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Building on Thoughts from Experts: The Value of Recognition

Originally published March 8, 2017

This is part three of a multi-part Blog series on strengthening your team by building on thoughts from experts. The foundation for these articlesderives from comments made by writers in the Harvard Business Review over the years to which I add my expertise and experience.

You have a career that you like, work in a company that aligns with your values and vision, have a leader to whom you can relate, and employees who do a good job in their various positions. People are generally happy, albeit professional, and there seems to be a generally cooperative culture in the company. Not only that, but productivity is good and the company is making a profit. Everything seems like it is good for the long run…

For now, things are good–maybe very good. But have you considered how they got to be good? Certainly, there are times that things are good because the stars and planets align just right and you end up in the middle of perfect sunshine (the opposite of a perfect storm). I suggest that scenario happens less frequently than people winning the lottery happens. The reality is that getting to where things are good takes a lot of hard work at every level of the organization; however, it also takes something else that is the essential reaction to success–recognition.

In the last post in this series–Supporting Your Team (March 1, 2017)–I discussed some of the foundations upon which great teams are built. As the cliche from Field of Dreams goes, “Build it and they will come,” but once they are there, how do you keep the team there? With the exception of volunteerism and some philanthropic actions, one typically does not engage in tasks without an expectation of some sort of remuneration or reward. Some organizations have awards that fulfill this need, others have cash bonuses, and others have galas and celebrations. Those are all nice–but how many of your employees really feel that they are receiving a level of personal recognition for their efforts?

A Pat on the Back

Alas, here we come to the intersection of reward vs. personal space vs. EO complaint 

territory–but what does the culture in your organization feel like in this area? This will be up to you to determine with the help of your managers and supervisors. Historically, studies have shown that the power of touch can be a positive motivator, from working with rhesus monkeys to students to members of a group with a common cause or goal. The positive forms of touch–a pat on the back, reassuring hand on the shoulder, warm handshake with a concurrent pat on the opposite shoulder–can provide a feeling of support and reassurance to others.

Have you had experience with this? If so, please leave a comment and share with us! Often times brief contact can be more powerful than words; the operational word here is brief. It only takes a brief touch or verbal pat on the back to make a positive difference.

Bringing Out The Best in People

Interestingly, one of the ways to generate the good feelings that come from recognition is to bring out the best qualities in the people with whom you work. In fact, we will revisit this statement later one and it will add more importance. At the most fundamental level, a leader understands that if their people do their best work that the organization will provide its best product or service to its clients or customers.

How does a leader help an organization come to their best productivity? First, a true leader understands that their own efforts, intelligence, and creativity are not solely responsible for the success of their organization. Perhaps one of the best uses of that leader’s talents is using them to help draw out and encourage those same traits in their people. Here are three areas that Harvard business Review writers suggest to help your employees not only feel smarter but feel empowered to act smarter.

Look everywhere for ideas. I certainly do not have the good idea market cornered–and I let my people know that up front. This helps lay the groundwork for people to feel like they are welcome to bring ideas to you–and, in turn, that you value them. When people are involved in bringing ideas, experience, and creativity to the table, it enriches the organization’s ability to move forward, be relevant, and evolve into greater things.

Encourage openness for people. We have all heard the horror stories, right? The EO complaints that led to a manager’s career demise, a lawsuit, or both? One of the most important principles of bringing out the best in your people is to set the ground rules and then create a safe environment within the constraints and restraints of those boundaries to let people know that it is a safe environment where their inputs are encouraged and valued. As a leader, you will need to be tolerant of mistakes and misconceptions–this empowers people because they are not afraid to take risks and suggest ideas because they will not be told that their idea is stupid or irrelevant. This comes with a risk for the leader–if you want people to bring ideas about ways to address problems or issues you have to make them aware that they exist! Oh my, maybe it means that you don’t look so regal up in the ivory tower or on your pedestal; however, you are now human–your people will understand that you are not perfect and that you understand that other humans are not perfect, either.

Challenge people to excellence. But wait–didn’t we give them a pat on the back already? Didn’t we let them know that they are valued? Didn’t we make ourselves approachable? Didn’t we let them know we would like their ideas on how to improve? What more can I do? One of the most useful methods that leader can use to help challenge people to excellence is to sit down with them and work on a professional development plan–together! Most people have some idea of what their goals are, where they want to go in their career, and what they believe that they care capable of attaining. As a leader, one must understand that people tend to underestimate their ability to achieve, to expand the scope of their knowledge and contributions, and their opportunities to grow both professionally and personally. Leaders need to set an overall expectation that everyone–including the leader–should work on continual knowledge and skill improvement.

So, remember the first statement in this section? The one about “one of the ways to generate good feelings that come from recognition is to bring out the best qualities in the people with whom you work? Let’s re-evaluate that statement again. 


The main premise understood by any organization in the services industry is that the client/customer sets the definition and expectation of value. It is not much different in the workplace; your employees, your people, your teammates determine through their own perceptual and cognitive lenses what determines the level at which leaders value them. Open communications, knowing the boundaries within which people have freedom to operate, contributions without fear, and recognition for contributions to the team and the organization provide a pathway to increased productivity and success. As a leader, be human; understand that your people are human and that humans make mistakes–but that tolerating mistakes in order to gain important contributions is a risk that leaders need to be willing to take.  

Did you like this article? A “LIKE” and a “SHARE” would be appreciated greatly!

Join me next week for the fourth post in this series: Mistakes and Failure.


Want to know more about executive leadership? I facilitate a half-day executive seminar that brings concepts to the table for collaborative exercises and application to your organization’s needs.

Harvard Business School. (2011). Management tips from Harvard Business Review. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.



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