What it Takes to Create a Culture of Recognition

Transforming Culture

16th December 2021

Whether you opt for The Great Resignation, Reprioritisation or Reshuffle…it’s clear that a lot of people are having a rethink. About why they work, how they work, and ultimately if it is worth it for them. With employees, companies get what they give, so success in 2022 will depend on how authentically you value your people.  Or as our co-founder Stephen R. Covey pointed out, whether or not you treat your employees exactly as you’d want them to treat your customers.

When we feel recognised, we trigger our “reward chemical” known as dopamine, which plays a major role in our brains’ motivation and reward system. Dopamine is also integral to regulating our mood, appetite, sleep, memory and ability to learn, and as such workplace recognition benefits the welling, psychological functioning and productivity of employees.

That’s the science of reward. Recognition is the human element of it.

Whereas rewards are transactional, tangible gifts offered in exchange for something given or accomplished- if you hit this goal, you will receive this prize-  recognition is unconditional. It’s far less formulaic and in that way far more meaningful, creating both the outward visibility and inward self-belief that builds teams and individuals up. When done sincerely and sustainably, it can nourish your people through even the most unprecedented uncertainty and towards purpose-driven high performance. 

In this blog we take a look at why recognition plays such an important role, and four ways you can build a culture that enables it.

Access the discretionary effort of fulfilled individuals

There are many facets to employee recognition, but one of its most important is the role it plays in fostering self-belief. And this isn’t possible if the person doesn’t believe the praise they’re receiving. That is why there is a circular link between being underutilised and feeling unrecognised.

If managers lack the resources, tools or inclination to seek out the unique skill in each person and stretch it, not only will they fail to develop it, but they will fail at setting out what is expected of the person. Without those expectations, any acts of recognition risk coming off as perfunctory and insincere, if not non-existent.

For example, in a 2020 study by Great Place to Work UK, where 2,000 UK employees were surveyed, a shocking 54% of respondents answered negatively when asked if their employer appreciated their hard work and extra effort. If leaders aren’t prioritising their direct reports’ growth, they’re less likely to measure or notice any changes in their work. 

Multipliers… seed opportunities, lay down challenges that stretch the organisation, and, in doing so, generate belief that it can be done. – Liz Wiseman, author, Multipliers

On the other hand, leaders who seek to understand how other people are smart, not if they are smart, are always on the look out for unique genius and are able to leverage the metaphorical goldmine many businesses have no idea they are missing out on: the untapped employee productivity and capability inside discretionary effort. This is, in other words, the correlation between how valued we feel and our desire to go the extra mile.

The greater someone perceives their value to be, the more they are excited to live up to those expectations – and exceed them.

Since how valued people feel is directly related to both engagement and results, how can leaders create a culture of recognition within their organisation?

Recognise people promptly, simply and openly

Just like discipline, recognition needs to be specific and timely to have an impact. Ensure that recognition happens openly and not only in private conversations. Don’t hide your team members accomplishments behind closed doors.

In this way, creating a culture of recognition is much like creating a cadence of accountability. At FranklinCovey we have field-tested the efficacy of each week, teams engaging in a simple 15 minute catch-up to report on commitments from the previous week, and create new ones. It analyses progresses and keeps each other accountable…but it also celebrates small wins and highlights individual successes. Such sessions create visibility, cement responsibilities and importantly, make giving credit a habit. 

Connect everyone to their wider impact

Don’t reserve recognition for star performers. Perceptions of favouritism are kryptonite for team morale, motivation and loyalty. When rigid metrics or traditional milestones are the only things used for recognition, the effect for the snubbed majority is often disillusionment, not increased drive or determination.  

Every single person in your team and organisation has a part to play, an influence and an impact. It doesn’t look the same for everyone, but success does not happen in isolation, no matter how talented the performer. 

Your role as a leader is to connect each team member to the bigger picture. To communicate a vision so clearly that they are able to both see and understand the impact of their everyday contribution on results, and are motivated to own them. The meaning and sense of purpose will help them not only earn nuanced recognition, but believe it when they do. 

Create more moments of everyday gratitude

Creating a culture of recognition goes beyond recognition schemes and platforms, which can be construed as gimmicks or bribes.. It’s about creating genuine, organic moments where your workforce feels seen and essential to the team

Simply, it’s about saying “thanks”. And really meaning it

If you notice someone stayed late to complete a project, then tell them you noticed and that you appreciate their commitment and sacrifice. Don’t take it for granted.

The more we develop an abundance mentality, the more we are genuinely happy for the success, wellbeing, achievements, recognition, good fortune of other people. We believe their success adds to…rather than detracts from…our lives.- Dr. Stephen R. Covey

If you notice that someone’s quick thinking and problem-solving skills prevented a disaster, tell them that you noticed and you’re grateful for their acuity. Show them what their actions meant for the organisation.

If a team member lands an impressive new account or is instrumental in a win with a client, buy them a coffee and tell them what you noticed and how it contributed to the success.

If a team member shows an aptitude for leadership, taking on unofficial roles like mentorship, tell them you’ve noticed and open up a conversation about what that means for them, whether that’s a promotion, ownership over a new project or management development opportunities. 

Encourage abundant peer-to-peer recognition

You can create the time and opportunity to give recognition, but a change in mindset is what makes it sustainable. A culture of recognition is an abundant culture, one where people live Stephen R. Covey’s Habit 4 of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: think Win/Win and understand there is enough credit and benefit to go around for everyone. 

This mindset creates collaborative, fair, supportive relationships between peers who have each other’s back and raise each other up. Peer-to-peer recognition is a powerful thing, creating a sense of validation amongst those who have more real time insight into your work ethic. 

In fact a study from the University of Madrid found the effect of peer recognition was almost twice as significant as supervisor recognition. This demonstrates that employees are more motivated to achieve the support of their colleagues than earn their manager’s favour.

That doesn’t detract from your responsibility as a leader, of course. Inclusive generosity of spirit has a ripple effect. If you want your people to start leading out with abundance, seeing you making a point to spotlight your direct reports’ efforts when you get praise for the team’s work is a good place to start. 

Finally, don’t devalue recognition by overdoing it

Having said all that, there is such a thing as too much recognition. It is a trap people fall into with good intent, but similar to the boy who cried wolf, being the leader who over praises for simply completing a task can cause recognition for stand-out moments to lose credibility. Worse, it could even start to come across as pacifying or patronising, an action to make up for a lack of more purposeful coaching or direction. 

However, when leaders practise frequent yet considered, specific and genuine acts of recognition, you have the ingredients of a culture people want to be a part of.

Perhaps ponder this over the Christmas period: are you sure you’ve shown your appreciation recently? 

Recognition and appreciation are the cornerstones of linking individual contributions to the wider mission, vision and strategy of any business. Discover how in our webinar, drawn on our time-proven framework The 4 Essential Roles of Leadership, available to watch now