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A Recipe for Recognition: How to Put Your Heart into Employee Motivation

February 8, 2021

By: Wendy Sheaffer

Imagine. It’s Valentine’s Day. Cooking isn’t necessarily your strong suit. But, in the interest of romance, you decide to cook your significant other a beautiful gourmet dinner. You do your research, pull recipes from various sources, and nearly lose your nerve more than once given the amount of steps, potential for error, and mountain of dishes this endeavor will require. You hate dishes, ‘cause who doesn’t? Still, you just know your valentine will be blown away by your effort alone, and if it turns out wonderfully, that’s icing on the cake. You even bake the cake. This is a Valentine’s Day gift that will go down in history; you’ll be lauded at parties (when we get to go to parties again) and praised for weeks, maybe months, to come, which is just how you like it.

The day arrives. You made a giant mess, felt extremely frustrated more than once, burned at least one thing that you may need to throw away, and couldn’t figure out what “fold in the cheese” means. Still, the dinner turns out better than you ever could have imagined. Everything is mostly delicious.  Your valentine looked impressed upon sitting at your impeccably set table, gave a few “yums” throughout the meal, and said, rather blandly in your now gourmet opinion, “That was great.”


No exclamation of “WOW, you did this all for me? I know cooking isn’t your thing, I’m so incredibly impressed, I can’t wait to tell everyone how thoughtful this was!” No thank you, no giant hug, no exclamations of pure delight with every new bite. Sure, you know your valentine is great and tends to be a bit reserved with praise. But still, it stings. Not only did you work hard, you worked hard outside of your comfort zone. And frankly, you love exuberant praise, preferably in front of other people. You know, so they can praise you too!

The fact is, people need recognition, personally and professionally. We need it to feel energized and engaged at work. An engaged, energized workforce means higher productivity, better employee and customer satisfaction and ultimately higher profits. It’s a win-win. With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, think about showing the love to your employees, if you don’t already.

Why? Gallup’s State of the American Workforce report says that 51% of employees are not engaged and that one of the best ways to engage employees is to recognize them for their work. The report also states that only 3 in 10 workers “strongly agree that in the last seven days they have received recognition or praise for doing good work.” Ouch.

The data shows that people who feel recognized are more energized. It’s counterproductive to think that employee recognition is unnecessary. We could ask ourselves, “What happened to doing a good job because you are getting paid?” or we could ask ourselves how to get an even better job from everyone by understanding the nuances of individual needs. It’s why managers who understand how each person on their team ticks get better results, more loyalty and less turnover. For example, when you know one person loves verbal recognition, while another prefers a private pat on the back, you can manage and motivate to those preferences. Each employee values you as a leader because you worked with their preferences rather than leading one way.

Effective managers know that they can’t lead in a “one size fits all”, “my way or the highway” way. That’s a lot of ways to get nowhere. Instead, use the Omnia Assessment to navigate the personal preferences and nuances of your team. When your strongly social salesperson tops the leaderboard for sales, you know a public celebration is just the ticket, preferably with the chance for her to give a speech. On the other hand, your reserved bookkeeper might cringe at the thought of giving a speech but does want the team to know how his accomplishments moved the team forward. Think about a shout-out in the company newsletter, along with a personal, private word of thanks from you.

Personalization is key. Not only in how you provide the recognition based on personality type but also in the messaging. Competitive people like knowing how they rank, analytical people want the facts, big-picture types prefer broad strokes, while meticulous planners want to hear all the details.

Recognition should be meaningful to the individual. You could even recognize people for achieving personal goals, like finishing a marathon or learning a new language. Encourage peer-to-peer recognition as well to create a culture of appreciation.

Of course, it’s easy to forget in the hustle and bustle of work and home life to look for opportunities to recognize individual achievement. As managers, we get preoccupied like anyone else. The best thing you can do is make it a job task and a regular habit, just like completing a required monthly report or turning in your expenses. Set reminders, put it on your calendar, or use whatever works best for you to develop that habit. Remember, when you go the extra mile for employees, they will go the extra mile for you.

Also, if your valentine makes you a gourmet dinner, recognize the effort… gush, rave, give a toast.

Wendy Sheaffer

Wendy is the former Chief Product Officer of The Omnia Group. She is a subject matter expert in behavioral assessments and in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more-informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. For more information, email or call 800.525.7117.

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