Recognition: Meaning and Motivation #TChat Recap

(Editor’s Note: Please welcome one of Team TalentCulture’s new editorial interns, Ana Mijailovic. She’s an accomplished university student with mad writing skills, and we’re thrilled to add her perspective on the “world of work.”)

After a week focused on recognition in the workplace — what have I learned? It’s clear that today’s workforce is increasingly disengaged, and lack of recognition is a primary culprit.

So, how can we turn that around? On one hand, a simple “thank you” is free and easy to share, anytime or in any situation. On the other hand, it’s not so free or easy for organizations to practice recognition consistently and effectively.

Case In Point

My first job was at a hospital as an office assistant. At first, I loved working there. I was excited to start making my own money, to cash my own paychecks. The tasks were fairly simple — filing patient charts, filling out medical billing sheets, making copies, everything you would expect from an administrative assistant. The repetition was actually relaxing at first, and my boss constantly acknowledged my speed and work ethic. However, after after several years, my productivity slipped. I met expectations, but without the original energy and speed.

A Problem of Motivation

What’s my point? Even when recognition “looks right” on the outside, it doesn’t necessarily empower employees. Although I loved my boss, my work environment and my colleagues, I was bored. Why? To quote the movie “Office Space,” it was “a problem of motivation.”

Motivation is largely intrinsic. In that situation, no salary increase or external encouragement could motivate me further. What I needed was a challenge. I had mastered the required skills. I had proved my competence. I was ready to reach for the next level, but that option wasn’t made available.

This isn’t uncommon. Managers are often so focused on immediate goals, they forget that many employees want to grow and develop. Offering them a new challenge is a form of empowerment. It demonstrates trust. It demonstrates good faith in the future. It demonstrates commitment to employee success. For those of us who value growth, it’s a promise that helps us keep striving to reach our full potential.

Key Takeaway: Be Mindful and Meaningful

The larger lesson is this:  Every individual is motivated by something. For recognition that really matters, managers should consider what each employee values most, and tailor recognition accordingly.

But don’t just take my word for it. Check the ideas below from this week’s guests and #TChat events. There’s inspiration and advice for employers and employees, alike!

#TChat Week in Review

SAT 5/18

Stan Phelps and Max Brown

Watch video hangouts in the #TChat Preview post…

Setting the Stage:  “Recognition Done Right: 9 Points of Light.” One of our expert guests, Stan Phelps, framed the week’s topic with real-world recognition examples from his new book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish – Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Drive Engagement and Reinforce Culture.”

SUN 5/19

#TChat Preview:  Our community manager, Tim McDonald, served up “sneak peek” video interviews with Stan and our other guest, S. Max Brown, Principal of Leadership Directives at Rideau Recognition Management Institute. See what they think matters most about recognition now in “The Business Wisdom of Recognition: #TChat Preview.”

MON 5/20 Post:  TalentCulture CEO, Meghan M. Biro examined startling workforce statistics and suggested remedies in her Forbes column, “Employee Engagement is Every Leader’s Imperative.”

TUE 5/21


Listen to the #TChat Radio show

Related Post:  Achievers CEO, Razor Suleman, brought a unique twist to our blog by bridging two back-to-back topics in his post, “Workspace Design: Form, Function and Positive Feedback.”

#TChat Radio: Stan and Max joined our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman for a 30-minute deep dive into issues and opportunities surrounding recognition and organizational culture, while #TChat-ters chimed in on the Twitter backchannel.

WED 5/22

Related Post:  Career management blogger, Ritika Trikha, offered different point-of-view, with advice for employees who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve, in “Where’s the Love? Recognition DIY.”

#TChat Twitter: The highlight of every week! With Stan and Max leading the way, hundreds of community members gathered around the #TChat feed for an open, thoughtful exchange about workplace recognition. The conversation was so popular that we trended on Twitter again. (It’s becoming a habit!) Were you along for the ride? If not (or if you want a refresh), see highlights in the slideshow below:

#TChat Twitter Highlights Slideshow: “The Business Wisdom of Recognition”

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Closing Notes & What’s Ahead

SPECIAL THANKS: Again, thanks to Stan Phelps founder of 9 Inch Marketing, and S. Max Brown, Principal of Leadership Directives at Rideau Recognition Management Institute. We’re inspired by your insights and passion for the power of recognition!

NOTE TO BLOGGERS: Did this week’s events prompt you to write about workforce recognition? We’re happy to share your thoughts. Just post a link on Twitter (include #TChat or @TalentCulture), or insert a comment below, and we’ll pass it along.

WHAT’S AHEAD: Next week — if you are fascinated by social business practices (who among us isn’t?), you won’t want to miss this! We’re exploring enterprise community management, with special guests, Maria Ogneva, Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce Chatter Communities, and Jeff Willinger, Director of Collaboration, Social Computing and Intranets at Rightpoint.

Until then, as always, the World of Work conversation continues each day. So join us on the #TChat Twitter stream, or on our new LinkedIn discussion group. And feel free to explore other areas of our redesigned website. The lights are always on at TalentCulture, and your ideas and opinions are always welcome.

Ana Mijailovic-001Enjoy your Memorial Day weekend…and we’ll see you on the stream!

(Author Profile: Ana Mijailovic is a student at Boston University studying Economics and Business Administration. Her experiences in the classroom and in the workplace have taught her the importance of teamwork, collaboration and leadership in organizations. She is one of four bright, community-savvy interns who are contributing to the TalentCulture mission this summer.)

