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a little appreciation goes a long way

It’s easy to forget the importance of a little recognition. Reminding the people we work with – our peers, our directs, and even our supervisors – that their contributions matter can be incredibly motivating. Recognition feels good, it increases trust and engagement, improves retention, and it’s an affordable form of reward to get your team focused on the outcomes you’re seeking to drive your business.

A little appreciation pays big dividends

The Harvard Review reports that when airline JetBlue tracked the results of their employee recognition program, for every 10% increase in recognition efforts, engagement increased 2% and retention increased by 3%. Forbes has reported that companies that recognize their employees have a 31% lower turnover and that the cost of replacing an employee ranges from 20% to 150% their salary.

The value of recognition is clear, but it’s not always as simple as giving a pat on the back and saying “thanks” (though it can be). Some basic rules to make recognition impactful: It must be earned, appropriate, delivered effectively, timely, and clearly aligned to the activity and behavior you’re trying to reinforce.

Participation awards have become the punchline to a bad joke

When the entire team delivers results, the team should be rewarded. But when specific individuals go above the call of duty to deliver results, recognizing them can be meaningful to everyone. Singling out key activities that led to the team win helps frame the overall accomplishment and provides context to make individual recognition more meaningful. This also helps serve as an incentive for your high-performers to keep performing.

Appropriate recognition and delivery

Pay attention to the individual and understand what resonates with them. Sometimes a simple “thanks” and a small token of appreciation is all it takes to deliver the message. Other times the recognition might be important enough to be widely announced. The important thing is to understand how the recognition might be received and that not all recognition is equal. Recognition from a peer has a different value or meaning to the individual than recognition from a supervisor or member of the leadership team.

Targeted recognition

Recognition should reflect the specific behavior you want to reinforce. If possible, also acknowledge an important outcome. “You’re doing a great job” is nice to hear, but “Your work on the Smith account has grown the business by 22%” is more meaningful. In this case, further attributing the specific activities that drove the growth of the Smith account can serve as an example for the rest of the team to learn from.

The token of your appreciation

I once worked for a company that had an interesting approach to recognition. The company had an “appreciation box” in the office that people could drop a short note into describing how someone on the team went beyond the call. Each month these would be tallied up and the team member with the most votes would receive “The Tree” – a small plastic tree that they’d keep at their desk. Each person who received the tree would add a decoration of some sort – which itself became a kind of contest. Over time, the tree became increasingly more ridiculous, but it also became a symbol of our company culture and the way we would joke between ourselves to relieve the stress of our busy schedules. The cost to the company was next to nothing, but it helped bring levity and fun to the workplace and reward those who deserved it.

The tree was a small token of appreciation and gave the organization an opportunity to recognize an individual and reinforce the company culture.

Don’t overlook the importance of recognizing the accomplishments of your team and to remind the people you work with how important their contributions are. By delivering it well, recognition can make a big impact on your organization’s culture.

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