What to Say When Giving Recognition

4 Minutes Read

We want to do deeper on the what to say when giving recognition. Following up on recognition 101 where we talked about who, what, when, why. 

Think of it from the recipient’s perspective - Consider the recipient’s personality

Do they like publicity, private interactions, appreciate hearing the good along with the constructive? A great first step is to ask yourself what type of person is the recipient you are about to share your thoughts.

Preferences - what do they like

Content matters - Need to convey impact and explain why you are taking the time to give the praise. Small and large impactful changes are great to celebrate.  It's harder to get by with simple shout outs of "thanks", "good job" anymore.

Consider external factors - did the person meet the deadline while the baby was on the lap and the dog barking. Acknowledge the X factor when people do a good job. 

The comfort/culture factor- how do you say what you want? Be authentic but make sure your appreciation and respect is present. 

Visibility-What’s the point where you want everyone to know about the recognition? When do we cross the line into participation awards? 

We all get tongue tied during the sad events in our lives.  When someone is sick or just lost a loved on, the thought of figuring out what to say is stressful in the extreme.  What can be worse is knowing what to say when there is a happy moment. 

We all say congratulations during those times but, personally, I always feel like I’m just doing what everyone else is doing.  I’d like to say something personal and unique but I also have to be aware that I am not going overboard or not creating some sense of false competitiveness with my recognition.  I don’t want to make it a case of someone saying, “gee Todd you wished them the best of luck but you only said congratulations to me.”  Crazy as that may seem at first glance, it’s something to worry about. 

So let’s talk about that.  What to say when you give recognition.  I’m not here to give you a script, instead  I want to talk about the concept of giving recognition in the way that’s most likely to result in the recipient feeling truly appreciated and the award seeming truly authentic. 

There are a couple of concepts we need to understand to do this.  They are:

  • Think of it from the recipients point of view
  • Content matters
  • How will the language be seen by the larger group

Let’s look at this in greater detail.

Think of it from the recipients point of view–I hear from the senior level human resources leaders that I interact with regarding KangoGift that they love the concept of recognition but that managers can be intimidated by the fact that they can’t reward everyone the same way because members of their teams all have different comfort levels.  If one person loves the praise and spotlight, the other may want a quiet recognition.  So how do we make each person feel comfortable in the recognition they receive? 

What I tell people is that your managers need to realize that step one is recognition.  Don’t be scared off by the person you’re recognizing doesn’t like the limelight or loves it.  What I will say is that it is the recognition that matters. Let’s make sure we’re recognizing the person in the first place.  

As to the level of recognition, that ties in to the core of employee recognition. You want it to be authentic, the way you make it authentic is by rewarding the employee by that method that will appeal to them.  That’s the managers role.  They need to know their teams and know what’s best for every and will act accordingly.  Maybe that quite person needs to be publicly praised.  Maybe that person who loves the limelight needs to be told quietly.  It’s all about what works best for the team. 

Content matters–Like I was saying earlier, knowing what to say in moments of praise can sometimes be as hard, if not harder, than knowing what to say in times of sorrow.  This is very true in cases of employee recognition and rewards.  

Say for example you have two people, one has a product maintenance job and the other has a product development job.  Both excel at their roles. You want to recognize both but you don’t know what to say.  Do you play it safe and tell them they are both excellent? Do you tout one’s success more than the other other?  It’s an impossible question.  Both play unique roles in the company’s success.

When I’m talking to HR executives they often go to recognizing the person with the visible role.  They have the role of taking the company in bold new directions and are seen as the rock star who everyone wants to be like.  Of course the other person is the one that makes sure your product, the source of your revenue, keeps running as it should.  Not as flashy as the first but every bit as important. 

The answer to this is that the content you create in your recognition should not reflect the role at all.  Nor should it reflect the persons accomplishments.  What you want to do is recognize the person for their accomplishments in improving the organization’s mission and culture. Building a new product or keeping it running well are all part of the organization’s commitment to what ever stakeholders you want to reach out to. 

How will the language be seen by the larger group–This is an interesting question.  How will you be seen by the larger group.  Obviously it will get out who was recognized and for what.  That’s simple human behavior. They question is how will it be seen when different people start comparing it? 

It is natural for humans to compare positive statements just like we all compare our wins. How will you be ready for when they start comparing the “great job Jim,” with the “nice work Bob, couldn’t have done it without you.” It will produce a possibility for aggravation when Jim sees Bob at what seems to be a more strongly worded letter of appreciation. The potential for employee recognition boomeranging on you becomes pretty clear. 

The advice I give HR executives is you have to be authentic. You can’t get bogged down in deciding what’s this person going to think if I say this and so on.  The goal is recognition and not establishing some sort of template language.  By doing that you’re defeating one of the main goals of recognition.  The authenticism of it all. 

What to say is one of the trickiest parts of employee recognition.  I would recommend you take some of the following steps.

  • Take a moment and think about how the person you are recognizing would like to be recognized.
  • Content matters above all else. You’re talking to an individual on a person to person basis. There shouldn’t be a script or any pro-forma way of saying things. Speak honestly and about why you’re recognizing them.
  • Focus entirely on being authentic and not on how your teams may compare what you say.  If your voice is being a real cheerleader then do that.  If it is more like being a low-key person then be that. But speak in your authentic voice. 

The key to knowing what to say when giving recognition is to be authentic. Being authentic is what should drive your content.  Be yourself, know your audience and treat them the way they would want to be treated and you’ll know exactly what to say. 

Todd Horton