Want employee engagement? Start recognizing small things


Employee engagement is an urgent matter. Recognition offers a quick fix.

Before inflicting major change initiatives, why not simply recognize and reinforce examples of where you want to head? Recognition provides an easy to implement and low-cost way to engage employees and shift your culture towards new values.


Recognition provides a low-cost way to engage employees and shift your culture towards new values


As Rachel O’Connor of the global management consultancy Hay Group observes, “When done well, recognition is a form of feedback that tells us we are doing something that is contributing to the organization’s success. Recognition communicates messages about the contributions that are expected and valued by the organization. From this perspective, recognition is a key tool for aligning employees with team and organizational goals.”


Recognition is a form of feedback that tells us we are doing something that is contributing to the organization’s success


The trick is to turn recognition from a program initiative into a leadership initiative. According to Rachel, “Recognition should not be considered just a warm-and-fuzzy HR initiative. For recognition to be truly effective, it must be ingrained in an organization’s culture.” Coach your leadership team to deliver specific recognition in real time. Often.

Spontaneous recognition of small but specific things is very powerful. Rather than vaguely patting someone on the back for working hard this month, observe something specific they are doing right now that examples your value and culture. Being specific is what makes it genuine and meaningful. Bonus points if you can tie in how it aligns with where your company is heading.


Spontaneous recognition of small but specific things is very powerful


According to a Hay Group survey, only 57% of employees report that their contributions are recognized when they perform well. Leaders often get hung up with concerns over recognizing individuals over teams, forcing them into less frequent and less specific pattern of recognition. Recognizing smaller things more frequently solves this, as you spot various team members making specific contributions in their own way. Bonus points if you can tie these specific recognitions into the overall quest of the team.


Leaders often get hung up with concerns over recognizing individuals over teams


Interestingly, it is often leaders that are the most hesitant to invest in recognition. As we have rolled the Jostle Shout-Out (a simple mechanism to recognize people and teams) into organizations almost always peer-to-peer recognition breaks out well in advance of leadership participation. Coaching your leadership team through this can be a quick win.

Recognition fills a basic human need, making it easy to stimulate. It is contagious and can quickly become an important part of your organization’s culture. Leading by example is key to making it happen. Leadership teams that take the time to recognize small contributions daily, and tie them to the values and direction of the company, can quickly create a culture of recognition deep in their organization, providing a powerful way to shift your culture and reinforce important values.


Graphic by Morgan Bartlett

As the CEO and co-founder of Jostle, Brad has more than 30 years of experience leading multidisciplinary teams and driving the commercialization of technology businesses. Prior to starting Jostle, Brad provided overall leadership to OMNEX Controls where he improved strategy, process, and leadership to quickly transform the company. Brad also worked at Kodak, where he successfully consolidated 15 teams from three companies into a unified worldwide operation. Earlier, he founded ThermicEdge Corporation and built it into a public company that custom manufactured high-performance components for the electronics industry. Brad’s rich operational experience with private, public and governmental organizations, which spans a wide range of cultures, industries and business models, played a key role in defining the underlying need for, and the unique design of Jostle. Brad holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemical Physics from SFU.

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  • Excellent article and I couldn’t agree more!

    In fact, I recently resigned a position due to burnout and one of the causes of my burnout was lack of recognition, which is, as you pointed out, essential to employee engagement, motivation, and alignment of employee goals with organizational goals.

    During a time of change within the organization I often felt like I was spinning my wheels, trying to get a handle on new reporting requirements and working with new management without sufficient guidance or feedback to determine if my work was useful to my organization. I consistently performed to the best of my ability but without positive feedback my engagement waned and I ultimately left the company because I was exhausted and didn’t see a place for myself in the organization.

    Thanks for sharing this important tip for improving employee engagement!


  • As a Jostle user, I can confirm that Brad is exactly right when he says “peer to peer recognition breaks out faster”. It truly does… which puts the egg on my face slightly, as someone sitting in the leadership camp. Great article!

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