It’s Nutty to Think Recognition Does Employees “More Harm Than Good”

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Oct 29, 2013

I am deeply disturbed by an article by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times.

In it, based on research about sales people flattering customers, Kellaway concludes that public recognition is bad, and therefore, recognition of others should only be given in private.

Clearly, this is a flawed use of irrelevant research to underpin conclusions drawn based on personal experience.

Creating “more harm than good?”

Here’s the parallel drawn by Kellaway:

The office parallel is obvious: if you overhear someone from another department being flattered you will be unmoved but if the person sitting next to you is praised by your boss, the effect is roughly like drinking acid.

This means that most managers are getting it badly wrong. They have been taught that a vital part of their job is to stroll around the office dispensing praise here and there. They think they are justly celebrating the success of some and motivating others to try harder. What they are actually doing is creating resentment and making themselves deeply unpopular.

Likewise, all those schemes loved by ‘good’ employers – like choosing an employee of the week, or writing glowing profiles in company newsletters – create more harm than good.”

Kellaway does have a point. When the types of recognition Kellaway describes (employee of the month, irregular newsletter articles, manager as the primary giver of recognition) are the only or primary types of recognition, then the benefits of public, positive praise can be skewed.

The reason for this is simple – the winners’ circle is far too small.

Open the floodgates of recognition

Most of us work in deserts of recognition. In these situations, too much emphasis can be placed on the infrequent oasis of the recognition that does occur.

Stop limiting recognition like it’s a scarce resource. Goodwill and appreciation should be free-flowing in any organization.

  1. Make recognition more timely and frequent – Stop limiting recognition to a monthly or quarterly reward for one person. Recognize people in the moment, often and in very specific ways for what they did deserving of praise.
  2. Empower everyone to “catch someone doing something good” – Let me be crystal clear – Recognition is not the job of the manager. It is the job of everyone. All employees should be engaged in looking for the good their colleagues are doing every day and praising them for it. Indeed, research shows people derive greater pleasure and engagement from giving recognition.

How does public praise affect you? Are you empowered to recognize others?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

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