Ever wonder why many formal employee recognition programs fail? Its because employees see them as a box ticking exercise that is not authentic. There is no better way to indicate that praise is inauthentic than by having organized praise. It is the exact same reason everyone hates organized company fun. Its all for show and employees can tell. Now, with this in mind, think about your previous bosses. How often did the ones you disliked authentically praise your work? How about the ones that you liked? There is a famous quote by Maya Angelou which says that people will forget specifically what you said or did, but they will always remember how you made them feel.
Real time recognition
One of the key reasons official recognition programs fail is because the entire process is manufactured. Think about this logically from an employee’s point of view. They worked hard and won a new client or streamlined a process. Then at some point a few weeks or months later they have it acknowledged with a certificate, or an email, or everyone clapping at the next town hall. Its just so fake. If you had a child and they did a cartwheel for the first time or got top marks in an exam, would you wait until their next birthday, or the next public holiday before congratulating them on the achievement? Of course not! Employees are no different. They want to be recognized in real time for the work they have done.
Use Peer Pressure to your advantage
Do you know the fastest way to create a high-performance culture? Start praising employees. If you start to consistently highlight individuals that are doing a good job, others are going to start doing the same thing. With the exception of some very enlightened monks and religious leaders, the vast majority of humanity craves acknowledgement and recognition. Natural competitiveness and peer pressure will drive performance in pursuit of recognition. If you congratulate Team A for beating Team B in sales last month. Team B are going to work twice as hard to ensure they do not lose the following month. At the same time Team A are not going to want to lose their top spot. Also note, I have said Praise Team A and I did not say criticize Team B, that is a key difference.
Make sure the praise is deserved
Do you know one of the quickest ways to create a non-performance culture? Start praising employees who do not deserve it. If you get a trophy or an award whether you finish first or last, then what is the point in trying to be first? You do not need to work hard to be rewarded. Leaders need to ensure that they are only praising behaviour and outcomes that deserve to be praised. If you praise an employee because they had 100% attendance, what kind of culture are you reinforcing? One where people deserve an award just for turning up for work! Praise reinforces standards, over time those standards become the expected norm and once they become the norm, you should raise the bar to the next level.
There is no one size fits all approach
Finally, it is important to remember that employees have different personality types. If you have a top performer who is introverted, making them stand up in front of the entire company, collect an award and give a speech is not going to make them feel good. The same is likely to even be true, in a small team meeting. So, it may be better to recognize them privately and if something big is planned factor this in. Likewise, if you have an extrovert who likes to be the centre of attention, they may not value the recognition if it is quiet and discreet. The art of leadership is to adapt your approach to get the best out of all employees, regardless of their personality or working style.