Why We Don’t Recognize in Organizations (And How to Change That)

I’ve said it before. I’m going to say it again. Our biggest missed opportunity to retain our best people and keep them engaged is through recognition.

You know, I recently spoke at a DisruptHR conference. The number of people who came up to me afterward saying, yes, it’s so simple yet it’s so true: if we only recognized then people would be more productive, loyal and focused. People from academia who knew the research; middle managers who saw the impact of inheriting disgruntled disengaged staff; people running research and development companies studying the long-term effects of disengagement on product development, innovation, and continuous improvement.

Not one said, “you know, actually the evidence is we’re better off when we ignore, blame and berate our employees.”

Yet that’s what is happening every day.

So why aren’t we leveraging recognition? Well, here’s what I (and in my conversations with these fellow researchers, leaders and other professionals) have found:

  1. We Undervalue Recognition

How ironic. We undervalue valuing people. I spoke with the engagement company Plasticity Inc, and they have found time and time again people don’t understand just how big an impact this one driver – recognition – has on the employee experience and satisfaction at work. When they look across from a client with low recognition scores, it’s not as concerning to them as other drivers. I’ve seen this too. Bigger, flashier, seemingly more “results-driven” engagement drivers become the focus and we quickly forget about the single easiest driver to influence right away. 

  1. We Think Recognition Is Fluff

Even for people who know recognition is important, they may think it’s a “nice to have”. It’s fluffy or it’s “touchy-feely” (and isn’t touchy-feely stuff going to get people in trouble today?) Well, the data would indicate otherwise. Recognition is the fastest and easiest way to build trust in the organization, satisfaction with leaders, intention to stay, continuous improvement, and overall engagement (which is why we dedicated an entire chapter to talking about the evidence in our book.) Do you know a driver that impacts so many important factors that you can start working on tomorrow (and in fact, everyone can?) 

  1. We Don’t Know How People Want to Be Recognized

Every audience, I ask the question, “how do you like to be recognized?” With few exceptions, the same three things come up. The same three ways that our research partnership with [email protected] revealed.

  1. Tell me “thank you” (95%)
  2. Tell me specifically what I’m doing well (92%)
  3. Write me a thank you (88%)

If I told you that you had an 88% proven method to make your people feel heard, valued and motivated, wouldn’t you do it? And how much work does it take? How much does it cost? How much effort is involved? Recognition through one of these forms is the best return on the effort you’ll make in your workday.

  1. It’s Not in Our People Strategy

Even if you don’t have recognition specifically in your people strategy (and if not, I’d suggest you take another look at this given point #2 above), consider what is. Is reducing sick days? Is retention? Is engagement and improving the employee experience? Is becoming an employer of choice? Is innovation? It’s all enabled by recognition. In fact, without recognition, you’ll have an uphill battle with these and another dozen of the most common drivers in corporate people strategies.

We have so many new technologies, processes and systems we’re trying to understand, evolve and adopt every day. Isn’t it nice to know there’s one thing you’ve known how to do since you were a kid that is still one of the most effective competencies you’ll use in your career?

What are some of the other reasons recognition is overlooked and undervalued in organizations? Comment below and I’ll dedicate a future VLOG or blog post to it.

Want to check out more resources about how you can let your greatness shine? Check out these articles:

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

– Mother Teresa

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