The 5 common mistakes leaders make in reward and recognition

Guest blog from Sat Sindhar, Managing Director of People HR

Recognition and appreciation are possibly the most powerful reward and motivation tools in your arsenal. But while we see plenty of advice telling us we should be using recognition as a reward, there are not many people willing to talk about how NOT to do it.

So today, I’m going to talk you through five common mistakes business leaders make, while trying to recognise and reward outstanding achievements. If you are guilty of any of these five habits, then it’s time to change your ways.

  1. You Wait Too Long Before Handing Out Praise

There’s nothing wrong with saying “thanks for your hard work this year” during an employee’s annual performance review. But if this is the only time you’re handing out praise, then I can tell you now that it probably isn’t working very well.

If a person does something awesome, but doesn’t receive any sort of recognition for another six months, then you’ve missed your opportunity to encourage repeat behaviour. So if you see somebody do something great, then of course you should make a note of it for their next performance review. But you should also take a minute out of your busy schedule to pick up the phone, or write a quick email, to say “well done for X today – great job”.


  1. You Recognise Each Person in the Same Way

Not everybody responds the same to any single recognition “technique”. For example, if you are rewarding a person who loves attention, then standing them in front of the room and giving them a hearty round of applause might make them feel good. But a more timid individual might prefer a quiet “thank you” note landing on their desk.

You don’t necessarily need to build a custom recognition plan for every single employee. But you should be aware that every person is different, and you should adapt your approach to suit this.


  1. You Don’t Know Why You’re Rewarding Somebody

You might not always see something awesome taking place. In fact, one of your colleagues might point out that somebody has worked particularly hard one day, and that you might want to consider thanking them for it. This is fine. But don’t shoot blind.

If you say “thanks for your hard work today”, and the employee asks “why, what did I do?” – then you’ve put yourself into a very awkward position. And your praise will have very little impact. So at the very least, find out why you’re thanking somebody, before you go ahead and thank them.


  1. You Congratulate the Entire Team for One Person’s Awesomeness

Look, you should be recognising teamwork. I won’t ever tell you not to do this. But if somebody has gone out of their way to do something super special, and it was a “lone wolf” achievement, then please don’t credit other people for their hard work. Make sure they know that it is their hard work you have noticed, and that it is their hard work being rewarded.

Of course, you should do this tactfully, and in a way that doesn’t discredit their team. In other words, don’t say “thanks Gemma, for being the only member of the team to get any work done today”.


  1. You Hand Out Recognition But You Don’t Really Mean It

It is better to stay silent than to hand out insincere praise. Employees will pick up on insincerity very quickly, and it will totally tarnish the impact of any other praise you give.

Before you thank somebody, make sure you are genuinely grateful for whatever it is they’ve done. And if you’re not, then find something you are grateful for – or, if you really are too critical for your own good, ask a more sincere person to hand out the praise on your behalf.


About the author

Sat Sindhar is a technology expert with 25+ years’ experience in HR software and business management. He is passionate about changing the way business leaders think about people management, and firmly believes that by creating a culture of innovation, equality and trust, that companies can grow faster, and stronger. For this reason, he is often quoted by leading HR, recruitment and people management publications.


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