The old 'Employee of the Month' award. You'll nearly always find a plaque at a fast-food chain with 3 of the 20 spots filled, with the last Employee-of-the-Month award having been awarded 16 months ago.
At some point, a well-meaning manager decided it'd be great to recognize an employee once a month, something special to say thanks for everyone's hard work. But after only 3 times around that manager became too busy or was replaced by someone else. Now the plaque hangs there, an awkward reminder of how recognition can't just be nailed to a wall.
Yet still, managers around the world think that "recognition" is something that can be done once a month/quarter and that all it involves is picking out the person that has "worked the hardest". When giving the recognition, you often hear them say to an audience of rolling eyes, "It was really hard to pick just one person".
Yes, it's true that recognizing just one person from a team of many is really hard. And it's really hard for a reason: a good team isn't just one person. To get really big work done, you can't be on your own. To narrow down a week's/month's worth of work to a single person is to cheapen everything that went in to that effort from all the individuals that contributed.
Of course it's hard to pick one person when an entire team contributes to the success of something. A tech lead is no good if he has no one contributing. They can work as hard as they know how, but no real progress will be made if they don't have a cohesive, hard-working team around them.
This leads to the fact that to be recognized as someone who's gotten something done, you have to be around others who get things done. Recognition should go out to everyone, not just the person who worked in the most visible way.
Just why are we even trying to narrow it down to a single person? Why are we doing this recognition in the first place?
I'm not saying recognition shouldn't be given; that's definitely a huge aspect in career motivation. People want to be recognized for the hard work they're doing and as management, you should recognize your employees. Not for the sake of saying that you've recognized them, but to show them that you are paying attention to what they're doing, to show thanks for the work being done and to encourage them to keep pushing forward.
The truth is, recognition should be difficult. It should require a knowledge of what that person is doing and why it's important they're doing it. Most of all, it should mean something to the person being recognized.
If you really want to say thanks for working hard, work hard to say thanks. Make sure that 'recognition' isn't just something that you do once a month. Make sure that there's a real purpose behind it and that what you're doing to recognize people is actually accomplishing that.
A small gift card and mention during a meeting may not be adequate recognition for someone who has worked four straight weekends to support a team, and saying thanks to a single person may not be a good way to recognize and entire team's worth of effort.
Take the time to provide worthwhile recognition. It'll mean so much more than a silly plaque on a wall.
Enjoy this content? Check out my upcoming book, The Non-Conformist Leader.