You Got Recognition Backwards

TLDR; You got recognition backwards. Recognition is a double edged sword, be careful how you use it.

It makes us feel validated and fuzzy inside which is great for the person being recognized, but can have a very harmful affect on others when someone undeserving gets recognized. Think about it, how many times have you heard of someone being recognized and known for a fact that the recognition being given was at the behest of someone else’s hard work.

Worse yet, imagine putting your blood sweet and tears into a project after project, only for the credit to be aggregated upwards and all be given to someone higher up than you.

I’ve thought about this a lot (mainly because I’ve experienced it) and come to realize that everyone is going to have an opinion on who does and doesn’t deserve recognition. There will always be the element of negatively impacting people with unfair recognition.

So how do we recognize others for their efforts, while minimizing the downsides?

Recognize people that drive core cultural values rather than short term benefits

Now if your culture revolves around short term efforts, well then congrats you have nothing to worry about. But for most of us, culture is about employee satisfaction and creating an environment of growth for our people and the business’ bottom line in unison. Your culture should allow for you to maintain what you do today and continue to grow into what you want to become tomorrow.

My go to for recognition is rather simple, recognize the juniors who are going above and beyond to continue learning and recognize the seniors that spend time training them. Recognize the people who deliver while making the team happier overall.

If thats not your culture, then keep in mind that there’s an abundance of positive energy in people that just magically gets unlocked when they feel recognized. On the flip side, you’ve got to make sure you’re not creating more negative energy with your public recognition because negative energy will bring down a great team.

Excerpt from HBR:

In 1968, The Ohio State Buckeyes football team started one of the most cherished traditions in American sports. According to team legend, a member of the coaching staff proposed an idea to motivate the players. After each game, the coaches would reward the best players with small stickers resembling buckeye leaves to place on their helmets. The staff reasoned that rewarding stellar individual performances would provide the right incentive to excel. The Buckeyes won the national championship that year, and football teams around the country have copied the tradition of rewarding individual excellence.

But by 2001, the once-dominant Buckeyes had slipped into mediocrity. When Jim Tressel was hired to coach the team, he completely revamped how players earned a buckeye. Instead of rewarding a player for scoring a touchdown, for instance, every player on the offensive unit would get a sticker if the team scored more than 24 points. And the coaching staff gave every player on the team a sticker after each win. Favoring teamwork over individual performance paid off almost immediately—the team not only won a national championship the following year, but the Buckeyes have been one of the most successful teams in the country ever since and are a threat to win the National Championship again this year.

Be a modern day buckeye.