Reflecting back on my days in the Army, there are two moments that are most memorable for me. The first was an award ceremony where several soldiers, including myself, were recognized at the end of an almost year-long tour in Turkey. The second was my graduation from Ranger School.
These moments, from almost 20 years ago, are cemented in my mind. I remember the comments from admired leaders. I remember the presentation of the service medal itself and the pinning of the ranger tab on our uniforms. And, I remember being surrounded by people who shared the same experiences.
There are many things we can learn from the military about how to make recognition meaningful. Here are a few.
1. Make it personal. For Day-to-Day recognition, speak to people in person. Write a handwritten note. For Above and Beyond Recognition, invite others to a presentation who mean the most to the person being recognized. Ensure the front-line manager/supervisor is presenting the award.
2. Be prepared. When recognizing people, take time to think about what you will say. Talk about the specific situation, the behaviors exemplified by the person, and the impact it had to the team, organization, customers, and others. And, perhaps most importantly, link the recognition to specific values and goals of the organization.
3. Involve others. If you are making an Above and Beyond recognition presentation, ask team members or others impacted by the person to share their stories and gratitude for a job well done. This will go a long way toward making the presentation personal and building commitment among team members.
4. Be timely. There’s nothing more demoralizing than making an extra effort and getting recognition long after the fact. When you see behaviors that are in line with your organizational goals and values, recognize them immediately. Offer recognition frequently, and consider using a tracker to ensure you are providing recognition on a consistent basis to all of your team members.
Here are a few things NOT to do:
1. Embarrass a person inadvertently or minimize a person’s contributions during the recognition presentation.
2. Be vague about what the recognition is about – e.g., “I want to thank you for all of your hard work…”
3. Play favorites and turn recognition into a popularity contest.
In my experience in the military, recognition wasn’t shown through cash bonuses or Starbucks gift cards. It was shown in a much more meaningful way. Recognition was personalized. It was presented publically. And the people that mattered most were around.
How will you make recognition work?