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Employee Recognition creates a culture of improvement. Why do I say that? Two reasons. First, because it works, it's an approach I have used at several companies to help drive performance improvements between 50-500 percent.

Secondly, and most importantly, you should start with employee recognition because it's so easy to do and it has zero cost associated with it. Giving people praise, saying thank you for a job well done, and recognizing employees is something that every company culture can do.

It is an unlimited resource, you can never run out of 'good job' or 'thank you.'

Employee recognition is one of the most potent motivators that there is. We are all hard-wired to not only appreciate it but to need it. That is why it is crucial to understand how to improve recognition in the workplace.

Don't believe me?

Then check out Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, in which one of our most basic psychological needs is Esteem, a feeling of a sense of achievement, recognition, and the respect of others.

I think the power of employee recognition is best stated by Dale Carnegie, who said:

"People work for money but go the extra mile for recognition, praise and rewards."

It's the "going the extra mile," which is what creates that culture of improvement, a culture where your teams are continually looking for opportunities to improve and push results.

How to create a culture of recognition in the workplace?

Creating a culture of recognition in the workplace is important to stand in the long run. Here is how to do that:

1. Recognize efforts, not just outcomes

So, if employee recognition is the key to continuous improvement, then when and what should you look to recognize to achieve the goal? And how to improve recognition in the workplace? This information is vital because it should start a lot earlier than you probably think.

Many companies I have worked with believe that they should only reward excellent performance or recognize employees who deliver outstanding results. I disagree. Yes, it would be best to recognize employees for these exceptional achievements and make a big deal about them.

I have believed that they should only reward excellent performance or recognize great results. I disagree. Yes, we should recognize these exceptional achievements and make a big deal about them.

However, I believe that employee recognition starts much earlier than that. You should begin by recognizing your teams' first efforts, their first steps on the journey because if you only wait until people achieve the goals to celebrate, you could be waiting a long time.

"What did you do the first time your child took their first steps and then plonked down onto their bottoms?"

You must have cheered and must have videoed it. You must have called people to come and see it". And it's true we all do that, every parent that has ever lived. "But why did we do that? It's not like the child ran a marathon or broke the 100m world record".

Every parent has the same response, "We did it because we wanted to encourage them to try and do it again, and again. Because that's how they learn first to walk and then learn to run, and one day, maybe, they will run a marathon or win a race".

The same principle should be applied to your teams. Maybe they are not that successful today, but if you want them to be, then recognize their effort, encourage them to continue, to try again. Make it a part of your system by creating a culture of recognition.

2. Recognize the progress

Another favorite saying on recognition is, "What gets recognized gets repeated."

So, when we recognize people, we are not just feeding their self-esteem. We are also encouraging them to repeat their efforts, try again, continue, and even do better.

Now to be clear, We don't just keep recognizing the same level of effort the same way forever, NO! Just like with our children learning to walk, we should recognize those first steps, and only then will we recognize the improvements.

Like when they walk a little further, walk unaided, or walk across the floor without falling. Creating an employee recognition culture encourages them to try again and increase their effort.

We raise the requirement for the recognition, and as we do that, their efforts and performance will follow as our teams seek out more recognition, which they are hard-wired to do.

3. If you have nothing to recognize, start small

In his book 'Gung Ho: Turn on the People in Any Organisation' Ken Blanchard talks extensively about the power of recognition. He also said that if you feel you have nothing to celebrate in your organization, then start celebrating birthdays anniversaries. Even this will help to get your teams more engaged and seek out more recognition.

A case study

Our department was the worst-performing at one company where I worked, and there was little to shout about or celebrate. Our worst area of performance was our on-time

delivery of projects which languished at 26 percent, which was pretty lamentable. I was tasked with helping to make improvements and get this back on track. As I said, at 26 percent on-time delivery, there was little to cheer about, and the engagement of project managers was pretty low.

There was a regular monthly review meeting that was poorly attended, the quality of the reporting was poor, and there seemed to be little to no value from the meeting, and it certainly wasn't helping make improvements.

The first thing I did when I looked over the meeting was I recognized the people who attended the review. I thanked them for showing up, even though their projects were Red, as this showed a willingness to improve.

Interestingly this had an immediate impact on attendance. Once we had people attending, I thanked them for producing and sharing their reports. Even though the projects were not on track, having reports was a great aid to us understanding the actual status and allowing us to make suggestions for improvement. This led to an improvement in the quality and accuracy of the reports.

These might seem like small things, but they had an impact. They got the project managers more engaged. It showed them that they were seen and that management was interested in helping them improve. This increased and improved visibility into the projects, allowing us to identify some small wins that we could recognize.

As we did that, we started to see further improvements that we could recognize, and this helped to make the PMs more open to suggestions, more open to ideas, and more willing to ask for help. Within six months we got our on-time delivery up to over 50 percent, which was amazing, but it was just the start and within 18 months the best on-time delivery record was at 81 percent.

But it didn't stop there, and the improvement that we saw here, and the recognition that we offered started to see improvements in other areas, and within two years we were the number one department in the company on pretty much every single metric transforming ourselves into an integral part of our company culture.

How did it all start?

It started with me praising people for attending a meeting where they shared how badly they were doing. If you wait until people are successful before you praise them, you will never create a culture of continuous improvement, and you could be waiting a long time before you celebrate your subsequent success. It all starts by creating a culture of recognition.

By recognizing efforts, showing your teams that you see them, that you value their efforts, encouraging them to try again, to increase their actions, and once they start that journey, with the right sprinkling of recognition, the sky's the limit.

The PRAISE Model for Recognition

How we recognize people is just as important as what we recognize. The most effective approach is to use what I call- The PRAISE Model, which stands for Public Recognition Authentic Immediate Specific Enthusiastic.

We praise in public because while private praise will give a feeling of self-esteem, it is significantly increased when others see your praise. Not everyone wants public praise, so we need to be careful we don't offend.

But there is a second reason for doing it publicly because we are showing others what we value and showing them how they can get some recognition of their own.

Recognition is the appreciation for the task performed, it can be congratulating them on a job well done or a simple thank you. It has to be authentic. If it's fake, people will see right through it, which will have the opposite effect. Please don't wait for a review or a meeting to let people know they did good, give them the feedback immediately you see it.

If you wait and let the moment pass, they might think that you were unhappy or appreciative of what they did. Letting them know immediately is much more powerful. Try and be specific. The more specific you can be, the more impactful it will be. "Great job on that spreadsheet. I loved the transparency it provided." Or something simple like "I love your enthusiasm".

To repeat it, we need to let them know what we like. Lastly, how you say it is just as important as what you say, so be enthusiastic. Make a little bit of a show about it. Don't go crazy, but don't be flat either.


Employee recognition culture is the fuel in the fire of continuous improvement. It gives an excellent return on investment as it costs nothing and can help you achieve amazing things.

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Gordon Tredgold

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Gordon Tredgold is a leadership and engagement expert and speaker from West Yorkshire, UK. His first passion is rugby. He speaks, writes, coaches, and teaches leadership. He makes leadership simple.