Article: Masterclass in Recognition and Appreciation


Masterclass in Recognition and Appreciation

David Sturt from O.C. Tanner talks about Recognition and Appreciation.
Masterclass in Recognition and Appreciation

All over the world, beautiful, majestic and aesthetic monuments have become important tourist landmarks. While people marvel and admire historical monuments and buildings, and tour guides explain the significance of the monument, in my opinion, if somebody went through the effort of putting in time, money, effort and labour in building something extraordinary, it boils down a single emotion and feeling – the feeling of respect, appreciating and recognising someone or something that is deeply loved. The Taj Mahal in India is an ode to an incredible woman, the Arc de Triomphe commemorates those who sacrificed their lives in war, and the Washington Monument honours George Washington. Similarly every street name, every building named after somebody or every honorary statue installed is an example that reflects appreciation for what people have done. This concept of recognizing somebody’s achievements, and appreciating them is as old as history. Valuing and appreciating greatness is a big part of our world today as well, and that’s why multiple award ceremonies in the entertainment sector happen this time of the year to recognize those who have done extraordinary work in the last year.

Recognition and Appreciation in Workplace

 It would be safe to assume that a culture of appreciation and recognition is deeply rooted in our society, and is a fundamental concept that humans relate to. Why is then recognition and appreciation not an integral part of the business world? The culture of recognition somehow ended up as a peripheral concept in the workplace – an afterthought of sort. Today, we are talking about change and building resilient organisations, and witnessing a rapid growth that is proving to propel certain companies ahead and also posing challenges. Our surveys indicate that almost a third of the global workforce is experience some form of turbulence or disruption today, and is, as a result talking a lot about change. Leaders have to work towards understanding these changes, and ensuring that things remain calm, as they engage and invest in helping people move forward and help accomplish them great things. They need to be mindful of this cultural foundation, especially in HR, when they develop people strategies, build resilience and agility, and handle the turbulence which has already set in. 

If history has taught us anything, it is that change is inevitable, but the pace of change this time around, coupled with complex linkages in global markets, means that people strategies need to work to make this transition smoother and foster a sense of well being in times of uncertainty. From the lens of an employee, there are certain ‘talent magnets’ that attract employees, keeps them engaged and help in retaining them. Factors like opportunity, purpose, and appreciation of success, alongside several others are essential to help people build thriving careers. Our research shows that regardless of culture, recognition is directly related to innovation and success. Places where innovation and success is repeatedly recognised, innovation is 5.3 times more likely to take place. So this much is clear that a healthy work environment needs to value, celebrate and cherish innovation. But how do you inculcate innovation in culture, how do you fuel it and sustain it?

Building a Culture of Innovation

One of the most ignored factors that is important for active expression of appreciation is to do it continually, regardless of the result. What’s more, being recognised in the last 30 days ups your perception of well-being by almost 50%. As a result, this extra creative energy that is available in individuals can be harnessed, because they have a sense of being on track, and a shared sense of confidence regarding where they are trying to go.

 Recognition, and its influence, has been critically studied and from every perspective; employee engagement is stronger in regions where recognition is visible, regular and effective. People who are valued and recognised for the great work they bring to the table often feel more in control and powerful, but the key is to understand that generic, off-the-counter appreciation doesn’t work. You have to put in sincerity while thanking someone, and allow them to flourish in that, and let the cycle repeat itself. 

The Misdirected Effort in Engagement

Oftentimes, engagement scores, and what they measure, are reduced to being an end, and not a means to an end. Engagement simply means the presence of a desire to apply extra discretionary effort; a willingness to walk the extra mile, even when no one is watching. So to assume that an engaged employee means a high performing employee is a folly, because you also need to measure what they are engaged in, and to what end? Are you able to provide them with an opportunity to turn that willingness to action? Or are you focussing too much on measuring if the willingness exists at all? Engagement is not a state of being, and hence you need to find something for your employees to be engaged in. 

