Recognition: Fuelling Continuous Improvement and Culture

The saying, “What we recognise gets repeated” implies that recognising the behaviours we want to see repeated is one way to create the culture we want. I also believe that recognition is an important factor in the development of successful organisations and winning cultures.

If these statements are true, why aren’t we seeing more recognition?

Well from my experience, what I have seen is that there is a lot of jealousy regarding recognition, either people won’t recognise others until they get recognised first, or they refuse to recognise anything that they feel is unworthy.

At one company I was asked to explain why I had given out over 250 awards/prizes ranging from a bottle of wine to 5% bonuses.

The question I was asked was not were these people rewarded for the right things, but could I explain why in the same period the HR department had only received 2 awards and did I not think this was disproportionate?

So the question was more about why others were not being rewarded as much, it was part jealousy. But this was veiled under comments about one department getting recognition more easily than another.

There were two solutions to this, one for the HR department to increase the amount of recognition that they gave out, or we could reduce the level of recognition which was being achieved in my own department.

Now given that performance was improving month over month in my department, this should have been an easy decision.

But the solution chosen was to reduce the level of recognition in my department.

I was also informed that I should stop giving bonuses to people, as we give bonuses to people every month when we pay them their salaries.

We levelled the playing field by lowering each department’s recognition to the lowest level.

It was also suggested that we should only recognise outstanding performance, and nothing less, as this would encourage teams to go for outstanding performance.

Interestingly this meant we should only recognise top performers, the elite, the top 10%, this was partly because there was a belief that it’s the top 10% of the staff who deliver 80% of the results.

Now whilst this might be true, imagine the performance improvement we could achieve if we could motivate the remaining 90% to improve. This is where the biggest opportunity lies, not in increasing the output of the top 10%.

I always remember an article I read about chariot racing, where the chariots were pulled by 4 horses. The main part of the article was that the chariot could only go as fast as the slowest horse, so if you wanted to increase the speed of the chariot, then you should focus on the slowest horse, not the fastest.

By focusing just on outstanding performers we are just focusing on the fastest horse, but if we want our departments to go faster, and perform better, shouldn’t we be focusing on the slower horses, the remaining 90%, looking to get them to improve?

I always feel it’s an abdication of leadership when we choose to ignore 90% of our people and just focus on the top 10% because usually the top 10% are motivated and know what needs to be done and don’t need leading.

Real leadership is needed to get the remaining 90% of the organisation to improve, and only by improving here will we really achieve our full potential, and to do this we need to leverage recognition.

Recognising improvements at all levels no matter how small and not just reserving our praise for truly outstanding performance.

In my opinion, when we take this approach and create a culture of recognition, we are starting on the path to creating a winning culture, a culture where success is nurtured and becomes sustainable.

Recognition is the fuel in the fire of continuous improvement!

If you want to learn more about creating highly engaged teams or being a better leader click the link to view our course.