Not long ago I heard a VP tell a group of employees that essentially he could not give recognition because he was “not wired that way”. I found this to be a thinly veiled excuse to stay inside his comfort zone, not change; it got me thinking. What a missed opportunity to grow professionally and personally. What kind of example does that set and shouldn’t getting out of your comfort zone be an expectation of leadership? It was interesting to me that a senior member of management would essentially say that giving recognition was too hard and thus not important to them.

This is not the only excuse I have heard from leaders, some of the other common excuses are:

  • Too busy and don’t have time
  • No news is good news
  • A paycheck should be enough
  • Can’t afford it

It is not surprising that in an American Psychological Association’s Employee Recognition Survey only 46 percent of respondents said their organization provides individual recognition and another 36 percent said they have not received any recognition in the last year. According to a Harris Interactive study, 74 percent would consider finding a new job, and Mercer’s What’s Working study says 32 percent are actively looking. The number one reason? An Accenture report states lack of recognition.

Granted, some leaders may not know how to give recognition because they have never received it themselves, but in this day and age, there is no lack of resources available to help them. There is a big difference between recognizing and admitting you don’t know how and using it as an excuse not to try. Each of the above-noted excuses is easy to refute.

  • Too busy and don’t have time. Leaders don’t have time not to provide recognition. Your top performers will be the first to leave for the opportunity to get the recognition they want and deserve.
  • No News is good news. Tell that to the person who gets laid off with no notice or doesn’t get paid because the company is insolvent.
  • A paycheck should be enough. Once upon a time that may have been true; back in the days when employees had a job for life, security with a pension and healthcare. Today employees want something else, an experience.
  • Can’t afford it. Recognition is not about money. The best recognition is still genuine thank you and there are many ways to do this that cost nothing.

For those leaders who truly don’t know how but want to provide recognition here are some simple and free suggestions.

  • Say it: A simple thank you is underrated and will go a long way.
  • Write it: Leave a handwritten “thank you” on their desk.
  • Send it: Send a thank you card to their home.
  • Pass it on.Share positive feedback with the person as soon as possible, even if it is by email.
  • Pass it up. Share positive feedback with upper management.
  • Make it personal.Recognition of personal accomplishments shows you know something about them.
  • Recognize milestones. Make note of work anniversaries and birthdays and acknowledge them.
  • Express interest in them. Get to know your employees personally and you will get to know what is important to them.

Organizations need to make recognition part of their culture. It should not be an optional skill for leaders but a must have. A little bit of investment in training leaders how to give effective recognition will pay off with greater employee engagement, loyalty, and retention. To the leader mentioned above and others like them, I advise they get out of their comfort zone and acquire the skill needed to provide recognition.

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