The Recognition Gap: Make Sure Your Team Feels Appreciated

The recognition gap is the space between the amount supervisors think they meaningfully recognize their employees’ accomplishments and the amount the employees perceive that recognition. Carolyn Wiley’s research reports that “while 80% of supervisors claim they frequently express appreciation to their subordinates, less than 20% of the employees report that their supervisors express appreciation more than occasionally”.

At Bellrock, we’re all about systems, but even we recognize there are good ones and bad ones. Some of the worst recognition systems fall into the “employee of the month” category. This well-intentioned system often quickly devolves into a situation where we all know Judy should receive the award every month (she’s clearly the best), but that would be awkward, and so we cycle through all the other staff until only a few remain, and the eye rolls become increasingly obvious as each award is announced. “Joe has really cleaned up his desk this month. Way to go Joe!” Ugh!

Recognition demonstrates to the person being recognized that it matters to someone else if they succeed. Someone cares about them. They are seen. Motivation comes, in part, from a sense of purpose, and amplifying the greater good that one is a part of can also shrink the recognition gap. As it turns out, gratitude matters.

Even better, when a manager expresses gratitude to an employee for a job well done it doesn’t just benefit the employee – it also benefits the manager. Martin Seligman, the godfather of positive psychology, scientifically proved that experiencing feelings of gratitude on a regular basis increases overall happiness.

What can you do to recognize people’s good performance individually and authentically?

  1. The weekly one-on-one is an excellent system to allow space for this recognition, but the recognition itself must be personal and authentic. Taking five minutes before the meeting to think about a specific strength the person has, how they demonstrated the strength that week, and what they could do to reinforce it further, will be a delightful acknowledgement to the person you are meeting with.
  2. Daily huddles are an opportunity to spontaneously demonstrate that you noticed what someone else did. Practice your gratitude by finding someone to thank for something.
  3. Write a note. Take ten minutes each week to write a short note expressing your appreciation for something to someone. Demonstrate that you see them and what they contribute with specific references and a sincere tone. Show that they matter.

Recognition needs to be individualized, not programmed. Ask people about defining moments in their lives or careers and they will tell you about personalized moments of recognition. Think of your own career. What was that moment that propelled you to where you are today? While the recognition must be custom and personalized, creating the space to provide the recognition can be routinized and scheduled, as the three suggestions demonstrate. If you have an opportunity to recognize someone’s good performance (whether you supervise them or not), take it. The benefits to you and them are irrefutable.

What about recognizing poor performance? How can we point out people’s errors without de-motivating them? The science has investigated this as well. Use these words to get the point across while maintaining motivation:

“I’m giving you this feedback because I have very high standards and I know you can meet them.”

With these words, you set the expectation and demonstrate that you have the confidence that your employee will meet that expectation.

Oh, and if you are dead set on keeping your employee of the month award program, avoid the jaded looks by using objective criteria (highest sales, most calls answered, fewest defects). Even if the same employee wins every month, at least the award itself is honest.

Bellrock is a benchmarking and change management firm based in Vancouver, Canada. If you found value in this article, please share it with your networks.

Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

More By This Author