Appreciative Recognition

The vast majority of employee recognition programs aren’t working. They generally are not having a positive impact on employees or workplace morale. And, in many cases, they are “backfiring” and creating negative reactions such sarcasm, cynicism, and even disdain.  The reason seems to be that as they are implemented, the “recognition” is very different from authentic appreciation:


IT IS LIMITED TO “ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR”: The “how-to” books say:  “Catch them doing what you want and recognize it”.  The sole focus is on the employee’s “good” behavior and the manager’s ability to catch and reinforce it.

IT’S OBJECTIVE IS TO IMPROVE PERFORMANCE:  The goal is for employees do more (or better quality) work.   The focus is on what is good for the company and/or the manager (who looks good when their team performs well), and there is little perceived benefit for the employee other than keeping his or her job.

IT IS GENERALLY TOP DOWN: Recognition comes from the administration, managers and supervisors. It is only occasionally communicated peer to peer, and rarely from worker to supervisor or manager.

IT HAS BECOME A CORPORATE PROGRAM: As a result, recognition at its foundation can feel impersonal, contrived, and is rarely experienced as a genuine expression of appreciation for the team member as a person.

APPRECIATIVE RECOGNITION has a very different “feel” and quality to it.  It requires sincerity and has to be genuine, authentic and from the heart. You can’t fake it or use it to manipulate someone.  The result is that it has a very different impact upon the person and upon his or her performance…and that of the team:

IT VALUES BOTH DOING AND BEING: It focuses on performance plus the personal character qualities of the team member and their intrinsic value as a person.

IT ACHIEVES A DOUBLE OBJECTIVE:  improving performance and supporting and encouraging the person.   People often need a word or action of encouragement and to be reminded of their strengths and past successes, especially when they aren’t performing at their best because of other issues going on in their lives.

IT IS WIN-WIN:  It’s goal is to benefit — with the same action — the person (better self-image, greater self-esteem and increased sense of belonging) as well as the company (better performance, greater motivation and more loyalty and satisfaction).

IT IS OMNIDIRECTIONAL: It  can be communicated in any direction. Colleagues can  encourage and support one another. Appreciation can be expressed from anyone to anyone else in the organization.  Employee engagement grows with it.

IT IS INTERPERSONAL:  It lubricates the inner gears of any one-on-one, coaching or other interpersonal relationship.

Our organizations need fewer “programs” of employee recognition and a greater emphasis on a culture of interpersonal appreciative recognition.  And since organizational culture is not transmitted by a presentation but by conversations, you can begin today.  Instead of:

Great job, John, in catching that problem in the plant!”,

how about investing a few more seconds to sincerely say something like:

John, your wisdom and efficiency in dealing with that problem in the plant was a valuable lesson for all of us.  You’re a great leader and I’m glad you’re here with us.”



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