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9 Workplace Recognition Questions for the New Year

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By Guest Author Sarah McVanel, Greatness Magnified

According to research compiled from a quarter of a million completed surveys by Metrics@Work, the Canadian engagement survey company, employees still report that, for the most part, they feel undervalued and disengaged. Given that talent and intellectual capital have become the greatest source of competitive advantage today, organizations must pay closer attention to how they recognize and value their staff. Retaining top talent who remain invested in leveraging their talents, passions, and virtues on the job is essential.

When we embrace FROG – Forever Recognize Others’ Greatness – some “juicy” questions arise. Let me share a few of them, and hopefully you will see, workplace recognition is not another task on your already long ‘to do’ list, but a way of being.

1. How can I recognize people when I have no budget?

Many leaders struggle to find ways to recognize people on limited budgets, and always dipping in to their own pocket can start to add up. In previous posts I’ve listed almost a hundred different ways to recognize people. Most of them are free. Giving of a minute of two of your time – through private words of praise or a thank-you note – is often considered more valuable than a nominal gift of recognition.

2. How can I fairly recognize people?

Sometimes people worry about being perceived as playing favorites. Remember, if your intention is solid, you’re on the right track. You can’t control how people perceive a gesture, but you can control the motivation behind it. If you endeavor to “catch people in greatness,” you’ll end up recognizing a range of people because you’ll notice the variety of greatness all around you.

We think it’s also important to keep in mind that recognition is everyone’s job, not just the leader’s. Professionals should be self-aware and self-reflective enough to recognize when they are surpassing their skills and abilities and should acknowledge the greatness of their peers. In other words, the role of the leader is to foster a recognition culture. If it’s not just down to you, then recognition becomes more sustainable and self-reinforcing. It becomes less about who and how you recognize people and more about how you enable people to honor their own greatness and that of their peers.

Trust the team will be able to catch those moments of greatness. After all, they’re with one another way more hours than you as a leader are. Wouldn’t it be cool if it became your job to acknowledge the recognition happening among team members? The question of fairness would begin to disappear if people felt they were being recognized by their peers and that you valued this.

3. How do I recognize people who are not performing well?

Everyone does something that is their form of greatness. We’re not saying it’s always obvious or even easy to find, but often it is tied to something the individual values most. As soon as you begin noticing what the person is doing right vs. pointing out what is wrong, he or she will be more motivated to do things that fit expectations. Sometimes we need to look deep to find something we respect and value in the other person. This will help in establishing trust. Once trust is built, it’s much easier to ask people what they feel they excel at and what they would like to improve.

4. Why do I need to recognize people – isn’t getting a paycheck enough?

As we discussed right at the beginning of this book, people vote with their feet when they don’t feel valued, and in the talent shortage of today, we just can’t afford for that to happen. Like it or not, a bigger motivator for people than money is recognition. Why? People are human beings, and it’s the humanity of recognition that connects them to one another and their organization. More and more, people want to belong to something. Work can feel like a community or a jail sentence (or something in between). In which scenario are you likely get the best from people: when they feel they can contribute with purpose or when they show up out of obligation?

5. I don’t get recognized. Why should I recognize others?

The surest way to be recognized is to recognize the greatness in others. It’s pretty hard for us to be annoyed, angry, or apathetic with someone who sees our talents, passions, and virtues, expresses an appreciation for them, and finds ways to draw them out of us. How are you focused on self-recognition? If you’re grounded in your own greatness and have found ways to live it in meaningful ways, others’ recognition of you naturally becomes less important. It is ironic, isn’t it?

6. I’ve tried recognizing people and they don’t appreciate it. Why bother?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was a team’s ecosystem destroyed in one. It takes seven years to build a culture, and every day we take small steps forward. Focus on the steps, on the small markers of progress along the way, and celebrate them. We suspect you’ll be better able to see the small examples of where recognition is happening rather than attending to all the evidence it is not present. While you’re at it, do a self-recognition check-in. Have you recognized yourself lately? Turn recognition inwards. You always have control over that!

7. I have only so much time in my day. How do I balance recognition along with all the other things I need to do?

In its simplest form, recognizing greatness happens in the moment. Come to work prepared to recognize greatness when you see it. I carry little squishy frogs, frog charms, and recognition cards in my purse. That way I can recognize someone in the moment as soon as I witness it. What is your easy and quick method?

Agreed, you don’t have time to plan a huge celebration every day or go shopping for the perfect gift. Good thing that’s not how employees most want to be recognized, isn’t it?

8. Is recognition just the leader’s job?

Glad you asked! While people say they most want to be recognized by their direct supervisor, the strongest cultures I have witnessed are those where everyone sees it as their role to recognize greatness – in clients, colleagues, subordinates, superiors – in creative and personal ways every day. How would you feel most energized at the end of the day, if your boss shared specifically how she thought you did a good job or a client, colleague, or work friend shared how much they valued your greatness? Maybe you would say both (we don’t blame you).

9. Should I recognize people when it’s not valued in my organization?

Haven’t some of the most powerful and transformational changes happened in this world at a grassroots level? Why not start where you have control – with those you work with, interact with, and care about – and see where it takes you? Recognition feeds souls, yours included. And anyway, if you face backlash for recognizing greatness, do you really want to work there? Living your greatness is how you will live with purpose and passion. Don’t give your power over to any force willing to stifle it. Be yourself. Be great.


This blog is an excerpt from Sarah’s new book, Forever Recognize Others’ Greatness: Solution-Focused Strategies for Satisfied Staff, High-Performing Teams, and Healthy Bottom Lines, available on Amazon in Kindle and Paperback versions.


About Sarah McVanel
With roots in humanistic psychology, Sarah McVanel uses the mediums of coaching, facilitation, and training to help individuals, teams, and organizations leverage their existing gifts and talents to reach their full potential. She has evolved her style through her training to be a human resources, organizational development, and coaching professional and through various specialist and leadership roles in the public sector. Most recently Sarah left a senior leadership role to start her own business, Greatness Magnified, giving her more time to write and continue to grow her professional speaking career.

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