Smart Strategies: Appreciation vs. Recognition
It’s a safe bet to say we are all different.
We all have different communication styles, ways of thinking and making decisions, and individual motivations. Why should the way we go about showing appreciation be any different? I intentionally used the word appreciation versus recognition because there’s a big difference and impact between the two approaches.
Recognition is the act of being rewarded for a specific behavior we would like to see repeated. Often, the focus is on performance, and our intended outcome is that rewarding will cause the behavior to repeat. This is true, up to a point.
The unintended long-range outcomes of recognition are demotivators because comparing degrades trust:
- Judging others to be either more or less fortunate than us
- Experiencing distress from being a point of comparison
- Outperformers may want to protect their relationship with their peers versus achieving goals
In short, when we compare, someone will lose.
Appreciation is the act of valuing and being seen a whole person (both professionally and personally). Remarkably, tailoring our appreciation methods has long-term outcomes:
- Building a teamwork environment
- Improving organizational loyalty
- Encouraging self-competition — an employee’s focus on his or her individual accomplishments and what steps could be taken to arrive at their future.
Appreciation unites the bifurcated mindset of being human in the workplace.
Language of Appreciation
In the book The Five Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, there are five distinct languages of expressing appreciation in the workplace. Some will seem obvious and others perhaps conflicting. Read through the list, and we’ll recap next steps at the end.
- Words of Affirmation is the most common. To be effective, this form of verbal praise needs to be specific — meeting a sales goal, finishing a project on time or something less concrete like personality or character traits — willingness to ask the tough questions, having a positive attitude. Take into consideration, too, how to deliver the verbal praise. Would the individual prefer a public shout out? A handwritten note? A private conversation? Remember – be specific and tailor to when they would be receptive to the verbal praise.
- Quality Time is giving your focused attention to someone. Having a quality conversation means practicing a discerning approach and listening for what is really wanted. Some individuals may want to discuss their professional goals and then hear more from their leader. Others may seek a safe environment to voice their successes and frustrations. Bring your best listening skills to the conversation and sincere curiosity to understand what they are wanting at that moment.
- Acts of Service is being of service to others and could be articulated as ‘actions speak louder than words’ or ‘don’t tell me, show me your appreciation.’ These are the folks that are motivated by doing for others and feel appreciated when things are done for them. This could be accomplished by asking questions like: What could I do to make your work easier? What can I do to be of help on the project? Or simply, How can I help?
- Tangible Gifts is the giving of the right gift. I emphasize “right” because this means meaningful thought was taken to select something specific for someone. Many organizations use this method of recognition. Take the time to tailor the gift from general to specific.
- Physical Touch is the simple act of human contact. The thought of expressing appreciation with physical touch can seem conflicting with the #metoo and #timesup social movements. This workplace appreciation language could be simply a handshake, high five or fist bump coupled with specific words on why you’re showing appreciation.
All the languages warrant mutual consent and commitment to learning more about what an individual’s specific views and preferences are.
Before taking action and implementing any languages of appreciation, take the time to observe and evaluate the current situation.
- What are current the dynamics between you and each individual team member? And between the team members themselves? What do you notice?
- What clues and information could you infer from past or current recognition programs? How is the current program working? Not working? What could be improved upon? What is the participation level?
- What are the people saying? What is being asked for? From their point of view, what’s missing?
If what you discover informs that a shift may be worth exploring, put your research hat on! Start small and ask those in your immediate team, “How do you know you’re valued at work?”
Listen — get curious to better understand what is important to them, and take notes. Build on this knowledge by slowly adding in more people to ask the same questions. Ultimately, you will have a base of qualitative data, and themes will emerge to inform how to move forward.