Workplace Recognition: The When, What and How to Effectively Say “Thank You”
December 5, 2016 | Business and Careers
According to new research commissioned by former YUM! Brands CEO David Novak, the vast majority of people (82 percent) do not believe their supervisor recognizes them for what they do. Most wish they received more recognition at work, saying they valued it more than money. And if they did receive more recognition, 40 percent say they’d put more energy into their work.
Statistics like these make it hard to argue against the importance of recognition. Recognition is a big part of employee engagement, and engagement leads to better business outcomes. In one often noted example, Doug Conant, who is credited with turning around the Campbell’s Soup Company in the 2000s, said he sent 30,000 handwritten thank-you notes to employees during his tenure as CEO. With Conant at the helm, Campbell’s outperformed the S&P 500 stock returns.
And yet as leaders, we don’t always seem to get recognition right. In my company, we’re intentionally working to improve our efforts to make recognition more thoughtful, relevant and valuable. Through that process (and based on my own personal experience both giving and receiving recognition), here’s what I’ve come to learn about when, what and how to recognize effectively.
When to Recognize: It doesn’t have to be reserved for exceptional work. In any workplace, there’s likely to be a difference of opinion about what it should take to deserve recognition. Often there’s a feeling that if individuals are simply doing the job they were hired to do, they shouldn’t get recognized for doing it—even if they’re doing it well. I disagree. I think it’s important to recognize people when you want them to do more of whatever it is they’re doing. One of my team members recently presented to a group of executives about an important new initiative and did well. I thanked him in person afterward and let him know his pace and focus on key facts were very effective with the group. That kind of presentation is part of his job, but it meant a lot to him to hear that there were specific things he did really well in the overall presentation. That kind of recognition helps to reinforce behavior. And when you look at it that way, the threshold for “deserving” recognition isn’t the same for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be reserved for exceptional work.
What to Recognize: Be specific about how someone’s contribution made a difference. One of the ways to minimize the risk of what might be considered run-of-the-mill recognition is to be specific about how a job well done made a difference for you, your team, the company or a customer. When recognition is specific, it feels more genuine, deserved and personal. Here’s an example of how you might give specific recognition in a written note: “Thank you very much for the quick turnaround on the background information on this topic. It was particularly helpful to know the trends in usage; that information tied nicely to the points I wanted to make in my presentation.”
How to Recognize: Take your cues from the person you’re recognizing. Should you recognize someone publicly or privately? It depends on how you think he or she would like to be recognized. And if you don’t know, ask that employee’s manager. Some people would cringe at the thought of being recognized for a job well done in front of a group of people or by being publicly named on a company website or billboard. And if they don’t want that public recognition, you have to respect that preference. In those cases, stop at their desk and recognize them casually, or send an email or a handwritten note and let them digest it in their own way.
The Value of Meaningful Recognition
In his new book, O Great One!: A Little Story About the Awesome Power of Recognition, Novak put it this way: “Recognition should be a catalyst for results. The reason you recognize someone has to be directly tied to the real-world goals and objectives that you or your organization are trying to achieve. Reward the right things and the right things will happen.” And I couldn’t agree more. People will work harder—and do their best work—for someone who says “thank you” in a meaningful, thoughtful and relevant way.