Recognition is defined as “an action of recognizing” or “special notice or attention”. The piece of the definition that speaks to “special notice” is where I’m going with this. When something is special it isn’t the same ol’same. It is uniquely different and out of the ordinary. When you tell a child that you have a “special” surprise for them for behaving well –there is an underlying perception by that child that they are about to receive something better than anything they have ever received. That underlying perception is what makes the recognition of their good behavior gratifying. Conversely, if that same child comes to know that the “special” surprise is synonymous with the same reward every time they behave well-the reward then becomes trite and meaningless. There is no sense of anticipation or excitement -it is simply ordinary.


The point here is recognition as we know it in HR is something small, something grand and sometimes a little of both. It is a means of letting our employees know that we value their contributions. Recognition with the best of intentions is sometimes overdone. There are things that we expect of our employees on a routine basis and that should never go unnoticed. However, constant awards, long drawn out speeches of praise and all other incentives overdone make routine seem extraordinary. That is to say, routine duties become extraordinary by way of the recognition. The routine and mundane every day responsibilities haven’t changed, but because a reward is attached to it somehow screams “I am awesome”. Let’s be real there are some things that we just expect from employees and that is the common denominator. The extraordinary work is where our employees take that common denominator and exponentially produce great outcomes. The areas where our employees do the routine stuff coupled with the “above and beyond” work are where real recognition has a place. Too often I have seen leaders praise for every project, every task, every breath, and even for an employee getting up in the morning and coming to work on time as they should. Don’t get me wrong-notice it. Recognize it from time to time, but for God’s sake focus your recognition efforts on the extraordinary not the ordinary.


Recognition becomes banal, meaningless, and a hoax when you constantly laud and praise employees for basics. It leaves a lot to be desired. There is no excitement in the “special” aspect of recognition; employees just come to expect something.  This in turn will keep ordinary workers ordinary and extraordinary workers bored and thinking you run around spreading recognition haphazardly.


I implore leaders to think about what you reward and punish and the frequency with which you do them both. As with anything in life, balance is an exercise of discretion. Discretion will let your employees know that you are serious about recognition and their efforts.

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