Why Employee Recognition Needs to Go Beyond the One-on-One

Receiving and giving recognition is essential to motivating a workforce. Yet the existing ways we provide feedback often lack meaningful recognition.

Current motivational techniques drive for the goal of what Harvard Business Review calls “compliance”—that is, getting people to do what you want through offering incentives or punishment.

The vast majority of people are not simply motivated by a paycheck Click To Tweet

Additional tokens of appreciation for performance might come along in the form of “Employee of the Month” awards or a strong annual review, but these often feel stiff or impersonal, and ultimately fail to bring out the best in people.

From Carrots and Sticks to Recognition

A more powerful motivational strategy is to focus on how employees feel about their work. The vast majority of people are not simply motivated by a paycheck. Getting truly good, enthusiastic work out of employees comes from support and recognition by everyone their work is visible to, from their boss to reports and peers.

This isn’t merely a hypothesis: A study by Bersin and Associates revealed that companies providing ample employee recognition have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover rate. A low turnover rate is a strong proxy measure of overall satisfaction, while decreased turnover is an important metric for significant cost savings.

Regular recognition impacts the bottom line by encouraging and embedding positive, productive behaviors into the work culture.

Regular recognition impacts the bottom line by encouraging and embedding positive, productive behaviors into the work culture. An environment of recognition inspires longer tenure and better collaboration. In fact, another recent study found 82 percent of people working in the US don’t feel they are recognized enough. 40 percent of employed Americans say they’d put more energy into their work if they were recognized more often.

Recognition Culture in Practice

For best results, work feedback shouldn’t simply flow from boss to employee. Nor should feedback come once a year during annual reviews. Recognition should have an ongoing flow throughout different organizational levels and departments.

Our workplaces are moving from hierarchical structures to networked teams, which means people are not simply reporting to one boss, but coming together in various configurations under diverse leaders to solve problems. In this networked team format of business, getting recognition beyond the one-on-one is necessary to reflect the situation on the ground.

A great place to start in any company is for employees to have systems and encouragement to recognize their boss and peers, and to offer recognition across teams and departments. Anyone whose work touches someone else’s has a chance to offer powerful recognition.

Executives have an excellent opportunity to recognize all the way across levels. On the other hand, peer recognition is especially essential for managers who don’t always have visibility into their direct report’s work. Peers who work alongside each other have a unique insight into each other’s day to day and can help lift each other’s exposure.

The possibilities to keep recognition flowing are diverse and can be small or large-scale. Particularly with fast-moving, group-based organizational structures, it may often become necessary to recognize entire teams. This opportunity shouldn’t go to waste. Recognition can help teams bond through their success and aid future collaboration.

Value in Details

For recognition to resonate with personal meaning, it needs to be genuine, specific, and centered on people.

For recognition to resonate, it needs to be genuine, specific, and centered on people Click To Tweet

The best practice is to cite a specific person or team, mention clear actions to recognize, and why these actions stood out. Perhaps someone was instrumental in finishing a key presentation early, talked down an angry client, or simply supported a colleague in a crisis. These moments all deserve acknowledgement, but explaining what exactly went right and how it benefitted the business as a whole gives people a new level of satisfaction and meaning. They can understand how they fit into the larger picture which is essential for high performance.

A healthy flow of high-quality recognition within an organization encourages trust, engagement, and collaboration. Putting effort into this style of culture yields dividends that build over time, and simply makes work more rewarding.