Photo Credit:  Stock.xchng


Recognition Done Right: 9 Points of Light

(Editor’s Note: We’re thrilled to share this excerpt from the book, “What’s Your Green Goldfish – Beyond Dollars: 15 Ways to Drive Engagement and Reinforce Culture” by Stan Phelps. For more information about Stan and his “Goldfish” series of business management books, see the end of this post.)

On the 9 INCH journey to the heart of your employees, the 4th INCH involves RECOGNITION.

“You matter. These two words can change your mood, change your mind, and have the power to change lives and the world if we understand and leverage them in the right way.”  –Angela Maiers, TED Talk, June 2011

Recognition fuels a sense of worth and belonging in individuals. No rocket science here. As humans we crave acceptance. Dale Carnegie spoke of the importance of recognition nearly 80 years ago, in his landmark guidebook, “How to Win Friends and Influence People:”

“Be lavish in your praise and hearty in your approbation. A drop of honey gathers more bees than a gallon of vinegar.”

Recognition Resonates

In a recent survey, 35% of workers and 30% of chief financial officers said frequent recognition of accomplishments is the most effective non-monetary reward. Thanking people for their hard work and commitment is key to making them feel appreciated.

Shifting a Mindset

Most managers take an, “if, then” approach to recognition. Positive psychology expert, Shawn Achor believes this paradigm needs to change, “…from thinking that encouragement and recognition should be used as rewards for high performance as opposed to thinking that encouragement and recognition are drivers of high performance.”

9 Examples: Recognition Done Right

Let’s look at 9 companies who give a little extra when it comes to employee recognition:

Kudos and Shout-Outs

Every week The Nerdery agency compiles a video of shout-outs, with employees publicly praising their fellow nerds for going above-and-beyond. Five shout-out recipients are chosen for free lunches the following week. The weekly shout-out video is played for all at the Friday afternoon Bottlecap Talk, where the agency celebrates the successful launch of a recent project with a show-and-tell demo led by the rockstar developers who made it happen.

Custom Awards

Rackspace created a special award for employees who are fanatical about serving customers. It’s simply called The Jacket. It signifies fanaticism and hence is a straightjacket. Only one employee wins the jacket at a time.

Decision Lens awards top-performing salespeople with custom-made action figures designed to resemble the employee.  According to Co-Founder John Saaty:

“It’s a humorous way to acknowledge the great efforts of our sales team, and something that’s more memorable than the usual plaque or something like that.”

Executives at Zappos pick a monthly “hero” and award them with a parade, covered parking spot for a month, a $150 Zappos gift card, and a cape.

Immediate Recognition

American Express has a Prize Patrol. A group of four or five leaders get together and surprise their coworkers with flowers or a gift in front of their colleagues to celebrate their accomplishments.

Take Note: The Best Things In Life Are Free

A recent study confirmed that the cost of recognition awards has only minimal impact on employee perception of appreciation. 57% reported that the most meaningful recognition is free. Just look at some of these quotes to judge the impact:

Former CEO of the Campbell Soup Company, Doug Conant, is a big proponent of the power of handwritten notes. In Doug’s words,

what's your green goldfish cover“Look for opportunities to celebrate. My executive assistants and I would spend a good 30 to 60 minutes a day scanning my mail and our internal website looking for news of people who have made a difference at Campbell’s. Get out your pen. Believe it or not, I have sent roughly 30,000 handwritten notes to employees over the last decade, from maintenance people to senior executives. I let them know that I am personally paying attention and celebrating their accomplishments. (I send handwritten notes too because well over half of our associates don’t use a computer). I also jump on any opportunities to write to people who partner with our company any time I meet with them. It’s the least you can do for people who do things to help your company and industry. On the face of it, writing handwritten notes may seem like a waste of time. But in my experience, they build goodwill and lead to higher productivity.”

Long before he became CEO of iProspect, back as an analyst at Bain Capital and KPMG, Robert J. Murray had an idea on how you should run a services business.

“One thing that always surprised me in prior work experiences is when your assets walk out the door each day, why aren’t companies doing more to value the people doing the business?”

Mr. Murray thinks he’s found the answer to that, and many of his employees agree. His formula:  hire competitive people, promote early and often, and give constant feedback — including  notes of encouragement he calls “iProps.”

Recognizing Milestones

The tenure program at Sweetgreen called Shades of Green has blown up into a competition and become a status symbol among employees. Every teammate gets a free shirt — the longer you’re with Sweetgreen, the darker your shirt. Who knew a free t-shirt could help shape company culture? After you’ve been with Sweetgreen for a year, you also get a pair of green high-top Converse sneakers. At two years, you get a t-shirt and a neon green iPod Nano Touch. After three years, you get a lime-green Sweetgreen bike.

The diamond program Brady, Chapman, Holland encourages generosity in daily work life. When a BCH employee does something exceptionally well for a client, a fellow employee or the community, an acrylic diamond is tossed in a jar. When the jar is full, they celebrate by playing a game or going to a sports bar.

Do these ideas inspire you to think creatively about recognition in your organization? How could recognition be more meaningful where you work?

stan phelps headshot with ruler(Author Profile: Stan Phelps is the Founder of 9 INCH Marketing, an organization that inspires leaders to think differently about business — challenging them to value customer experience as a competitive differentiator and the importance of employee engagement in building a strong corporate culture. Stan helps brands explore new opportunities, showing them how to be more successful in tomorrow’s changing world, and working with clients to create experiences that are memorable, meaningful and on-brand. Driven by client objectives and inspired by bold vision, Stan and his team get results through programs that win big. Visit to learn more about his books “What’s Your Green Goldfish?” (employee engagement insights) and “What’s Your Purple Goldfish?” (customer engagement insights).