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Most leaders today acknowledge the value of employee recognition. Whether it’s a simple thank you and two tickets to a hockey game, an achievement award, a promotion, or even a raise, they know how powerful these small actions are when communicating privately or in public, “Hey! I see you, and we as an organization value you.” And yet, most leaders miss the boat in this department.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s certainly not intentional. Sure, there are a few rotten eggs who refuse to take a second to congratulate the team or a specific individual for a job well done — but those guys are few and far between.

The reality is that even the most well-intentioned leader has a lot going on, and people management is just one slice of a larger pie.

That said, there’s no denying they want and need to be better. Communicating your appreciation for the people who work for you can mean the difference between retaining people who feel valued and constantly having a revolving door of outstanding employees who don’t feel challenged enough and are habitually undervalued and under-recognized. 

How Can Leaders Be Better at Employee Recognition?

1. You Have To Understand Your People

How do you communicate your appreciation for the people who work for you in a way that’s authentic and doesn’t feel superficial? Start by taking the time to understand your people and what forms of recognition they most appreciate. 

Jane from the accounting department may love public forms of recognition, but that doesn’t mean Andy in sales does.

Your project manager, Steve, might be motivated solely by money. But Lynn from down the hall might be itching for a promotion that plays to her strengths and challenges her more than her current role. 

In many cases, you may already know what motivates certain people and can immediately play to those desires when recognizing them for a job well done. In other words, you can give them what they want most in a meaningful way. But if you don’t know what motivates them, it’s essential to do your research and learn what that person values.

The list of employee recognition options is quite long and could include any of the following, depending on what makes your people tick.

  • Achievement awards 
  • Monetary recognition
  • Promotions
  • Assignments that play to their strengths
  • Opportunities for advancement
  • Lunch with the boss
  • Company swag
  • Special perks (Extra PTO day, tickets to a game, etc.)
  • Mentorship opportunities
  • The ability to challenge themselves in new ways
  • Professional development courses 

2. You Have To Understand Your Organization

It’s important to know your people. It’s also important to know when employee recognition is most valued within your organization and what organizational norms may exist regarding how recognition should be presented. 

Any time we see people contributing to our vision in a manner that exceeds expectations and helps the organization meet its goals faster, that’s when we want to recognize them and publicize their efforts. The same is true when an employee demonstrates a high sense of urgency. From the leader and organization’s perspective, that’s the time to be all in on employee recognition.

While there is no universal employee recognition program for every organization, leaders should consider these elements:

  • Be specific and relevant 
  • Be timely
  • Make it easy for leaders to celebrate employees 
  • Remember that recognition comes in many shapes and sizes
  • Don’t forget to recognize the leader, too
  • Small, meaningful gestures can still go a long way

The Business World Demands Improved Communication

Your organization's success is paramount to how well you communicate as leaders. A big part of that is employee recognition. More than just recognizing someone for doing great work, we should do so with empathy, enthusiasm, sentiment, and mindfulness. This is where tools such as TalkMeUp can help. TalkMeUp is innovative, one-of-a-kind software that profoundly addresses these needs and related communication shortcomings by leveraging AI for instant measurement, analysis, reporting, tracking, scaling, and more. 

Like having a communications coach on speed dial, it gives you the feedback you need to understand how you communicate — all in real-time. As you practice more with TalkMeUp and do things differently, this practice becomes who you are. To me, that’s the best feature. You can practice with TalkMeUp repeatedly and track your progress. As you begin to see changes in how you communicate, and TalkMeUp backs those thoughts up with accurate data, others will see you as a leader who emphasizes effective communication.

Interested in seeing how TalkMeUp could help you communicate your appreciation for others?  Book a time for a brief demonstration.

About the Author
Ron Placone, Ph.D., is an Associate Teaching Professor of Business Management Communication and the Former Faculty Lead and Interim Executive Director for the Accelerate Leadership Center at the Tepper School of Business. Ron teaches a range of communication courses and leadership programs for Tepper students. Ron’s research interests include civility in discourse and fostering individual and team creativity. Previously at Carnegie Mellon, Ron was the Assistant Vice President for Learning & Development. Before joining Carnegie Mellon in 1999, Ron was Vice President and Director of Organizational Development and Communications for Mellon Network Services. Ron has been a consultant, leadership, and communication coach for numerous executives and corporate and not-for-profit organizations. He has consulted in health care, financial services, education, technology, and energy sectors. Ron has a Ph.D. in Rhetoric-English from Carnegie Mellon University.