Many years ago, I worked as a human resources leader for a professional services firm. I loved it. I was surrounded by hard-working and high-performing people who sat at their desks all day long and logged billable hours for clients.
But something wasn’t quite right.
It was the first role I held where I learned the power of reflection. Up to this point in my career, I was taught that action was the basis of success. There was no time to sit back and think because “thinking” was viewed as being unproductive — especially in a company that billed time for its services.
I took the risk and chose to be reflective. That’s when I realized our employees were very talented as professionals, but disconnected as people. Morale was low. People were isolated. Turnover could be better.
When I reflected on what I could do to change the culture, I became passionate about recognizing exceptional people — not just outstanding work.
Most recognition efforts are misses.
Recognition starts with stepping back and acknowledging people as human beings in the first place. This idea may seem rudimentary and benign, but the reality is that many companies expect people to show up at work to work and nothing else.
Today’s workplace is nonstop and very similar to the professional services firm at which I worked earlier in my career. We were more concerned that employees were visible at their desks, and clocking billable hours, versus any contributions they may have offered.
Talent advisors need to take recognition back to the basics.
Believe it or not, this will cost you nothing but your personal time. Create patterns and behaviors and consistently exhibit them to have others learn and mimic what you do.
I went back to basics by meeting with every manager who had direct reports. I told them a new performance expectation of theirs would be to say “hi” to every single one of their reports, face to face, every day.
Greater recognition yields engagement.
My program wasn’t some cute “HR touchy feely” effort. It was an earnest expectation, and I had the full support of senior management. I asked our company’s leaders to give me three months to improve morale and retention. The contemplative effort of making people acknowledge each other, on purpose, completely reframed work as we knew it.
Morale grew, and less complaining occurred. Attrition dropped. Managers were inclined to give timely, positive feedback to their staff every day. I had to address some skeptics with this back to basics approach to recognition, but numbers don’t lie. Better recognition strategies yield better talent outcomes.
Recognition costs you nothing but time. And if you do it right, the return on your investment is worth every effort.