The difference between good work and great work is pretty simple: the former is about meeting expectations, while the latter is about exceeding expectations. Where we disagree with Jim Collins is that ‘good’ is the enemy of ‘great,’ because good work is the foundation of great work, and doing good work means accomplishing 80% of great work. This extra value addition that distinguishes great work is the life and blood that drives people, their careers, teams, and organizations. Interestingly, over time, great work is reduced to good work, because expectations are not static, and as a result, merely good work becomes unacceptable. The irony is that most processes that we have today, and that were founded in the last few decades, are aimed at ensuring ‘good.’ That is what we need to help change, to ensure that people don’t just comply, but work in a manner that differentiates, adds value and improves processes. We need to be more mindful, and shift the focus of management from compliance and ensuring ‘good work’ towards value creation, and finding new ways to do ‘great work.’ 

How do you recognize great work?

The loudest thing you can do when someone goes above and beyond to deliver great results is say nothing. That simply sends a message that digging into one’s heels and exceeding expectations isn’t valued, or worse, isn’t even noticed. To foster a mindset that values innovation and great work, you need an integral, hands-on, integrated and inclusive program that isn’t run from the sidelines and above all, is a strategic reinforcement of your core values. Some of the organizations that O.C. Tanner has worked with have mastered this concept. Virgin Trains, for example, saw a business opportunity and created a value-driven culture for its employees to make the most of that opportunity. The motto for their employees is ‘Screw Average, Create Amazing,’ and incorporated defining elements like giving a damn, shaking it up, fun, innovation, boldness, quirky, and spontaneity to it, and sought to define those elements in specific settings. 

This served as a cultural guide for all the employees and helped them created a differentiated and unique product with matchless services on offer. And it was these values that were recognized in meetings and huddles and appreciated, which drives home the point – align your strategy with the things that are most important to you. When people come up with new ideas and innovate and deliver more than expected from them, they are giving a gift to you and the organization, a gift you need to encourage by appreciating it. At Virgin Trains, direct communication with the top leadership, and a connection that reiterated all these values played an important role in solidifying the culture that the leaders were aiming for. Dow Chemicals, another organization that saw tremendous success with the ‘Accelerate Great’ program, really highlighted and honored the people who did something extraordinary. 

Best Recognition Practices and Strategy:

  • Encouraging effort: Do you hold your applause until the end of sports game? No, right. You cheer on the teams and players, even as they are on the ground, fighting it out. Do the same in business! People need that praise of effort to do small things along the way. Encourage camaraderie and share efforts and results with everyone.

  • Rewarding results: If innovating pays off, make sure you celebrate it and encourage it – to ensure that it serves as a reminder for others realize their potential.

  • Celebrating careers: Don’t celebrate calendar years, celebrate the achievements and progress made during that time. Celebrate careers and their journeys, as opposed to celebrating yearly milestones.

  • Make recognition public: Recognition has a powerful multiple effect. It accords value to the giver, receiver, and observer and encourages everybody to do great work.

  • Make recognition frequent and timely: Timing is of the essence. Do not wait until year-end reviews to shower praise, and certainly do not conduct public recognition only once a year. Make them frequent enough to be coveted, and make them timely to be relevant.

  • Make it inclusive: Ensure everyone gets a chance to participate, and the process is as objective as possible.

  • Performance-based: Performance should be at the center, and the only metric to measure the value generated.

Finally, how do you recognize someone in a manner which makes them feel valued? To help you memorize, an acronym to the word SAIL is as follows:

S – Situation; talk about the situation and the context which provided an opportunity for an individual to do great work.

A – Action; describe the action taken by a person, giving specific details. Do not skip the details and be mechanical.

I – Impact; describe the impact and difference made because of the action that was taken. In other words, talk about how great the work was.

L – Link; link it back to what the company stands for, and talk about the core values.

This is an easy way to make recognition and appreciation easy, effective and sincere.

Sound recognition and appreciation practices can fuel great work in an organization, and once people realize that they are making a difference, they will rally around to celebrate that greatness. If you build a culture where greatness is valued, you become unstoppable as a culture, and an organization and people will want to contribute to your journey and growth. 


(This article is based on the session “Masterclass in Recognition and Appreciation delivered by David Sturt, EVP, O.C. Tanner)

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Topics: Culture, Employee Engagement

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