When we feel cared for and valued at work, we are more likely to enjoy coming in every day. And when we feel supported in our career growth, we’re more likely to be engaged and do our best work. What more could you ask for from your team than showing up and doing their best every day? I believe that the most important practices for creating a supportive environment are consistent feedback, accountability, and recognition.
Recognition is often mentioned in the same breath as praise but these two practices are quite different. Praise is a quick “good job!” intended to boost someone’s ego. It lacks specificity. Recognition focuses on celebrating an individual’s or team’s specific success. It's a wonderful space to pause and publicly acknowledge the hard work and effort someone is putting in on their path to growth. And like feedback, the more specific your recognition the more valuable it is. Of my three pillars of management, recognition is my favorite one.
Benefits of recognition
Lack of recognition is one of the main drivers of team disengagement but one of the easiest to turn around. The Aon 2018 Trends in Global Employee Engagement survey found that recognition is the strongest driver of engagement in the workplace. However, recognition must be given in a variety of contexts. "Employee of the month", "Top salesperson," and other superiority contests harm engagement according to a study by Professor Ian Larkin of Harvard Business School. Often, consistent, and varied recognition creates a positive team culture where everyone feels valued for their work.
Not only does recognition make everyone feel valued but it leads to higher team cohesion. Consistent, abundant recognition lowers competition among the team. Collaboration becomes easier and more enjoyable improving team success. Team members feel more connected and can genuinely celebrate each other’s accomplishments.
The awareness of each other’s strengths also leads to more learning, knowledge sharing, and asking for help. The time spent solving difficult problems decreases as the team feels comfortable asking to borrow each other’s expertise, knowing that they’ll be asked to offer their knowledge when the other needs it.
Beyond team benefits, recognition can be a powerful strategy for sponsorship. Sponsorship is an active involvement in a person's career by connecting them with opportunities, people, and promotions to help them achieve their career goals. By being vocal in your recognition, you can advocate for someone’s strengths and why they deserve an opportunity. Specific recognition not only points out what the person did well but how what they did aligns with company goals and pushes the business forward. That type of recognition can go a long way in connecting the people you sponsor with challenging career opportunities that accelerate their career growth.
Sponsorship is especially important for people of color and marginalized genders. The Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), which conducts extensive research around talent across the divides of gender, generation, geography and culture, has found that sponsorship significantly increases a person’s satisfaction with their career growth—a 23% increase for men and 19% for women (unfortunately I was unable to find data for non-binary people). And this significant increase in satisfaction, dubbed the “sponsor effect,” is even more marked among people of color. For African-Americans, there’s an 18% increase in satisfaction when the person has a sponsor and a 25% increase for people who are Asian. People who are Latinx experience the highest increase at 42% more likely to be satisfied with their career progression. However, people of color and marginalized genders are the least likely to have sponsorship in the workplace according to a report published by Payscale. Recognition is a tool you can use to lend your privilege and provide sponsorship to your team.
Strategies for recognition
Now that I’ve extolled the benefits of recognition, it’s important to talk about how to recognize your team. Not everyone is comfortable with standing ovations and being the center of attention. Like anything, it’s important to talk to your team members and ask how they prefer to be recognized. I like to ask about recognition on 3 axes.
- Do you prefer in-person or virtual recognition?
- Do you prefer individual or shared recognition?
- Do you prefer public or private recognition?
Because it can feel awkward to ask for public recognition, I usually volunteer my preferred way to be recognized with an example. I prefer public, individual recognition but don’t mind written or verbal so give me a shout out publicly in Slack or stand up. I’ve had some team members who prefer shared recognition. They want to have their work recognized in the context of the team or their pair’s work. I’ve also had people ask for virtual recognition because they are uncomfortable with all eyes in the room on them. Whatever their preferred medium may be, make sure that you take a note so you can recognize them regularly.
Recognition is the most fun and often overlooked pillar of supportive management. When people feel valued and know that their effort is seen, they are more connected to their work and their team members. By practicing consistent feedback, accountability, and recognition, you can create a team environment that people want to be part of and do their best every day. Check out the other posts in this series about the other two pillars of supportive management, feedback, and accountability.