Lifting up Teams through Recognition

5 min. read

Don't overlook anyone when it comes time to celebrate achievements

Recognition is a powerful tool for workplace good. A well-designed recognition program can help drive an 11.1% increase in average employee performance. Employee productivity, performance, and engagement are 14% higher in organizations with recognition programs than in those without them. Just so we are on the same page, when we talk about "recognition," we mean "acknowledging a person or group of people for efforts or achievements that support their organization."

Consulting firm Korn Ferry describes recognition as a potent "low-cost, high impact" method to improve employee engagement. Notably, Korn Ferry calls out that "employee recognition needs to be done at all levels of the organization." Giving employee recognition uniformly—at all levels and in all areas—is a critical and often-overlooked aspect of this practice.

In many companies, you are more likely to see open recognition of employee and team achievements in some areas than others. Sales departments in the United States have long had a culture where leaders recognize excellent performance, which fits well with typical incentive and commission programs. It's also common to see upper leadership give praise and affirmation to middle leaders when their teams do well and achieve goals. Long-tenured employees are also more often called out and rewarded for recognition.

Outside of these, it is somewhat less common to see leaders recognizing teams and individuals for getting things done or for going above-and-beyond. Some teams are especially vulnerable to being passed over altogether:

  • Customer support teams and other front-facing workers are extremely busy with their work, and they may not have performance measurements that are easily to translate into a celebratory announcement. These teams typically have the highest turnover, and their managers are often swamped with helping their teams get through the daily work.

  • Technicians, delivery teams, and field workers are similarly in danger of being missed. They generally work away from most others in their company and they are typically alone when in contact with customers.

  • Support and administrative staff work behind the scenes by nature. It's harder to see their important impacts on overall company performance, and they are rarely given a platform to share publicly about what they do.

When teams and departments fall into the cracks and miss out on recognition, the negative impact can be significant. It leads to these people feeling less valued, less heard, and less cared about. This does damage to the key drivers of employee happiness and engagement, and it can drop performance and spike turnover in areas where we can least afford it.

Let's see what we can do about it:

  • Find the employees who most need recognition. Use employee surveys and feedback to determine the areas where people are at risk of feeling unrecognized and undervalued. Circle up with their leaders and get agreement that the affected employees need and deserve recognition.

  • Get everyone in the loop for recognition. Make sure the affected employees are connected to the venues where they will be recognized. They should be present at live or remote meetings where they are being recognized, and they should be recipients of emails or instant messages you are sending out. For live meetings, find a time that is good for everyone to attend.

  • Ask employees what type of recognition is comfortable for them. Employees may enjoy personal and individual recognition, but not always in front of a crowd. When recognizing individuals, leaders should ask employees if they are okay being recognized publicly. If not, give them their recognition in a one-on-one.

  • Be clear and specific when describing what you are recognizing. Don't just say a team had a great week or beat its goals. Identify one or more things they actually did, using measurements and terminology that everyone in attendance can understand. Keep in mind this means not using unfamiliar words or acronyms. For example, do not say, "this team beat KPIs in CP and C-sat." Instead say, "this team fixed twice as many customer problems as they did last year, and 25% more customers said they were satisfied with the help they got."

  • When communicating your message of recognition, tie it to your company's purpose. Say what the team did to advance the core purpose and values of your company and say why. For example, say "this team advanced our company purpose of bringing joy to software users. They helped more users get their software working and had made sure they had a great experience talking with support. That's going to bring joy."

In addition to the list above, remember that you can conduct regular, personal recognition through email, personal notes, or a quick call. If you are using a system of daily or weekly reports, leaders can reply to staff reports with recognition and encouragement when they see successes The reply can be as simple as, "I see you are ahead of schedule on your current project. We're so proud of the work your team is doing!"

Amazing Workplace can survey your organization and reveal the areas where employees feel unrecognized. That's only one of the 25 happiness drivers we analyze to help you build your own amazing workplace. If you're ready to join our employee happiness mission, start here or email us at