Recognition as a Leadership Muscle: 4 Tips on Building a Recognition-Rich Culture

by Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

During COVID, we became much more aware of just how important healthcare workers and frontline staff are, and we saw an outpouring of well-deserved recognition. It’s easy to appreciate the things that are right in front of us, but what about the jobs that people often don’t think of? The work that goes on behind the scenes. That unless it impacted you directly, you probably wouldn’t even know it existed. That work is just as important, yet we rarely acknowledge it.

image of a tray of medical instrumentsThat was the reality for Lisa Anstey, the head of the Medical Devices Reprocessing team at a hospital in Ontario. She and her team are the ones responsible for ensuring everything going into your body is clean and ethically taken care of. Although we all expect that the medical equipment and devices going into our bodies have been properly sanitized and prepped, we rarely think about all the work that goes into that. And when we don’t think about it, we don’t take the time to acknowledge and appreciate it.

Lisa took it upon herself to change the narrative and has successfully built a culture of recognition in a team that is generally overlooked. In our interview, we discussed how she accomplished this change and its impact on her team. Keep reading for some tips on how to build and sustain a scrumptious culture of recognition in your team.

4 Key Ways to Build a Culture of Recognition

Be Your Own #1 Fan

Let’s face it. Unless your work is in the public eye or the centre of a hit TV show, the average person doesn’t even know it exists. And in an organization as large as a hospital, your own colleagues may not even realize there’s a whole team in charge of that work. That was the case for Lisa. Because her work always took place behind closed doors, she was always having to explain to others in the hospital what it is she does. Lisa could have chosen to be frustrated or annoyed by this, but instead, she used it as an opportunity to share what she and her team do and remind others that this work is essential to the running of the hospital.

She also utilized the public recognition platforms used within the hospital, like Kudoboard, to showcase the work of her team and demonstrate why it is deserving of praise:
If we wait for others to recognize us, that recognition may never come. By proactively telling people what you do and why it matters, you’re creating the opportunity for recognition and acknowledgement – opportunities that might not have otherwise come without you taking the initiative.”

Recognize the Small Moments

People like to hear they’ve made a difference and that others noticed. At the end of every meeting, Lisa asks if anyone has any “good news, kudos, or thanks to share” in order to give everyone an opportunity to share their acknowledgements, no matter how big or small.

You’ll always find what you’re looking for. If you start each day with the intention of finding something to be grateful for, you’ll find dozens of things to appreciate. There are countless moments every single day deserving of recognition; sometimes, you just need to be intentional in looking for it. When you make a habit out of looking for and recognizing these moments, you will hardwire recognition into your culture and create a recognition-focused team.

Encourage Peer-to-Peer Recognition

image of a group of happy healthcare workersTop-down recognition feels great. But it isn’t the only type of recognition that matters. In fact, employees say they want recognition from their peers just as much or more often than they want it from their manager, supervisor or leader (Workhuman 2022). With external recognition more difficult to garner in invisible jobs, Lisa’s team has placed an emphasis on peer-to-peer recognition to ensure it remains sustainable. When recognition is the sole job of the leader, it isn’t sustainable or consistent. To create a true culture of recognition, it needs to be a team effort.

Spread Recognition

Despite the fact that Lisa and her team don’t often get recognized externally, they continuously strive to spread recognition throughout their organization – not just amongst their peers but in other departments and professions as well. By focusing on appreciation, they build relationships and connections, which in turn lead to better collaboration, higher engagement, and satisfaction not just within their own team but the organization as a whole. When staff feel a sense of connection, and when they know they are valued and appreciated for their efforts, they are more likely to be excited about coming to work every day and putting forth their best effort.

image of two men with a woman in the middle all holding hands crossed over themselvesCreating a culture of recognition doesn’t have to be difficult. It starts from the bottom up. Lisa makes a strong case for the power of self-promoting your team, recognizing the small wins, encouraging peer-to-peer recognition and acknowledging those beyond your team; you can make your employees feel like they are a part of something bigger and that their work matters. Having an intentional and consistent recognition program makes people excited to come to work. It lets them know that they are important and valued by their organization.

In honour of Lisa and her team, I challenge you to find someone in your organization or community that seems to be an unsung hero and find a way to sing their praises. What can you do to recognize those invisible heroes who work behind the scenes?

Want even more recognition resources? Here are some great ideas to help you get started:

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

– Mother Teresa

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