Recognize For the Future, Not the Past
Many organizations have formal recognition methods within their organization that are used to highlight people and their accomplishments. Other organizations practice recognition more informally, in team meetings and even in hallways with simple “thank you for ____” statements. Neither of these are wrong, as long as you are practicing some methods for recognition in your organization.
Recognition is a form a feedback, but unique in two ways. First, it is often public, which means that the feedback benefits everyone that is sight of the feedback. Secondly, it is positive, meaning that it is feedback for doing the right things, as opposed to coaching people that are doing the wrong things.
I recommend that leaders think more about how you use recognition as a tool to drive behavior. Using recognition and using it for the right purpose are two different things. It is easy to think about recognition as a backward looking activity – you recognize someone for something they did in the past. While we do need to rely on the past (or very recent past) for recognition opportunities, we should think about the practice as a forward-looking activity. Specifically, you want to recognize people for behaviors that you want to see more of in the future. Identify what behaviors you want to see more of and then seek out opportunities to recognize people for that behavior. Behaviors are replicable, so you want to use recognition as a means to send messages to people that these are behaviors that we value.
In one organization I was observing what they recognized people for, and it was always things like “thanks for coming in over the weekend and helping fix this out of control process in your area.” Of course the person that was being recognized owned the process before it went out of control. In essence, by recognizing and rewarding the firefighting, we are inadvertently rewarding the arsonist, as it was within this person’s domain to be doing the boring-but-effective things to keep their process from getting out of control and prevent the fires from getting started in the first place. Over time, this organization learned to change what they were recognizing people for, focusing instead on more positive, proactive, and systemic efforts.
People get more interested in following a positive example, rather than just trying to avoid a negative one. What methods do you use to recognize people for the right behaviors in your organization?