What is recognition?

January 27, 2009 · Print this post

Some companies, and some managers, don’t embrace the idea of “recognition” — they find it artificial, or expensive, or it just takes too much time. Some companies treat recognition as if it were a maintenance chore like filling up the copy machine with paper, or changing the bottle at the water dispenser — something you do to keep things working.

Some companies think that a coffee cup or a t-shirt from the company store is “recognition.” Yep, just what your folks need to make them feel valued: a coffee cup that’s all about the company. No, no — recognition is never about the company: it’s about the people and the work they do. And so for recognition to be effective, it has to be real, and it has to be personal. Cookie cutter approaches and company swag do not send a personal message.

What does? A handwritten note that spells out what the person did and why it matters. A gift certificate to their favorite restaurant. A contribution to the charity that they volunteer for on the weekends. Buying them a cup of coffee at the latte stand and staying to chat while you both get caffeinated. The gift of your personal effort, your time, your attention to the details that make them an individual — that make them, in fact, the individual who just went above and beyond for your team and your business.

It’s not always convenient, but it is always worth it.

If you want to see the power of personal recognition in action, read about what it can mean when someone cheers you on at work — even if your work for the day is to throw passes or play defense in a high school football game.

I love this story. It makes me misty every time I read it. The power of human beings to make each other feel special… imagine how these kids felt on that bus trip home. We don’t have to be on the football field to do this for each other. We can do it in our offices and cubicles, on our factory floors, just by taking the time to recognize not only the work, but the humans behind it. You may be responding because of the work someone did — but when you respond, do so as one human being to another. And then imagine how they might feel on their bus trip home.

5 Responses to “What is recognition?”

  1. They knew our names : kelleyeskridge.com on January 27th, 2009 3:39 pm

    [...] did a post about this over at Humans At Work, in which I said: The power of human beings to make each other feel [...]

  2. Jennifer on January 27th, 2009 4:26 pm

    Wow. That story certainly demonstrates your point beautifully. (And it made me misty-eyed too.)

  3. Jennifer on January 28th, 2009 6:06 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this some more. Yesterday after I read this, I asked myself how I could do the same thing here where I am working – give out a little recognition. It seems so simple – so easy really. Treat people as human beings. Not as anyone particularly special or unusual – just another human deserving recognition. It made a huge difference in those kids lives that someone called them by their names. And I realized, it’s not always that easy. I confess that it’s too often much easier to find the things that bug me about their behavior. That is something I have to work on, and I would not have thought that I did. If it’s hard for me, I can see how it might be hard for the people I work with too. Maybe they are not as bad as I thought…

    Anyway – - thanks for pointing this stuff out.

  4. Jim Cox on February 13th, 2009 12:00 am

    Thanks for a great post Kelley!

    I have been working in tech for over 25 years, and for the most part virtually all the recognition I have received is the half-hearted or maintenance chore form of recognition that you wrote of in the first paragraph. Oh!, there were also those special occasions where I also got a little company swag along with those half-hearted “atta-boys”

    Then there were those times where my boss just said “thanks for a great job Jim”, or the note for a VP for taking care of an entire orphaned product line that nobody else wanted to work on.

    For me every one of those “thanks” and that little piece of paper from the VP individually mean more to me thank all the faux “atta-boys” and/or swag I will ever receive.

    After being treated like a tool for so long, I have become very jaded towards recognition because I have grown to expect it to be insincere . Then again there are those special moments where someone treats me like a human and not a tool, and it’s those moments that keep me going.

  5. irene omona on May 23rd, 2013 3:34 am

    indeed, i am a human resource officer in an organisation, to be precise alocal government in Uganda. i am also undertaking a masters prohram in HRM and exploring the effects of non monetary rewards on employee performance. i interacted with one staff to find out what motivates him to work harder. what he told me had nothing to do with gifts, treats or money, he complained about being over worked “over loaded” with so many responsibilities, a thing he says reduces his efficiency. therefore treating people as humans to this type of employee may mean, giving the appropriate responsibilities.

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