Recognize Recognition

People have often heard me say, “I’m not trying to make happy employees.”

It’s true. Now, I’m plenty happy if they are happy, but their happiness isn’t the goal. Their engagement and satisfaction are. And though similar, they aren’t the same thing.

Happiness is fleeting, determined by current situations, and frankly, it’s flaky. People get happy and or sad/angry at the snap of a finger. Sometimes for good reason, other times just because.

Engagement and job satisfaction are developed over time, and generally not subject to hormonal, societal, or mood whims. In other words, kind of like luck over skill in golf; engagement and job satisfaction are more predictable and more dependable.

So, how then, do we get there? Well, there are certainly myriad inputs, including culture, values, development, etc. But instead of looking at these bigger picture, organizational glaciers trying to move the needle, let’s focus on what we as leaders can do.


Enter: Recognition.

Studies from HBR and others, show that recognition directly and positively impacts morale, engagement and job satisfaction. I only offer that in case you’re either a slug or playing intentionally obtuse to not recognize that obviosity.

Recognition matters. And it works. And it’s almost entirely free.

I’m looking for a down-side here and having difficulty finding one.

Recognition is easy and impactful. That’s the good news. It’s also short-lived. That’s the bad news. It just means you need to do it on a regular basis. Continuous, in fact. Monthly at the very least, for you detail-types. Schedule it if you must.

Now, for some “how-to” pointers. And we’re just talking about the recognition that can occur as a normal course of daily efforts. You’ll still need to consider things like bonuses, promotions, fancy titles, and the like. This isn’t that.

These are things you can do now. Today. Right after you finish reading this article. And though there may be 100 of these things to offer, we’re going to keep things simple here (I like simple). I’ll offer just three.

  1. Personal communications. Handwritten notes, in-person visits and/or phone calls. Zoom is so over-used in some organizations as to be impersonal, so don’t include that (unless it’s a rarity in your house).

Write a note (yes, using a pen and paper), walk down the hall or pick up the phone.

And begin these conversations or notes with “I wanted to personally thank you.” Jobs well done mostly benefit the larger organization; showing personal gratitude shows the impact their efforts had on you.

  1. Public gratitude. Speaking of gratitude… instead of staff meeting eye-rollers like “I wanted to say good job to the Accounting team…,” use something like “I’d like to take a moment to offer a warm ‘thanks’ to Alyssa and her folks – they rocked it with last month’s closing!”

Personal leadership gratitude… it matters. Subtle difference, but a difference, nonetheless.

  1. Send it down, bump it up! I created a video for this if you’d prefer to watch over reading (don’t worry, it’s less than 3 minutes).

This recognition technique is fast and far-reaching.

You receive an email from someone that works for you. They let you know they finished something, completed a project, or maybe achieved a particular result. Instead of simply responding with “thanks,” you send it down and bump it up!

You send it down by responding to that email with a 2-3 sentence uniquely worded “thank you” (gratitude again), copying all those on the team or contributing to that success.

Then you bump it up, by putting your boss on the cc: line (not bcc). Everyone gets to see that (a) you thanked them and (b) you also showed your boss what they did.

Then your boss, after receiving the email, must send it down with relevant gratitude, and make the decision whether to bump it up to her boss.

Rinse and repeat.

Recognition isn’t difficult, time-consuming, or costly. In fact, there’s no good reason we don’t do it all the time.

So, do it all the time.

At C-Level Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive our newsletter jam-packed with info, leadership tips, and fun musings.

You have successfully subscribed!