The Secret to Engagement? Great Recognition

Now think for just a few minutes, when was the last time you sincerely thanked your employees, your colleagues, or your manager? 

Having an attitude of gratitude is not only important in your personal life, it’s also profoundly important in your work life. Recognizing others in the workplace leads to enhanced relationships, improves corporate culture, strengthens teams and motivates people and teams to shine brighter for themselves and for the organization.

Research studies from UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, a leading author and researcher on the subject of gratitude and the O.C. Tanner Institute,  have proven that appreciation and recognition are not only a way to make our colleagues feel warm and fuzzy, it also drives business results.

In leadership courses that I teach, I always emphasize the power of classical conditioning – that is, what gets recognized gets repeated. People who are recognized for the work that they do are not only more satisfied with their workplace, they are also likely to be more engaged. In fact, Gallup has demonstrated that people who receive recognition or praise every seven days tend to be more engaged than people who do not.

So what are some practical ways that you can become better at recognizing others? Take an inventory to see if you are doing these four things today. 

1. Make it a priority. When I ask managers what the number one barrier to giving their employees frequent and meaningful recognition is, they usually say that they just don’t have the time. However, great recognition doesn’t take a lot of time – it just takes thought and prioritization. Make it a part of your engagement strategy as a leader and a part of your practice.

2. Make it personal. Recognition isn’t one size fits all. While some people like the loud and sparkly types of recognition such as public awards or very public shout outs, others prefer quieter recognition such as a hand written thank you note or a private conversation. Some people enjoy Starbucks, other’s might not like coffee. Consider the person that you’re recognizing and make it personal for them. Don’t how how they like to be recognized? You can always ask!

3. Make it specific. Being specific about what it is that you are recognizing the other person for helps the them to link their behaviors or achievements to the recognition moment. While generic thank yous are nice, specific and timely recognition ensures that what gets recognized, gets repeated.

So what do you recognize people for? If the recommendation is to recognize people more often, does that mean that they should be recognized for simple things like coming into work? People often tell me that people should only be recognized for significant accomplishments. And to that I’d like to ask a question:

Consider that you are a true fan of a sports team, and you are watching that sports team perform live. When do you start cheering?

If you’re a true fan, you would start cheering even before the first pitch, the first touchdown, the first goal. You would be cheering right from the start. And if you are a true fan of your people, you would want not only to celebrate their achievements, but all of their efforts along the way.

Books & Resources on Gratitude


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Positively Sparkle

About Nikki Nikki specializes in strategic leadership, engagement, team development and enhancing performance and relationships at work. Her passions include helping teams and leaders discover the best versions of themselves in order to build engagement and promote business results. Guided by cutting edge research on adult learning principles and positive psychology, her approach is always to engage the learner through meaningful activities and inspirational breakthroughs. Nikki has a Master's of Arts in Positive Organizational Psychology from Claremont Graduate University and has extensive experience both in the Fortune 500 retail and health care sectors in New York City. In her spare time, Nikki is a baker, home decorator, event planner and event stylist. She loves to cook and entertain friends. She owns and operates Confections by Nikki, a boutique dessert and event styling business offering small-batch and personalized sweets, dessert table set-up and event consulting. To learn more, go to Nikki currently resides in Astoria, New York with her husband Chris and pug, JJ. She lives to inspire others and leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes.

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