Want to Improve Performance? Increase Recognition! By Richard Tyson

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A few years ago, I was on a commercial flight to Chicago. Like most of these, the flight was routine—long and boring. I was seated over the port-side wing of the aircraft, and as we descended toward the tarmac at O’Hare, there was a sudden jolt. I was looking out the window at that moment, and to my absolute terror, I saw the left-wing lurch precariously close to the ground! Thankfully, in the next instant, the plane’s posture was corrected and it landed safely.

Virtually all of my fellow passengers were as shocked as I, and many spontaneously applauded. However, I heard one voice that surprisingly responded, “I’m not applauding that! It’s the pilot’s job to land us safely!”

As I walked up the aisle to depart, the aforementioned pilot emerged from the cockpit. He and I made eye contact and he said, “Wind-shear!” Then he grinned and noted, “Flying is hours of boredom punctuated occasionally by moments of sheer terror!” I responded with my deep gratitude for his skill, as did others nearby.

I have thought about that incident many times since, still grateful for this man who “just did his job.” I’ve also thought a lot about the comment I overheard that reflected no recognition for the fact that our pilot delivered us safely to our destination. I’ve wondered how often I have failed to recognize those who simply, but effectively, “do their jobs.”

This raises an important question for business leaders: What is the value of employee recognition? Might a clear recognition strategy render real bottom-line benefits for our companies?

Over the last several years, I have noticed that a number of companies have endeavored to correlate desired business outcomes with clear corporate recognition strategies. The results of their research have been stunning!

Towers Watson, the world’s largest HR and employee benefits consulting firm, found that “effectively recognizing performance can increase employee engagement by almost 60%.” A 2012 Gallup poll noted that companies in the top quartile on engagement enjoyed these improvements over lower-ranked firms:

 

  • 37% less absenteeism and turnover (on average)
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer product defects
  • 21% higher productivity
  • 22% higher profitability

 

The research goes on to confirm what we ought to have assumed: employees who are recognized tend to be happier on the job, and happy employees inevitably create happy customers. They often go the extra mile for those they serve, in large part, because they feel appreciated in their work.

Companies like JetBlue and Hershey have initiated company-wide recognition strategies. These have been directly linked to their respective company values. Where employees reflect those values in their behaviors and job performance, these companies have recognized and rewarded their employees. Corporate outcomes include improved morale, engagement, and profitability.

The key elements in effective recognition strategy programs include:

 

  1. Day-to-day recognition practices: Frequent, low-cost, interpersonal expressions of appreciation like thank-you notes or verbal praise. Some companies have also instituted peer-to-peer programs whereby employees are encouraged to recognize and celebrate one another.
  2. Informal managerial recognition: Typically, this is focused on the accomplishment of goals, achievements, or performance by individuals or teams. It may include celebratory parties, or tokens of appreciation like gift cards or certificates of achievement.
  3. Formal recognition: For the accomplishment of significant corporate outcomes or career milestones, these often include public ceremonies and more expensive gifts or awards. Recipients are often identified by a nomination and selection process.

 

To be successful, such company recognition strategies require the full support and sustaining actions of senior leaders and managers who actively endorse and evangelize the program and its implementation. These leaders must begin by clearly defining their desired outcomes in a way that will be communicated clearly and consistently throughout their organizations.

Typically, this begins with a clear definition of the company’s Vision, Mission, and Values. JetBlue’s Lift Recognition Program, for instance, links recognition and rewards to their company values: Safety, Caring, Integrity, Fun, and Passion.

Results emerged quickly as a result of the program and management’s commitment to it. JetBlue reports, “Within three months of embarking on the Lift crewmember recognition platform, an internal JetBlue survey revealed an 88 percent increase in crewmember satisfaction with the rewards and recognition they receive for demonstrating positive behaviors.”

Might an increase in recognition improve the engagement and positive behaviors of your team? Perhaps we might all enhance our leadership skills and the outcomes we desire by acknowledging the fundamental importance of our people, who, like my Chicago airline pilot, “just do their jobs.”

Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.

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