Do your recognition efforts pass the test?

Gale Mote/Tree Full of Owls

In 1986, I was working as a master production scheduler for Norand Corp. in Cedar Rapids. It was my responsibility to work with sales, marketing and operations to determine the production schedule for our manufacturing facility.  Passionate about my work and motivated to do my best, I had learned nearly every part number in just under a year and developed many positive relationships with colleagues, in the field and at the home office.

Periodically, we would have an “all-hands” meeting at the Paramount Theatre. During one such event, one of our regional field sales managers took the stage. “I want to tell you a story,” he said. “This is a story about a person who has made our lives in the field so much better. Her willingness to help us find solutions to customer needs has been a breath of fresh air. We were used to encountering constant roadblocks, not road signs.”  He continued on with his story telling how this person, while new to the organization, had gained the respect of the sales field with her knowledge of the product, accessibility to answer questions and desire to do whatever it took to find a workable answer.

Next, he held up a plaque saying every year the field sales team identified one person in the home office who went above and beyond in helping them perform their roles.  I was listening so intently to the story that I didn’t hear my name. The person next to me nudged my arm and said, “The award is for you.  You need to go up on stage.” Surprised and humbled, I walked to the stage, shook hands with the regional manager, accepted the award with great appreciation and made my way back to my seat.  I still have the plaque. It was one of the most meaningful recognitions I have ever received in my professional career.

Bob Nelson and Dean Spitzer co-authored The 1001 Rewards and Recognition Fieldbook. In their extensive research, they identified several important aspects of effective recognition. Using my story and these key principles, let me share how and why the award I received back in 1986 still has a positive effect on me more than 25 years later.

The recognition was directly aligned with the attitudes, contributions and behaviors valued by the organization. When recognizing others, be sure to specifically describe the behaviors being rewarded. “Good job” is not enough. When my regional manager told the story, he was making it clear for everyone the type of attitude and effort needed for success.

Praise is like champagne. It should be served while it’s still bubbling. Timing is critical to effective recognition. When you see it – say it! The formal recognition of the plaque I received was a public reminder of the many small “thank yous” and comments like, “Wow, we’re so glad to have you on the team” I had received throughout the year.

Setting and context make all the difference on whether recognition hits the bull’s-eye with its intended target. It is important to determine if the person prefers public or private celebration. For me, public was appropriate. Also, the details of the story and the heartfelt personal touch made it so special for me.  For a cheat sheet on crafting a great recognition story check out this link:,-tips,-tools.aspx

The significance of the provider matters. It was much more effective to have the award given by one of my internal customers and not the president of the company. I had a relationship with these people and it meant so much more coming from my peers.

Tangible or intangible, the recognition must be meaningful to the recipient. It is important to get to know people and how they like to be recognized. For some people, family is very important so including their spouse and children in the ceremony is especially cool. Others like to learn and refine their strengths so providing additional opportunities to attend courses or seminars is a great way to say “thanks!” For others a gift card to their favorite eating establishment is all it takes. As a manager, take the time to connect with your employees and ask, “How do you like to be recognized?” For me, the plaque still hangs in my office. Not because I like the wood but because it reminds me of the story that goes with it.

Now, think about your recent recognition efforts? Were they aligned with the behaviors and attitudes you want to see more of on a daily basis? Were they timely and provided in the proper setting with the right context by the right person? Did the employee actually value the reward?  If yes, congratulations, you passed the test. If no, think about what small changes you can make to so your next recognition will be positively remembered for a lifetime.

Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at