Motivate Through Recognition

Recognition is fundamental in terms of motivating people. Through recognition people become more confident, feel better informed, thrive on discretionary effort and as a result are more likely to stay with a business and right now businesses need to keep good people more than ever.

But how do you find things to recognise people with? The challenge, which has only been made more difficult in the hybrid world, is finding meaningful things to recognise them for. To assist in removing this difficulty leaders can invite an individual or group to provide them with information on what they are particularly proud of and why. Usually, leaders will only recognise what they see, observe or learn about from others – recognition then focuses on what the leader appreciates, not necessarily what the group or individual wants to be recognised for.

Often people want to be acknowledged for all the work they are doing that no one sees. The long hours, fielding difficult customer calls, navigating complex technical issues, moving mountains to meet deadlines and doing it all on top of their lives outside of work. Then there are the people on our teams that, no matter how much they accomplish or how much we recognise them, struggle to slow down long enough to enjoy and celebrate their progress. This often drives them to burnout. If we want help our people be conscious of progress and make sure our people feel recognised for the things we don’t see, getting them to reflect on what they have seen progress and sharing that with their leaders will help.

But how can this be achieved practically?

By following the three key steps below you, the leader, get a view on what matters most to another person while at the same time helping employees appreciate their own progress and accomplishments. When employees stop and reflect on their own achievements, how they’ve tackled challenges, and how they’ve made progress, it improves their engagement. Reflecting on even small wins can motivate employees to get more done. Here are the key steps:

Give your employees the opportunity to share what they are proud of and why. This doesn’t need to happen as a separate, focused meeting. During your regular one-to-ones, or even when you bump into each other in the office, you could ask them a simple question – like these examples:

  • We haven’t spoken in a while, what have you been working on recently that you are proud of?
  • What are you working on that’s exciting you?
  • What has been the hardest part of your job lately and how have you been navigating it?

The first time you try this with your employee, don’t be surprised if they look concerned or suspicious of why you are asking. They may be thinking, “Did you just attend leadership training or something?” But here’s a way to mitigate those reactions. You could preface your question by saying, “I recently read an article that explained how we often don’t see most of the work our people do every day and it got me thinking that I would love to learn more about what you’re proud of that I don’t see.”

After you ask, some people will take your invitation to share and run with it, and tell you everything they have been doing, and more. Others might give you a standard, “I’m proud of being a good team player,” “Everything I’m doing is exciting,” or even shy away from saying anything.

This is where the next step comes in.

We have a tendency as human beings to minimise our achievements and maximise our failures. If people respond with “I don’t know” try following up with questions that help them reflect on what they have done.

If they say, “I’ve been struggling with this new programme for a month, but I just finally figured out X and we can finally get it off the ground. That’s exciting!” use positive probing to draw their attention to their own effort and progress. Here are some probing questions you might ask:

  • How were you able to do what you did?
  • What did it take to make it happen?
  • What did you learn in the process?

As they are sharing — and they will likely reveal what is most important to them — listen for the barriers they overcame, the sacrifices they made, the struggles they worked through, to do all they did.

After your employee has shared, it is time to reflect back on what you heard. Sometimes this can be as simple as “Thank you for all you have been doing, I had no idea you had worked through all that,” or “Thank you for sharing, that is a great outcome.”

Other times, maybe when you have not spoken in a long time, or notice your employee struggling, it is important to reflect back in more detail to show them you understand what they have been working on and amplify what they have done. You could say:  “John, I knew the training programme you put together was very good, but I had no idea everything you had been doing behind the scenes to make this happen and doing all of this on top of your life outside of work. Thank you for everything you have been doing.”

The previous paragraph highlights a weakness of most leaders/ managers – they catch people doing something wrong and fail to catch someone doing something right – and a leader doing the latter can be hugely motivational to the employee.

Get your people to share what they are proud of and why. It is true that some people aren’t used to talking about what they’re proud of, so it may take some time for your team to warm up to the idea. But if you build it into each of your one-on-ones, and team meetings, people will start coming ready to share and, you will build a culture of recognition and celebration where good work is validated, and employees feel valued.

Need some help in motivating your team? Get in touch with us at or call us on 0116 232 5231.

Why not have a look at our online learning platform, E-Learn, where you can find our interactive video-based online courses which combine professional presenters, animated graphics, interactive games and questions to keep participants engaged and are available anytime, anyplace on any web-enabled device. E-Learn courses are developed in accordance with current legislation, accredited by industry leading associations and approved by professional bodies.

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The Tinderbox Team

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