Why It’s Critical to Spell Out Exactly What Employees Do Right

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May 1, 2015

Every manager has been told that it’s important to acknowledge, recognize, and reward their top performing employees.

Unfortunately, most haven’t been coached on how to do this effectively. And if one of the goals is to get the performer to continue performing at a high level, the why has to be linked to the what.

“You’ve done a good job around here, Jevon. Congratulations on being our Employee of the Month.”

You need to be specific

While Jevon may be happy that he’s being recognized, he (and his co-workers) probably don’t understand why. As a result, Jevon (and his co-workers) may not know what specific things he is doing well and what kind of performance it takes to continue to receive these attaboys.

Rather than offering vague and nebulous employee recognition, it’s exponentially more powerful when a manager clearly spells out the specific attitudes, actions, and behaviors behind the performance that have led to this acknowledgement. For example:

  • Because you’ve made three additional presentations each day that enabled you to double your sales volume this month, Ashley, we’re going to send you and your husband out to your favorite restaurant and a night on the town!
  • You continually arrive here 15 minutes before your shift begins, Hector. That kind of reliability does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Therefore, you have the first choice of vacation days you’d like to take off this summer.”
  • Leah, when it comes to greeting our guests as they walk in, you are the bomb! Your smile is infectious and no matter what is going on in your personal life, you are always so warm and friendly, and you go out of your way to make our customers feel that they are special. That’s just as important to the success of our restaurant as the food we serve. I’d like for you to begin working with our other hosts to show them how to make our guests feel so welcome, and I’ll be giving you an additional .50 cents per hour for taking on this responsibility.”

Doing recognition right – in 2nd grade

I remember when my 7th grade art teacher sent me home with a most outstanding art student certificate. But when my Dad asked me what I did in the class that stood out from the others, I couldn’t think of anything.

Yesterday, my 7-year old granddaughter, Brooklyn, was recognized as her elementary school’s Student of the Month. Family members were invited to the school cafeteria before class to observe the short ceremony.

Before handing her a certificate for this honor, her 2nd grade teacher explained to the crowd why she had been selected. In so doing, Brooky is now aware of the specific attitudes and behaviors that lead to this kind of acknowledgement. And so are her classmates. (Check out this short video.)

Most managers have heard the cliche’ – That which gets recognized gets repeated. The key word in this edict is “that.” The recipient must clearly understand the “that” that is being recognized,  or they won’t know what to repeat.

BTW – Granddaughter Brooky has her sights on winning the award again next month. And now she knows how to achieve that goal.

This was originally published on Eric Chester’s blog Chester on Point. Eric’s new book, On Fire at Work: How Great Companies Ignite Passion in Their People Without Burning Them Out, is available October 2015.