Principles of Team Recognition in Operations

Recently our VP of Marketing and I were discussing the holidays, and how to properly recognize each team member during this time of thanks giving. I wanted to share a few of the questions and answers we discussed, because this is an often overlooked aspect of business operations: just because you have recognition procedures in place for your team does not mean you are recognizing your team members the way they want to be recognized.

How do you know how team members want to be recognized?

Everyone has a different way that they want to be recognized. It is important to get to know your team. Talk to them, ask them questions, and most importantly, build relationships with them. Some appreciate open recognition amongst the team, while others are more comfortable being recognized privately. The more you get to know them, the easier it is to understand them and to understand what motivates them. Some people are motivated monetarily, while others prefer thoughtful, handwritten cards—it’s your job to find out who wants what.

You never want someone to be discouraged by how they are recognized. Once you get to know your team, it is easier to know the most effective way to recognized them and keep them motivated.

Once you know their preferred recognition style, how do you recognize each type of team member?

The Attention Lovers


We all have individuals on the team who love the limelight—these are the ones who are driven by recognition in meetings and openly within their peer groups. As leaders, we must be aware that when these individuals are not openly recognized it can have a negative effect on those individuals and their performance. They tend to voice concerns, and are often mislabeled as non-effective team players. A simple “kudos” for their hard work in a morning team member meeting is a great way to start the day!

The Attention Shy


Others tend to be more loyal when they are recognized in private conversation or even with a simple handwritten card. These individuals who have an appreciation for quiet thanks are the ones who often go unrecognized. They tend not to make a fuss over themselves, and will often not give themselves enough credit, even though they know they have excelled or have done an excellent job.

I can recall on individual in my career who took me completely by surprise who fit into this category. In this case, I had given him a card and rewarded him for his performance. It was at the end of the work day, and I had handed him the note on his way out. As I continued to pack up my belongings, I was surprised to discover that he had read the card before leaving the parking lot and came back in to give me a bear hug! It was such a great feeling to know how that simple gesture had made such an impact. It is for reasons like this that knowing your team’s recognition style is so important, because this same person would not have responded as positively to public recognition.

How can you evaluate if team recognition translates into better performance?

The bottom line is this—your team did the work, not you. To not give your team the recognition is an injustice to you, your team, and ultimately your clients. I had a mentor guide me to understand the importance of how you speak to your team, as well as how you recognize your team, because it will greatly effect their performance. She was right!

In my early years as a new manager I was just a manager and not a leader. I told my team what to do, and wasn’t very good at teaching or empowering them to do their best. Needless to say, the performance of my team greatly affected how we performed in our day-to-day operations, as well as how our customers were treated. My worst day was watching one of my team members come to tears, because all she wanted to do was her best and I had not recognized that.

It was when I realized that I needed to lead my team by example, and also develop and recognize them, that I finally reached success in my career. It is a tough lesson to learn, but to be a great leader you must be humble and understand how to build relationships with your team. It was such a rewarding feeling when I received a call from a previous team member recently who said, “It is so important for me to coach and recognize my team the way you did with us, because they deserve to hear the positive feedback!”

At SGEi, we know that whether you think you have a company culture or not, you do (you’re just not managing it). Thomas Martin, our VP of Culture & Learning wrote a great blog on this topic, so I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say that your team wants your direction and role modeling so that they know how to adhere to your example of the company’s culture. By giving constant, informal feedback about great performance you affirm that this is in fact the behavior you want from your team members.

How do you make recognition a priority, even during times of low morale?


Everyone has busy times and every business goes through tough situations. These are the most important times to recognize your team for their work and their dedication. Being busy is not an excuse to not give back to your team; in fact, it is quite the opposite. This is best time to buy your team coffee at your morning meeting, or to have lunch delivered. When people are busy, this simple gesture can go a long a way. The same goes for tough times. Keep your communications with your team transparent. Be honest, because your team will appreciate you and your company more. Lastly, don’t forget to recognize your team for their loyalties and dedication in whichever way that speaks to their hearts.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to refresh your recognition policy and ensure it addresses the different styles of recipients. While not everyone likes a round of applause lead by the President in a team meeting, everyone likes some form of recognition, and it’s your job to find out what works for each person.

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