productivity, and not getting recognized enough is most workers’ biggest complaint about their managers.

Establish Recognition as the Norm

An organization’s culture drives the level of importance in giving recognition/positive feedback in the workplace. As with all areas of organizational culture, it starts with the top leadership that determines what gets recognized, what gets awarded and how it will be promoted. The old adage, “what gets talked about gets done,” is especially relevant when recognition is given to team members, since it helps shape their mindset on what is important.

Recognition comes in many forms and levels. Establishing the basic standards around recognition/positive feedback and what that looks like starts as early as the hiring process. How an organization treats their potential candidates displays what the expectation of positive feedback and recognition are early on and carries through the selection process, orientation, training and into the day-to-day operations.

Organizations are continually training team members, future managers, current managers and future executives what they think will promote results and what business objectives to focus on. The values of an organization, if adhered to, and the strategies they put into place will serve as guideposts for all in establishing the norms of recognition/positive feedback.

— Dawn M. Cacciotti, EngageHRnow, LLC

Giving Recognition Takes Practice

We all like to know we’re doing a good job at work, yet many managers fail to recognize their employees. Positive feedback and praise are low cost/no cost strategies that help employees stay engaged and satisfied in their work. When managers take the time to communicate this type of praise to employees, it keeps them going and performing at productive levels. It’s especially important for younger employees and employees who are new to their jobs and are a little more unsure of how they’re performing and how their efforts contribute to the greater mission of the organization.

For many managers, giving recognition and feedback isn’t natural and takes practice in a controlled environment, like a training course, to develop and refine these skills.

Training managers is crucial to having success with this. In many organizations, people are promoted not because they are good managers, but because they are good at doing work in their subject-matter areas. For many managers, giving recognition and feedback isn’t natural and takes practice in a controlled environment, like a training course, to develop and refine these skills. Some of the most effective training comes from case studies, simulations and role plays. The trainer or facilitator needs to be trained in coaching skills to advise managers what’s working and what’s not working in their approach to recognition and feedback.

– Amanda Haddaway, Managing Director, HR Answerbox

Recognition Drives Performance

There is a lot of both anecdotal and scientific data to support the statement that positive feedback improves performance, commitment to the person/organization giving the feedback, and feeling of well-being.

In my book, Coaching C.L.U.E.S., I include a story and tool called “Pennies in Your Pocket.”

He was upset and sorry that his behavior was causing so many problems for people.

I developed the tool to help a division president who received horrific feedback on his 360 review. When I met with him the first time he was upset and sorry that his behavior was causing so many problems for people (he was technically brilliant, but a dunce interpersonally). I couldn’t give him any one suggestion for how to make changes in his relationships with people, so I devised “Pennies”:

  1. Go to work in the morning with ten pennies in your right hand pocket
  2. Your goal is to leave at night with all ten pennies in your left hand pocket
  3. Each time you make a positive connection to someone, you move a penny to the left hand pocket.

At first, saying “Good morning” to any employee was sufficient to move a penny. We slowly added more words and gestures. He struggled mightily but was extremely motivated to change his relationships and more so, to increase productivity, workplace and customer satisfaction, and retention. After about nine months, my doorbell rang with a flower delivery and the note, “I’m ready for a nickel.”

He joined me in developing a program for his direct reports and a cascade down through the ranks. What we learned:

  • Use data to show the need for positive relationships (e.g. exit interviews, retention statistics, customer sat…)
  • Start from the top (e.g. everyone knew he was using Pennies and working hard on his interpersonal skills—not always successfully, but always committed)
  • Have tools and techniques that people can learn, practice and apply (Pennies was easy to understand, but challenging to put into practice)
  • Encourage people to practice (e.g. set up cameras, practice sessions, have Pennies coaches)
  • Be patient—it takes time to change habits
  • Praise the process and the people

— Marian Thier, Expanding Thought

Dani Fankhauser is director of content at Reflektive, the first people management platform that helps employees and managers work better together. She creates resources for people leaders to develop and motivate their talent. Her writing has appeared in Fortune, The Billfold, Mashable, PopSugar, and NY Mag’s The Cut.


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