Most organizations have some way of publicly recognizing major achievements. A lot of this recognition takes place during the scheduled awards segment of a monthly or quarterly company meeting. The CEO, or one of the department heads, reads a prepared description of the noteworthy deed, and then the person being recognized stands for a round of applause.

This kind of formal recognition is important, but it falls short in a few areas. First, the achievements being recognized are likely to be several weeks old, if not older. Second, this type of recognition is generally reserved only for major accomplishments. Third, since some company functions inherently have a higher profile than others, the same groups of people tend to be recognized over and over.

Real-world recognition
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to shut down the business for an hour and herd the whole company into an auditorium to recognize achievement. The true power of recognition is hidden in the spontaneous, informal celebration of achievement within your own department or team. Instead of waiting for the next company meeting, recognize outstanding behavior when and where it happens.

Suppose you found out that one of your network engineers was paged early this morning when one of the servers crashed. Try picking up a bag of bagels or doughnuts on your way to work, and then walk down her hallway, pulling several of her coworkers out of their offices along the way. Then, thank her sincerely in front of her peers for making the whole team look good by getting to the office and getting the server back online so quickly. The whole affair will cost you about five dollars and fifteen minutes of your time. But you’ll be hard-pressed to find a way to build more camaraderie or earn more goodwill.

Effective recognition must be aimed at a specific accomplishment. Don’t waste your time naming an “Employee of the Month” or other such arbitrary designation that doesn’t mean anything to anyone. There are plenty of real victories out there to celebrate, and they come in all sizes. Do lots of little things for the people on your team, as well as providing some medium- and large-scale rewards.

Don’t lose sight of the importance of cash, as there’s always going to be a place for bonus checks and other forms of monetary reward for outstanding behavior. But there are many other ways to reward deserving employees, and they need not be expensive. Gift certificates to restaurants, a round of golf, or an afternoon off—gestures like these can be extremely powerful. If you know the members of your team as well as you should, you can customize rewards that will really hit the mark. Use your contacts to get great tickets for a concert or a ball game that will thrill one of your outstanding employees. Once you figure out exactly how to reward individual members of your team, you’ll probably discover that the giving is as rewarding as the receiving.

Rewarding the low-profile player
Many companies have a key individual within the organization who is great at what he does, and who is highly regarded by his coworkers, but who never gets any recognition. Perhaps he has low-profile duties, or you never notice the great job he’s doing because he’s doing it right. If this is the case with someone you work with, do something about it! These are exactly the kind of people that need to be recognized, for two reasons. First of all, they deserve it. Second, they are surrounded by coworkers who think the world of them, and they’re confused as to why your organization doesn’t reward people who are so obviously deserving.

To remedy this all-too-common situation, start by showing up at lunchtime with an armload of pizzas, and declare that lunch today is in honor of the outstanding employee. You’ll be sending the message that you’re plugged in enough to know how important this person is to your team and your organization.

Recognition is one of the most powerful, yet underutilized, tools in the manager’s tool bag. Reward outstanding behavior when and where it occurs, do it creatively, and target it to the person being recognized. You’ll be amazed at the resulting increase in team morale and overall productivity.

Mark Kimbell is President of Kimbell Associates LLC, a business improvement firm. He is also the author of The Hod Carrier: Leadership Lessons Learned on a Ladder.


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Discover the secrets to IT leadership success with these tips on project management, budgets, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Delivered Tuesdays and Thursdays