Press

The Power of Praise

Saturday Spark #15

By Susan Hunt Stevens, Founder & CEO

At a holiday dinner several years ago, the WeSpirit team decided to give every team member an award. It had been a challenging year, with an unexpected hurdle that required tough decisions and rallying together to make it. The award was a simple paper certificate and in fancy script, it stated something that stood out about the person that year. Some of them were funny, like the Mary Poppins award to our Interim COO. Some acknowledged a big project completed or highlighted a particular success. When it came to my turn, the tone got slightly more serious as they explained why I was being given the “Captain Sully Award” for steering us through a situation that could have crashed many start-ups. Candidly, a few tears were shed. To this day, I’m prouder of that recognition, from my own team, than any other external award or recognition we’ve earned.


Recognition is an incredibly powerful motivator at work, at all levels. The Harvard Business Review has cited “recognition given for high performance” as the most impactful driver of employee engagement and The Aberdeen Group has found the No. 1 way best-in-class organizations improve employee engagement is through employee-recognition programs.

Yet despite how powerful it is, WeSpire’s own State of Employee Engagement research has found that most people don’t rate their organizations very high for recognition. When asked about frequency of recognition, 53% of employees gave a rating lower than 5 on a scale of 0-10, and 17% gave a rating of one or below. We also found that women reported receiving less recognition than men by 6 percentage points.

Recognition doesn’t need to just be formal quarterly, monthly or annual awards. It can be a moment at a team meeting where you pause to enable people to recognize someone. I attended a conference that had little pockets on the wall and people would put in notes of appreciation, called Sugar Cubes. The rising prominence of social recognition and rewards platforms, like Achievers (full disclosure: a favorite WeSpire partner), also simplifies frequent manager and peer to peer recognition. The benefit of a technology platform is you can see who is getting recognized, and who isn’t. Is there gender, racial or age bias in recognition?  Is one team really good at it and another just isn’t?

Research into JetBlue’s social recognition program found that for every 10% increase in people being recognized, they saw a 3% increase in retention and a 2% increase in engagement. They also saw that engaged crew members were three times more likely to “wow” their customers and twice as likely to be in the top 10% of net compliments reported by customers. Thus, according to the research, “recognition is not just an issue of employee retention; it also has an impact upon customer satisfaction and loyalty as well”.

When was the last time you recognized somebody, either formally or informally? I will be the first to admit that I could improve on this front. Taking time to recognize and appreciate people is a leadership habit, like many others, that you just need to build into your day or it can easily get lost in the shuffle.

So if your answer to the “last time” question was anything other than yesterday, hit the “compose” button on your email right now and send a note to someone who went above and beyond. Include a cc their boss or some of their colleagues. If you have a recognition platform or feature, go use it.

Then figure out how you are going to make giving recognition a habit. Add a reminder to your calendar. Set a daily alarm. Even a sticky note on your computer works as a nudge to identify someone that deserves recognition. In the process, you make someone’s day a little brighter and your organization just a little stronger.

Quote of the Week: “
Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.” – Sam Walton, founder of Walmart

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What is Saturday Spark:
As the leader of a purpose-driven company, I’m challenged daily to ensure our company is “walking the walk” and that I’m personally leading with purpose and impact at the forefront. The result is that I read, think, and learn a lot about the intersection of purpose, impact and leadership and have a few successes and a lot more “lessons learned.” I realized that my own insights may be helpful to other purpose-driven professionals if I took the time to reflect each week. If you find this inspiring, practical or helpful, I’d be honored if you shared it with your colleagues, your families and your friends.
Read Previous Week’s Spark: Leading with a 10 Year Clock

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