Recognition remains solidly in the “low investment, high return” category for leaders, yet research indicates that companies continue to fall short. Most recognition programs focus on tenure, not performance and when asked what leaders could do more of to improve engagement, 58% of respondents said “give recognition,” per a survey from Psychometrics.

According to Gallup, employees often feel their best efforts are ignored by their leaders, yet leader-driven recognition brings the most impact. Employees said that their most memorable recognition comes from their first-line manager (28%), a high-level leader or CEO (24%) or their manager’s manager (12%).  The more senior your role, the more potential impact you can make.

While receiving a financial reward is always appreciated, effective recognition doesn’t have to involve money or be part of an elaborate program. A personal note of thanks and appreciation can make a significant impression on an employee. Done well, recognition dramatically increases engagement and gives you the opportunity to send positive messages about the culture you want to create. If someone is considering their employment choices and they know that you and other leaders consistently make them feel valued and appreciated as part of the company ethos, you’ve given them a tangible reason to stay.

In fully virtual and hybrid environments, our communication methods can make recognition more difficult. Instant messaging is a great tool, but it’s clearly designed for speed and brevity. Don’t fall into the trap of not being thoughtful and through by tapping out a thin message in Teams. If your team communicates asynchronously, don’t allow a delay to reduce the positive impact of your recognition. With remote work, clarity of roles and responsibilities can be more of an issue, so effective recognition can address that as well because the expectations around success are made clear.

So, whether your company has a recognition program and budget, or not, here are some actions you can take as a leader to increase the impact of your Recognition:

  1. Be timely. Expiration dates on recognition expire quickly. Your goal is to make the time between the action and the recognition as short as possible. For example, if you notice someone is well-prepared in a meeting, point out that you appreciate their effort in being prepared and how much more efficient the meeting is because of this during the meeting. It is also a reminder to others that they should also be prepared.    
  2. Be specific.  
    • “Good job.” – It’s weak, has little meaning or impact to the recipient and sounds obligatory or lazy.
    •  “Good job. I know that took a lot of time to produce.” Better. A specific acknowledgement of the level of effort. 
    • “Good job, Anne. I know that took a lot of time to produce, and you were also covering while Tim was out.” You’ve made it personal, and you provided a deeper acknowledgement of the effort. Anne knows that you know how much she has put into this. This is how to cultivate belief and trust.
  3. Be public. You amplify the power of the praise, and you model what others should expect from you. One thing to consider is the person’s preference for being recognized. Some employees love being the center of attention and others shun the spotlight. I’ve had people that I was going to recognize at a Town Hall meeting plead with me to not.  Know your people so you know how to acknowledge them. 
  4. Be complete. “You all did a great job with this. The level of teamwork is some of the best I’ve seen, and you can tell that you were aligned and focused.” No names mentioned, and that might be okay based on the situation. However, you leave a lot of the proverbial money on the table. If you have details, you can add some real depth and power by giving general praise to the team and then adding individual acknowledgement specific to what each person did. However, don’t leave anyone out. It deflates the individual and the team. So, if you can’t speak to everyone’s contribution, keep it at the team level. 
  5. Be genuine. Every one of us can spot fake, insincere or surface comments. Not every completed task or project will alter the course of the company or put forth a new way of putting rockets into space. Match the recognition to the result.