How do I Give Recognition That’s Sincere?

There is one question I get asked more than any other after my recognition keynote: how do I make sure my recognition is sincere? 

I love that people are asking this question. It means people get it: for recognition to work, people have to believe you mean it, you care about them, and it’s real.


Why are so many people asking it?

  • I’ve recognized someone and it’s fallen flat and hasn’t worked
  • I’ve been accused of playing favorites
  • I don’t like receiving recognition so it is awkward when I recognize others

The bottom line here is you really need to try to authentically acknowledge people. That what you think about the person is what comes out of your mouth. That how you feel matches your facial expressions. That your words align with your body language. (This can be challenging if you experience the person to be negative and problematic so you may want to check out this post for tips).

Here are some tips on how to sincerely recognize those at work and at home:

  1. Practice

If you’re out of practice with recognition, it’s making it a habit and that alignment will come together (no one ever made it to the major leagues by just thinking about swinging a bat). Also, we’re so busy with our daily routines and our jobs that recognition falls to the side and is not as big a part of our organizations, families or communities as we’d like it to be; putting some intention to do it more, particularly just looking someone in the eye and sincerely saying “thank-you” doesn’t add time to our already busy days.

  1. Intention

Along with practice, set an intention to recognize more. Practice your recognition and as you go along make changes and try different things until you have it to the point where both you and the people receiving it feel gratified, it’s a learning opportunity. Along the way, remember, if your recognition is not having the impact you were expecting, it’s not necessarily you but rather the person receiving it may be going a rough time, or maybe that person is struggling with their sense of self-efficacy or it may just simply be that he/she has a hard time taking compliments. Your intention is sincere, and the outcome is not 100% within your control.

  1. Desire

Recognize people because you want to, not because you have to. Tokenism, in the form of handing out awards, was a really popular way to give recognition but with the world-changing so quickly it’s not necessarily the best way. It may have worked then but now you need to evolve and change with the times. Giving an award because that person is next in line to receive one, doesn’t normally sit well with people. If the desire is to ensure people feel valued, appreciated, heard and understood, your delivery can be flawed because the outcome creates a positive impact on the other person.

  1. Frequency

Don’t wait long periods of time between acts of recognition. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the top spend and most common way organizations recognize their people is years of service. There’s a big challenge with this. It happens only once a year (and sometimes folks forget and miss a year). Plus, it’s far too long to wait to show gratitude to someone. Add to this the fact that people change jobs 7 to 15 times in their lives and may not even make it to the first-anniversary marker, it’s not much of an incentive. Why not show your gratitude to that person and let that person know how much you value him or her in a more timely fashion? 

Now, as a side note to all of this, if you have a very strong ‘years of service’ program and you have a long tenure with your employees, your goal should not be to get rid of this program. That is not the advice I’m giving you. The whole point of this blog is about how do I make sure recognition is sincere. You need to recognize people more than just at your tokenism events and also to recognize people along the way, making sure not to leave too big a gap in between.

  1. Specific

I have never heard someone say, “wow, I feel so appreciated from that email to all staff.” The generic e-mails with the subject line of “Job Well Done” that normally go out to everyone don’t feel sincere. The e-mail may have been sincerely created with good intentions, but those on the receiving end don’t find them sincere as they’re addressed to everyone. The problem here is that with generic e-mails people don’t have any feedback on what they’re being recognized for or who is being recognized for doing what. Specific acknowledgment is vital for that person to grow (constructive criticism) and positively engages that person to keep doing what they’re good at. If however, you are acknowledging the entire team because you’ve reached a milestone or you appreciate the overtime many people have contributed, then be specific and tell them exactly that. People want to be praised specifically for what they have done or how they have contributed.

  1. Personal

Lastly, by recognizing people for their unique strengths, their contributions, what value they bring to the table and what fires them up they will be more engaged in their work and more inclined to reach their goals. It will be memorable to them every time you show specific recognition because they may have never worked for a boss that has that sort of attention to detail. Create a spreadsheet of the things that you learned about your people and update it regularly to keep on top of it.

I hope you’ve found some really valuable insights about how to make recognition sincere. My goal is to help you be your greatness magnified every time. And if you can do that for yourself, then you can go out and elevate other’s greatness. In fact, why don’t you share this with someone who you feel deserves a sincere acknowledgment? 

Want to check out more resources about how you can recognize other’s greatness? Check out these articles:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve