Rules for Radical Recognition

Over the years, while traveling throughout the long empty back roads of Oregon as an OR-OSHA trainer, I came up with what I believe to be some rules for effectively recognizing employees that can dramatic positive impact, not only on your safety culture, but your company’s long-term success.

It’s important to understand the primary message flowing through the rules is effective recognition is primarily a function of leadership, not management. Leadership is all about doing and saying things that develop positive working relationships that result in employees doing a good job for you because they “want” to. Otherwise, employees will do only what they “have” to do to stay out of trouble. So, let’s take a look at these Rules for Radical Recognition – in alphabetical order, of course.

  1. Security. One of Maslow’s second-most basic psychological need. Employee’s want to feel secure in their job. Don’t forget to include the recognition received in performance appraisals.
  2. Selection. If you’re providing tangible rewards (money, mugs, gifts), let employees choose from a selection. Don’t assume everyone considers the same rewards as significant. For instance, one person might like a gift card while another person might consider that same reward as of little value. Give employees the ability to choose because they will naturally pick the reward that is most valuable to them.
  3. Selflessness. You should be motivated to recognize for selfless reasons. The purpose of the recognition is to highlight the great performance of your employee. It’s not motivated by an attempt to show others how wonderful you and the organization are. Recognition that’s motivated by selfish reasons will be perceived as disingenuous. It’s all about the employee, not you.
  4. Sensitivity. Be sensitive to the wishes of the person you’re recognizing. You don’t want to recognize a person in a way they may not want or appreciate. For instance, a student told me she promptly quit her position as a safety committee chairperson after being publically recognized in front of everyone for her great work over the previous year. When asked why she quit the position, she said, “I never want to be recognized in front of people like that again!”
  5. Shake hands!  I just thought of this one traveling over Mt. Hood in Oregon. Don’t forget to shake the hand of the person you’re recognizing. The more senses used to recognize, the better: sight, sound, touch… all good. All that, plus some pizza would sure work for me.
  6. Significant. Recognition should be thought of by the receiver as significant, and therefore special. The significance of any recognition is determined by the person who receives the recognition, not the person giving the recognition. You know the recognition has been significant in the heart and mind of the receiver when it increases the frequency of desired behavior in the employee and possibly others.
  7. Sincerity. Be totally sincere when recognizing. People will know when you’re not sincere by the tone of your voice. So mean it! The more heart-driven the recognition, the more likely it will affect the heart and isn’t that what recognition is all about?
  8. Simplicity. Keep recognition simple. A simple “attaboy” or “attagirl” may be all that is required to be considered significant. The most effective recognition may not require tangible rewards like money. Keep it simple – make it fun!
  9. Singleness. It’s more effective to single out individuals and recognize their personal achievement. If you recognize a group or team, that’s fine, but make sure you mention each individual’s contribution.
  10. Specificity. Pinpoint each individual’s specific achievement. Be careful your recognition is based on fact, not just feeling. Don’t establish recognition schemes that reward just for being lucky. Emphasize the positive impact that individual’s performance. It’s important people know precisely how the employee has impacted the success of the organization.
  11. Recognize employees as soon as you can after the behavior or achievement. The old adage, “the sooner the better,” certainly applies to effective recognition. The longer you wait to recognize, the less effective will be the recognition.
  12. Spirit. Have some spirited fun when you recognize. Don’t be afraid to show how happy you are about the performance of your employee. A spirited presentation is more likely, and effective, when it occurs soon, is spontaneous, and sincere.
  13. Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous when announcing an award or recognizing someone. You don’t need to necessarily schedule or plan an awards ceremony. Unplanned recognition is more likely to be perceived as heart-driven rather than policy-driven: Thus, more effective.
  14. Stability. Keep your recognition program stable and predictable. Don’t change the rules of the game too often. People need to know the performance criteria, and thus the recognition, won’t disappear or change before they’ve worked so hard to achieve it.
  15. Standards. Develop clear, criterion-based standards of individual/group performance. I know it’s a common practice, but do not reward your employees for being first, best, most improved, or lucky. Doing that generally creates one winner and many losers…and, of course, the losers don’t like it. You know what I’m talking about, because it’s probably happened to you. In a worst-case scenario, the organization creates standards that are perceived by employees as being a function of internal politics, or political correctness, rather than personal achievement. Recognition based on internal politics is absolutely worthless. Remember, personal criteria-based recognition works best. You have the potential to create many winners. Bottom line: Everyone who achieves the standard is recognized.
  16. Subtleness. Be subtle when recognizing. You don’t need to make it a big public display. Recognition in private has been shown to be generally more effective than public recognition. Believe it or not, most people do not like to be paraded in front of their peers to be recognized.
  17. Sureness. If you promise them something, follow through with the promise. Employees will be more likely to achieve the desired level of performance when they are sure they will be recognized once they succeed. In fact, the number one reason employees do not trust management is that supervisors and managers do not do what they said they were going to do.

Recognizing your employees is important, but if you do this… is it an OSHA violation because employees are then less likely to report injuries in the long run?  Take a look at this confusing issue in “Effective Safety Recognition” on HSE Press.

Well, I hope that helps you understand how to effectively recognize others. If you can think of another “rule,” let me know. The only requirement is that the rule must be summarized with a word that starts with the letter “S.” Good luck!