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Employee recognition: The KISS… method

4 min read


Recognition may be among today’s most heavily researched leadership and supervision topics. And the results are consistently disturbing:

  • According to studies by Badgeville research, 79% of those who quit their jobs cite lack of appreciation as the main reason.
  • Wichita State University research reported that 81% of employees seldom or never received public praise, 76% seldom or never received written thanks from their managers, and 58% rarely or never received praise from their manager.
  • Gallups’s global research finds that employees around the world consistently express dissatisfaction with feedback and recognition.

Making these findings all the more disconcerting is additional research that underscores the vital role that recognition can play within an organization.  For instance, Shawn Achor, the author of “Before Happiness.” who’s studied the relationship between happiness and success globally, discovered that just one piece of praise given to a team daily can increase productivity by 30%. Other studies positively correlate recognition with retention, talent acquisition/recruiting, and engagement.

As a result, recognition just might be the most leveragable practice leaders can engage in to drive individual and organizational results. It doesn’t have to cost anything except a little honest attention to those around you. And, it doesn’t have to be difficult; highly effective leaders know that the secret of praise is simply to KISSSSSSSSSS. They know how important it is to keep it:

  • Spontaneous: You don’t have to wait for the annual meeting, certificate season, or even for your regular one-on-one sessions. Catch people doing things right and seize the moment right there in the workflow to express appreciation.
  • Swift: Recognition need not be time-consuming. In fact, if it takes longer than 60 seconds, you’ve likely not thought it through carefully enough.
  • Strategic: Since recognition encourages people to repeat the appreciated actions, consider carefully what you praise. Identify the behaviors and results that are required to drive departmental or organizational results, and shine the light squarely on those.
  • Specific: Since recognition will drive future focus and effort, make sure that people know precisely the act, behavior, or result you appreciate. The generic “good job” or pat on the back is unsatisfying and unproductive.
  • Sincere: Authentic, genuine, heartfelt appreciation is a powerful motivator. A simply, sincere “thank you” can touch others in a profound way and initiates ripples that have a positive effect on relationships and results.
  • Singularly focused: Recognition is not an excuse to share criticism or suggestions for performance improvement. Mixing the two eclipses your praise. So keep this space sacred and exclusively positive, saving save constructive feedback for another time.
  • Special: Keep in mind that recognition is in the “eye of the recognized.” So, personalize, personalize, personalize. Some people love the public praise and others wither under the spotlight. Consider the individual and choose your approach accordingly.
  • Surprising: Mix it up. A “thank you” in the hallway here. Recognition in public there. A handwritten note or e-mail copied to the big boss. Rather than following a formula, consciously adjust your approach to keep it interesting and effective.
  • Supportive: Expressing appreciation is the ideal time to also express your support. The simple question, “What else could I do to support these kinds of results in the future?” puts an exclamation mark on the importance of the recognition and opens the door to expanded results.
  • Spread: Effectively leaders know that they can magnify the effects of recognition by encouraging others to do it as well. When peers begin appreciating each other, the impact can grow exponentially. And employees learn how to do it by watching their leaders.

No budget? No time? No problem. Recognition is the one tool that any manager can afford and that no manager can afford not to use. It’s a matter of simply getting “on your S’s!”

 Julie Winkle Giulioni is the author of “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Employees Want,” with Bev Kaye. Giulioni has spent the past 25 years improving performance through learning. She consults with organizations to develop and deploy innovative instructional designs and training worldwide. You can learn more about her consulting, speaking and blog at