A critical piece to the accountability equation is praise and recognition of your high performers.

Recognition & praise moves the culture & engagement needle more than anything else.

A HBR study in 2014 highlighted the top three drivers of engagement:

  • Consistent communication from senior leadership.
  • An understanding of how stakeholder’s job feeds the strategy.
  • Sincere praise & recognition of high performers

The bottom line is that effective praise ultimately builds trust. People will ultimately feel valued and respected. When we become intentional & consistent about pointing out and recognizing when things are going well, then our people are going to start to feel like we have their best interest in mind.

This consistency is key; when we give praise sincerely and often you build up a trust reservoir, or reserve if you will, that you can draw upon when things go bad; when you need to have a difficult conversation.

But why do we do it so infrequently? Why is it only a twice a year event? Once during our performance reviews or during our annual surveys?

Speaking of surveys, it’s always the number one or two complaint on those annual surveys…not being recognized for a job well done.

We’re missing out on a tremendous opportunity to move the culture needle.

So why is it so hard? And what can we do about it?

I think it’s hard because we seem to think that we shouldn’t go overboard about it. There’s always that risk of cheapening the praise to the point that it becomes meaningless. We think we should hold out for the special occasions for praise: the banquet, ceremony, retirement, etc.

So I think that’s part of it. The other part is that we’re wired to not see the positive. We’re always in problem-solving mode. Managers & leaders justify their existence in dealing with the uncertainty, challenges, & problems that plague us every day. You don’t notice when you’re kids aren’t fighting right?

We don’t notice the absence of problems, instead, we become blinded by the problems we face we never fully notice when things are going right.

We typically don’t have problems recognizing the big accomplishments, the record breakers, the monumental task or achievement. But when you think about it, that’s to be expected. So it doesn’t quite have the impact of genuine praise right. Of course, I should be recognized when I break the company sales record, I’m owed that. But it never fully satisfy my human desire for authentic and genuine praise.

I think back to the moments in my life that have meant the most to me, and it was the moments of praise that were for little things, that was private, that came from the heart. I could really give a flip for all the public & expected accolades I’ve received for basically getting to the expected finish line.

So to turn it around I think it takes a few things: Intentionality, Modification of Old Beliefs, & Simple Awareness

I love the example of intentionality I read in the book Crucial Accountability where they highlight the actions of David Petersen, who is a former chairman of Ford Motor Company. Every day he would sit down and intentionally handwrite short, authentic, positive messages to people he worked with.

He was quoted as saying “The most important 10-minutes of your day are those you spend doing something to boost the people you work with.” Head honcho, who we think should be isolated in his ivory tower coming up with the grand strategic decisions & high-level thinking…he believed his most important job was to sincerely say thank you to those around him. He was known as a listener and walking the floor; leadership by walking around.

It’s important to note that Petersen kept everything simple; handwritten notes. And he was thanking them for modest things. Like a good coach that makes the bench-warmer fell just as important. That’s where we get stuck. We think praise should be big and important, and the reward should match the praise (something big and expensive). Here’s an opportunity for you to break the habit. We already celebrate the big stuff…intentionally look for praise the small things that keep everything running. Don’t take it for granted.

As a husband how many times have I screwed this up. Valentine’s day is around the corner and it’s hilarious to see all the panicked husbands at 5:30 pm at the grocery store trying to last-minute find a big enough flower arrangement, a bigger box of candy, stuffed animal, wordy card…whatever. Wouldn’t we be better off, instead of on Valentine’s Day or anniversary, we gave a kind word, a little note, a sincere smile, gentle touch just because?

The other thing to point out is that Petersen was consistent; he did it every single day. You’ve got to intentionally set time for this every single day, or it will get lost. I can hear you saying that this will lead to a cheapening of praise. Don’t fall for it. The opportunities are boundless once you start looking for them, but it has to be genuine and sincere. Do the work to look for them, walk around, open your mind. Take the pressure off by keeping it super simple, short, & sincere.

Something I got from the Marine Corps that will give you great mileage. Praise individuals in private; praise teams in public. We think the individual wants to be highlighted in front of the team but I find it leads to embarrassment and resentment more often than not. Huge potential in screwing this up. Do individuals in private. Team recognition makes sense in public.

And finally, make it spontaneous; awards banquets are expected and can be a good time. But there’s an element of obligation and coldness to all of it. Don’t stop doing them and find ways to make them fun and effective. But don’t let that get in the way of you writing personal notes, stopping someone in the hall as you pass them by, buying unique personal well thought out gifts, and just simply saying thank you. You can’t do it enough.

The result; an organization that is based on trust, respect, and breeds loyalty.

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