You Asked: Answering Your Questions about The Power of Thanks (Part 1)

by Derek Irvine

Cover of Power of Thanks BookRecognize This! – Social recognition is a very powerful means of creating and managing culture, when structured in a considered, thoughtful way.

Last week, Eric Mosley and I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar about our new book, The Power of Thanks. (Download a recording of the webinar.) The webinar, led by Laurie Ruettimann, was a very enjoyable experience with terrific questions from attendees. As is always the case, we ran out of time before we were able to address all of the questions. I’ll do my best to answer them here, often pointing to prior blog posts on similar topics. Due to the number of questions, I’ll be breaking this into two posts, with the second to appear on Monday.

Q1: A company maintains its most valued assets not by compensation, but by appreciation?

There’s no question that fair compensation matters. Employees need to satisfy their base requirements for safety, security, food, etc. But once those needs are met, additional compensation doesn’t necessarily lead to the higher orders of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for self-esteem and self-actualization. Maintaining your most valued assets requires an appropriate blend of both compensation and recognition. Read more on the topic on Compensation Café: “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Is More Fluid than You Think.”

Q2: Are there specific rules for employee appreciation?

There are. First and foremost, recognition should be specific. A casual, “thanks for all you do” is often received as insincere and ultimately meaningless. (Recipients of such a comment often think, “Do you even know what I do?”) This is easily resolved by taking a few minutes to add a couple more well thought-out sentences around how the person’s contributions helped you. To summarize the rules for effective recognition: Timely, Personal, Specific, Meaningful and Frequent. This post highlights each of these elements in more detail: “Top 5 Ways to Say Thanks.”

(This question is similar to another one asked: “I have found that giving thanks *is* very powerful, but it can come across as insincere sometimes — even if it isn’t. How can leaders keep the thanks ‘real?’” The answer above applies here, too.)

Q3: Can you give a concrete examples of a good example of a best practice social recognition?

At it’s heart, social recognition requires the involvement of the broad community – both passively and actively. Passive involvement means sharing recognition given and moments of goodwill so others can pile on with their own messages of congratulations (think newsfeed similar to Facebook but secure within your company and organized to show you the people you know best in addition to regular communications on goodwill given). Active involvement means opening the opportunity to give personal, meaningful recognition to everyone. Peer-to-peer recognition is as important as manager-to-employee. Often the people we work with every day see and understand the value of our contributions better than those who may manage us from a distance. Frequent recognition is also an important component as anytime a person demonstrates a desired behavior, he or she should be recognized for doing so. As to what constitutes a good message of appreciation, I’ll defer to this post: “5 Must-Haves for a Meaningful Message of Appreciation.”

Q4: Eric is talking about “blanketing your company in positivity and good will.” Can he provide more specifics?

This topic is largely all about not limiting the opportunity to share positivity in a formal way to any particular group. Too often, we say managers are responsible for this, but really all employees hold responsibility for creating and sustain a culture of recognition built on daily moments of positivity and goodwill. These two posts offer additional color: “Creating a Contagion of Positivity in the Workplace” and “The Power of Positivity at Work.”

Q5: Do you ever notice a lack of appreciation or an expectation from employees with rewards like service rewards? How do you address these situations or revamp the program to make it eagerly anticipated?

Ah, long service or years of service awards. As traditionally implemented, these types of awards add little value as they tend to be an exclusive experience between the manager and employee (at best). However, when you make the anniversary award achievement an inclusive experience, inviting stories and sharing from the recipient’s friends and colleagues, the anniversary becomes a true celebration of that person’s entire history with your organization, acknowledging all of their contributions and achievements over time. What’s that experience like? Read this story from a member of my team: “How to Avoid the Seven-Year Itch.”

Q6: For the 14% of employees who don’t like public recognition, what’s the best way to recognize them without causing a negative/embarrassing experience for that resource?

Acknowledging people’s personal preferences for recognition is a form of recognition itself. Private recognition should certainly occur one-on-one between the giver and receiver in a detailed way. However, I caution to not take this too far. For example, if John (who prefers private recognition) was a contributor to a major team project and success, you wouldn’t specifically mention all the other team members by name and exclude John’s name. For more, this is one of my favorite posts on recognition gone wrong: “How Not to Recognize * Mortification ≠ Motivation.”

Q7: Have you seen start-up companies embrace this type of value/recognition system and processes vs. just large companies? Can you share start-up examples who have built this into their DNA from the beginning and how their leadership has seen the value here?

I’m not sure I can share a better example than Globoforce itself! Our Globostars recognition program has been part of our culture since the beginning. Recognition is very much in our DNA and blanket Globoforce with positivity every day. It’s also a significant contributor to our achievement of becoming a “Best Places to Work” in Ireland, Europe and the U.S. This post shares a detailed interview with Eric about how we’ve built our culture, values and recognition experience: “Spreading Positivity at Work – The Globoforce Story.”

Q8: Do you think the combination of technology and pace of the work world we live in are responsible for why we need to be reminded of how to be human?

I do think that’s a large part of it. I also think we’re all focused on achieving immediate needed goals. Sometimes we need to be reminded to pick our heads up out of our daily work and notice the great efforts of those around us. That’s an essential element of “being human,” whether we’re at work, at the grocery store, or chatting with our neighbors. More on how we “Work Human” is very much a part of our upcoming conference (learn more and register at I hope you can join us. (Use registration code DIBLOG100for a special blog discount of $100).

Q9: How does this style of recognition apply to more communal (non-individualist) cultures, where open recognition might be seen as embarrassing? I would assume there are similar mechanisms to recognize teams and team efforts, and not just individuals?

Recognition – and the need to be noticed and appreciated – is a universal human need, regardless of culture. That said, there are nuances. My colleague, Darcy Jacobsen, wrote several posts on this topic that dive more deeply than I can here. I recommend in particular: “Recognizing across Cultural Borders,” “Is Your Culture Holistic, Monochronic or Collectivist?” and “Recognizing across Cultures: China.”

Stay tuned for the next post for the answers to the remainder of questions from the webinar.

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