In a recent quality management class, group discussion centered on frustration in the workplace resulting from lack of appropriate employee recognition. Several people recounted how disappointing it was to go “above and beyond” only to find there was little appreciation for what was accomplished. It is not surprising that it seems easy for management to take people/teams for granted. Depending upon what else is happening within the organization, it seems to be common to overlook the efforts of our people/teams.

Most of us, at one time or another, have worked on teams that have done some amazing things resulting in eye-popping results. Even when the results came from levels of effort that seemed to border on the superhuman, managers often respond with indifference or, worse yet, telling the team that level of commitment was expected, and success was anticipated. After all, they might say, we paid for those results. 

Certainly, no one can routinely deliver superhuman effort; therefore, when people/teams do something truly awesome and noteworthy, one of management’s principal responsibilities is to ensure it is appropriately recognized and valued by the organization. 

The way to ensure significant efforts do not go unnoticed is to be proactive by following a few simple guidelines. As project leaders or working singularly on a significant project, we do not have to rely on our management to make things happen. We can take steps to ensure efforts are properly rewarded.

  • Always begin by asking, “How do I ensure my people/team receives the appropriate recognition and support they deserve commensurate for the work they have done, the effort they expended, and the results they have achieved?” This question should be the catalyst to ensure positive results do not go unnoticed and establishes a workplace atmosphere of rewarding appropriate behaviors.
  • Establishing the above puts us in the initial planning stage of a team’s project. Make sure that everyone who has a stake in the project is on board. Also, make sure the wants, needs, and desires of everyone are considered. Of course, when people are working through their project, make sure their efforts and results are clearly communicated to all the project sponsors.
  • It is advisable to take stakeholders on a pre-event tour so that they will have context for the improvements they will experience. Find out sponsor availability and schedule around them to ensure they can support you fully. Decide very early on what the deliverables for the project are going to be and how they will be “packaged.”
  • Avoid the common failure mode of inviting your audience once and assuming everyone will show up. Invite your attendees early and often. Make sure to tell them early in the project how important their support means. If your team has regular reviews, make sure to reinforce this fact. At the pre-event tour (sometimes requiring multiple tours with small audiences) it is good to restate the importance and then do a multi-media follow-up. Face-to-face, e-mail, phone calls, and getting the team’s report out on the list of staff (management) meeting agenda items are all effective ways to reach the management team multiple times. Do not become a pest, but make sure management sponsors know how important this effort is and what they can expect to see and hear at the report-out session.
  • Spend time coaching the management team on their role in the report-out session. Do not assume that when they see or hear the results they are going to be amazed! The key is to understand how each invitee typically responds and develop a plan to tailor the report-out with them in mind. It is a good idea, if possible, to arrange a photo op with the invitees for publication. Often, invitees are looking at the project team’s accomplishments in the light of everything else that is going on in the workplace, and without insight they are going to provide their typical response to something that you know to be “above and beyond.” NEVER assume people know what you know to be true.
  • Make certain invitees know that they will be expected to comment appropriately on the team’s results and its influence on the “bigger picture.” It is sad to say that, even in this enlightened time, not everyone is focused on team building and development of people. It is helpful to be aware of what is going on your sponsor’s area of responsibility so that you can help them put your team’s challenges, efforts, and results in the proper context.
  • If you plan well and coach the management team, things should turn out reasonably well; however, if, despite your best effort, things do not turn out the way you had hoped, be sure to have a plan prepared plan so you know how to react. Most importantly, keep your emotions in check! Use the situation as a learning opportunity for everyone involved. Thinking this through ahead of time can make all the difference.

Bottom line, to avoid disappointment and to ensure recognition, plan and strategize the encouragement and acknowledgement of your people/team’s success like any other project. In doing so you will make certain your people are rarely if ever faced with a significant displeasure. It is our responsibility as leaders to protect our team members and help them achieve their full potential, which is facilitated by ensuring recognition of their hard work.