An executive coaching client recently shared a project planning document with me. I was interested to note the second-to-last deliverable on her timeline. It read "recognize top contributors."
My first question was "what about all the other contributors?" But a more important question would be "why doesn't this appear in multiple places throughout the timeline that covers six months' work?"
My client, like so many leaders, gets credit for being deliberate and planning a time of recognition and celebration. Like so many leaders, my client also needed a reminder that recognition serves many purposes.
Recognition should be more than a compulsory "thank you" that concludes a period of sustained focus. When we withhold encouragement, praise, appreciation, rewards and accolades until we reach the finish line, we lose the most potent impacts of recognition.
At the onset of a project, recognizing the talents of those selected to be a part of the project is critical. As the work proceeds, encouragement and praise teaches others which behaviors and incremental results we would like to reinforce and see repeated.
When obstacles get in the way and work slows down, rewarding innovation and creative problem-solving breathes new life into the project.
For those who are not the most visible contributors, noticing that their work supports the group effort is also important. Some in the background are taking on the usual work of those on the project team. Their work, too, should be acknowledged.
This is not to say that recognition should be doled out so liberally that it becomes meaningless or trite. Rather, leaders must make an effort to pay attention and notice the myriad ways various people are contributing. All recognition and encouragement should be specific and meaningful.
Lest you think you are overdoing it, just remember that no one has ever complained about receiving too much praise and encouragement. You have a long way to go before you will reach the saturation point.
Numerous studies, including those of Gottman and of Rath/Clifton, suggest that the positive-to-negative ratio for feedback should be a minimum of 3 to 1. What this means is that people need three positive pieces of feedback for every one piece of feedback from you that is potentially perceived as negative (call it constructive, developmental or whatever… Others consider it to be negative).
As a leader, you need to get so comfortable with encouraging others that it comes naturally. While there's nothing wrong with formally putting recognition into the project plan, don't let the big celebrations become one-and-done substitutes for the most meaningful encouragements that come in the moment on a day-to-day basis.
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