Five Things CEOs Should Remember About Employee Recognition
The workplace dynamic has been changed forever. A tough labor market has given employees opportunities we haven’t seen in a generation; people are taking a different view of work-life balance; and a hybrid-remote environment is here to stay in most industries.
Experts have written a lot about the new world of work and the changing employee experience, but I’ve seen much less about how recognition strategies are evolving in response to that.
Because I like to focus on the CEO perspective, I’d like to suggest five key activities every CEO should be engaging in to make sure recognition strategies align with values and enhance the employee experience.
1. Avoid taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
It’s not news that employees have different preferences on how they want to be recognized. In my experience, outgoing people with strong egos may want public recognition, while introverted individuals will often eschew high-profile recognition events and prefer personal 1-to-1 interactions.
2. Offer a personal touch.
There are few things as powerful as a handwritten note. Yes, I recommend mailing these with a stamp to the employee’s home; I write about 100 of them per year. It’s a fantastic opportunity to recognize a significant accomplishment (personal or professional) and leave a lasting impression. It takes real discipline to do this with consistency, and it’s important to maintain it. Once employees start telling one another that you’re writing notes like this, the expectations for it increase. Lastly, you’ll be surprised by how many people reach out and tell you that it was meaningful to them.
3. Don’t forget social media.
For employees who are active on social media (I restrict this to LinkedIn), a "like" or short comment may make all the difference. Your input could increase the visibility of their post, and I've found the fact you saw it and took the time to comment can have a big impact. But remember: Not everyone is on social media, which can limit the reach your efforts will have.
4. Look for moments of joy (not just validation).
It’s far more powerful to recognize someone for something that has clearly brought them joy versus simply validating a behavior or seniority. Salary increases are the most notable example of this. When an employee isn’t experiencing joy in the work, the validation that comes from a promotion or a salary increase is fleeting. In most cases, I've found the impact of it is lost in 90 days or less. The home run comes when you recognize something an employee did that brought them great joy and align it with their preferences on how they like to receive that recognition.
5. Remember that less is often more.
Small things matter, especially when it comes from the CEO. We can become so distanced from the work that gets done every day, and we often spend much more of our time dealing with problems that I believe we sometimes lose touch of those small accomplishments that, when recognized, have exponentially greater impact. Be on the lookout for those small opportunities to recognize something that caught your eye or weigh in with encouragement. I've seen that doing so can make a real difference. Work on developing your self-awareness skills, and remember to drop everything for five minutes to offer recognition in real time.
If you want to up your game and be massively more effective in recognizing employees, you need to be constantly on the lookout for small moments where you can proactively have an outsized impact. It’s fine to have the people team support your efforts here, but by taking on more direct personal responsibility, it will most certainly be noticed. And your people team will be delighted, too.
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