Not Every Employee Is A Homerun Hitter

One of the biggest puzzles that continues to plague managers is their inability to provide recognition to those they manage and lead.  Why? According to OC Tanner research:

79 percent of employees who quit their jobs claim that a lack of recognition was a major reason for leaving.

Thirty years ago, I saw numbers similar to these. Clearly, the numbers are not improving and the ramifications are disturbing.  Why are managers so stingy with their recognition?

Could it be because they don’t have the budget? Sixty percent of those polled say they are more motivated by recognition than money.  To this day, I carry a list of over 20 ways to recognize individuals, and all of those forms of recognition don’t require money.  A few of my favorite ways:  A special article written about the person in the company newsletter, the person being excused from an unpopular activity, or a choice of work assignments. That’s not it.

Could it be that the managers are nervous that giving recognition might make the annual job review more complicated?  If the employee deserves some recognition, the manager might be afraid to give it because that same employee might not be performing all of his or her tasks adequately.  Learning to be focused and specific regarding recognition eliminates this concern, and it provides a greater level of sincerity to the recognition being given.  That’s not it.

Could it be that managers don’t want to be perceived as playing favorites? They don’t want to take the risk of possibly demotivating the other, more competitive employees.  All teams are not equal, and although it sure is nice working with a team of people who truly root for each other, the reality is that some teams just aren’t that close.  However, providing recognition behind closed doors solves this problem.  That’s just not it.

I believe the biggest reason why managers avoid providing recognition is because they simply don’t know what to look for.  Oh, they have no trouble spotting the major accomplishments or homeruns of those they manage.  Those major accomplishments tend to come from the top performers who are accustomed to receiving recognition.  Providing recognition is not wasted on them, but these top performers, roughly 10% of those hired, will most likely overachieve whether you recognize them or not.

Another10% of those hired fall into the category of a hiring mistake. They won’t respond to recognition, and they probably won’t be around long enough to even warrant it.  That leaves us with 80% of the employees.  This 80% are doing their jobs, but not necessarily hitting homeruns.  The fact is this; these employees are often performing his or her job well, but hitting singles and doubles.  For instance:

  • Maybe they aren’t leading the company in sales, but they have been able to maintain certain accounts longer than others. They are given great customer service ratings from those clients. If you recognized them specifically for this, do you think they’ll let those numbers slip?
  • Maybe they aren’t the fastest at their given task, but they always show up on time for work and every meeting. If you recognized them specifically for this, do you think they’ll be late anytime soon?
  • Maybe they aren’t particularly gifted at giving presentations to others, but they are strong writers, and provide tremendous support when teamed up with others. If you recognized them specifically for this, do you think his or her writing or support would decrease?

There is almost zero downside to looking a bit harder for smaller things to recognize, and don’t be surprised if this act of kindness inspires other improvements in performance.  One warning, and I can’t stress this enough: Do not, under any circumstances, use this wonderful opportunity for recognition as a convenient way to make other suggestions or be critical in any way.  Undercutting the recognition is far worse than giving no recognition at all.

The potential to inspire the vast majority of those you manage is staggering.  This isn’t accomplished by looking for homeruns from homerun hitters.  This is accomplished by providing clear feedback for specific tasks, and delivering genuine, non-monetary recognition to demonstrate your sincere appreciation.  These singles and doubles may not have the flash of a homerun, but they score runs, and win ballgames just the same.

Related: The Faceoff Between Curiosity And Fear