One of the most important tasks as a leader is to motivate their team.  Different team members are motivated by different things.  Some like public recognition, others prefer private praise, and some need it more, and some need it less.  As humans, I would argue that nearly all of us enjoy some form of recognition.  And, it’s one of the least expensive forms of motivation.  It does not even need to cost us a dime when tailored to the individual and done genuinely.

Leaders I coach often question, “I am supposed to recognize someone for doing their job?  I do my job every day and no one recognizes me.”  The answers is yes.  As leaders, we have to take the high road.  This means that we need to prioritize the time to give people positive feedback.  And, if we invest the time, studies show that team member performance increases.

What we choose to focus on matters.  When recognized, team members are more likely to repeat these behaviors, leading to better business results associated with these positive behaviors like increased client satisfaction, productivity, and/or quality of work.

Some tangible strategies to improve your culture of recognition as a leader are:

  • Kudos boards
  • Start meetings with “tell me something good”
  • Real time recognition

Kudos boards

A simple tool to build team morale – a visual display of all the great things the team is doing as a reminder of what good looks like.  This can be done in a variety of ways – a bulletin board in a break room or common area with post-it notes to recognize freely in the moment, a recognition box where team members can privately share their praise and leaders can display with employee approval later, or a client appreciation area with testimonials showcasing great client service.  I have seen it done well in various formats.  The key is getting buy-in from the team on how they want to be recognized, and tailoring the kudos board to their preferred format of recognition.  If they are a part of the idea to start, team members are far more likely to engage with the program and participate.

Each team is different, and their recognition needs are different too.

Be open and flexible to feedback early on, and set the tone for what good recognition looks like through your own participation.  Then, as recognition takes hold and becomes a cultural norm, back off and facilitate the process.  It’s a beautiful thing when team members rally to recognize one another.  The leader’s job becomes simply to follow suit and make time to reinforce the recognition that’s naturally occurring.  Positive peer pressure is a powerful thing.  When behavior is reinforced, it’s far more likely to occur again.  Let that be the guidelines for the behaviors that are recognized on the kudos boards – recognize what you want to see again.

Start meetings with “tell me something good”

Meetings that start with genuine, positive recognition are more productive.

A previous manager of mine used to always start our team meetings with “tell me something good.”  He started the meeting on a positive tone, often sharing personal successes and asking team members to recognize others on the team.  The fear is that everyone in the meeting will recognize the same person or brag on themselves.  I have found this rarely to be true.  It feels good to recognize someone.  The secret is that it often feels better for the giver than the receiver.  This spurs this natural spread of recognition as others want to enjoy the benefits of recognizing others.

As a leader, it is important to take an active role in facilitating and guiding this discussion early on before it takes root as a cultural norm.  When leaders set the tone for what good looks like, facilitating the dialogue amongst the team, and sharing the love with their own recognition, the team chimes in and also shares positive stories and recognition across the team equally.  By encouraging everyone to share one statement at the start of the meeting, and reframing potentially negative comments initially, the leader sets the tone for what good participation looks like, and the team meets that expectation.  When the team knows that they are expected to participate and share something good, they will.

Real time recognition

With any feedback or guidance, the sooner the better.  Leaders I coach often have a 24-hour rule for constructive feedback.  I recommend the same for positive feedback.  The challenge is when we wait for the next team meeting, or 1:1 meeting, the recognition loses context and meaning.  People do not remember the situation as clearly and are less likely to feel the benefit of the praise.  Simply catching someone doing something good in the moment goes a long way.  Rather than looking to catch the team doing something wrong, look for them to be doing something good.  If you are looking, you will find it.  And, when you do, praise it instantly, or as close to the time of the situation as possible.

When I was a leader, I kept thank you cards in my desk drawer with a stack of $5 gift cards to Starbuck’s.  My team loved coffee.  When I caught someone doing something above and beyond, I wrote a quick note citing the situation, their positive behaviors, the impact, with a note “coffee on me,” and left it on their desk.  I personally delivered it when possible.  I cannot tell you how grateful my team was for a small token of genuine appreciation.  Their performance responded as a result.  The more personal the thank you, the better.  Know what motivates your team.

For more on feedback, check out our popular post – Replace Feedback with Guidance, and You Will Get Better Results.

Leaders that recognize their teams have better business outcomes.

How will you recognize what you want to see again from your team?

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