How to Give Better, Consistent Appreciation

How to Give Better, Consistent Appreciation

I try to give my team consistent appreciation. I always go out of my way to say thank you. But you know what? In two years, I’ve never received a single thank you from my boss. NOT ONE. I get that this is my job. But come on! I’ve led some big turnarounds here and made a real impact.

– “John,” Manufacturing Executive

Sadly, John is not alone. We’ve heard that lament so many times before.

Employees in every role long to be seen and know that you know they are making a difference.

When we ask these underappreciated “Johns” what kind of acknowledgment they most yearn for, the answer is radically simple:

“I just want a @#%@!% thank you.”

3 Ways to Get Better at Appreciation

If you’re reading this and think, “Yikes, that could be me” or “I probably don’t do enough” you’re not alone.  You might want to try these simple approaches to build a more deliberate appreciation strategy.

1. Involve your team.

When Karin was an HR Director at Verizon, her boss Gail had a brilliant approach to appreciation.

Each week on our staff calls she invited us to nominate someone in another department who had “saved the day” in a big way.

Maybe it was Tom in IT who rallied his team to get a project done in Herculean time. Or, Brian on the HR help desk who spent hours resolving an employee benefits issue.

She ordered mighty mouse statues with custom name plaques. Then, when we were together in our Manhattan headquarters for our staff meeting, we would take a break and all six of us would tromp around the building disrupting meetings and bursting into song, “Here you came to save the day,” as we excitedly handed them their mouse.

This ritual did all the things.

First, it had us on the constant lookout for people to appreciate. I know that focus upped my awareness which led to more informal “thank yous” than I might normally have remembered to do.

Second, we became known as a team that truly appreciated other departments. Which of course made them more eager to help us. You get more of what you encourage and celebrate and less of what you ignore.

Third, it had a remarkable teambuilding effect as we sang and laughed and ran around the building—in a world where we spent most of our lives in executive meetings conscious of our executive presence, this was a welcome relief and a reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.

And finally, we were role modeling what we wanted more of in the organization. An HR commercial per se of the positive impact of more appreciation in the culture.

In our final staff meeting before Gail retired, she gave each of us our own mighty mouse statue and shared specifically why she appreciated each of us. Not a dry eye in the room.

I still have my meaningful, mighty mouse displayed on my bookshelf.

Or Keep It Simple

Of course,  it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as statues and songs.

We have a senior leader client who has upped his appreciation game by asking each member of his team to give him two people to appreciate each week. Then, he carves out an hour every Friday to make appreciation phone calls and send thank you emails.

He shared:

When I reach out to provide appreciation, I’m very deliberate about who told me about the good thing we appreciate. The appreciation is really coming from the person who lifted it up, and I’m just the conduit.  I also think doing it on a Friday has a nice impact, so they head into the weekend feeling good.

2. Make a weekly plan.

Another approach to better and more consistent appreciation is to make a weekly plan.

When we find managers in our leadership training programs that wrestle with consistent appreciation, we share this simple tool.

Note: you can download this fillable PDF Appreciation Planner here.

Each week, you can think about three people that you could appreciate. They could be peers, direct reports, even your boss. Then, you make a plan for why you are grateful for their contribution and how you could appreciate them in a meaningful way.

If you save the plan each week, you can ensure you’re spreading your acknowledgment around and not inadvertently overlooking anyone.

3. Leverage the element of surprise.

The other day, we had a virtual coffee meeting scheduled with one of our clients. The doorbell rang. There was a delivery of a wonderful box of fancy pastries followed by some beautiful flowers along with this sentiment …

Well, if you had been here with me in Seattle, I would surely have bought you a cup of coffee to thank you for all the work you’ve been doing with us on Courageous Cultures.

We so appreciated the appreciation!

Your Turn:

We’d love to hear your best practices. How do you ensure your appreciation is having an impact?

See also: How to get great at recognition event if it’s not in your DNA.


how to be great at recognition

How to Be Great at Recognition (Even if It’s Not in Your DNA)

We had just finished talking about ways to be great at recognition as part of a Winning Well leadership development program with a fast-growing company.  One of the senior leaders, “Joe” who happened to be sitting in on the session so he could reinforce the learning, took me aside:

“Karin, I’m missing that gene.”

“Which gene?” I asked.

“That ‘be great at recognition’ gene,” he sighed.

I’m listening to what my people are saying here today, and clearly they aren’t getting enough recognition from me. But, I’ll be honest. It just doesn’t come naturally for me. I guess I’m just old school. I mean, when I was growing up in this business, no one talked about recogntion. You just did your job the very best you could. Making a great product, growing the business, and delighting clients was its own reward. I’d like to get better, but it’s hard.

4 Ways to Be Better at Recognition (Even if It’s Not in Your DNA)

If you’ve ever felt like Joe, you’re in good company. We hear this from senior leaders we work with quite frequently. Here’s what we’ve seen work best to compensate for that “missing gene.”

1. Change Your Frame: Learn the Science Beneath the ROI

Well done recognition does far more than make employees feel good and increase your employee engagement survey results. Because it draws an employee’s attention to their strengths and to what’s working, positive feedback actually helps them build new neural pathways that lead to higher functioning in that area.

According to brain science, people grow far more neurons and synaptic connections where they already have the most neurons and synaptic connections. In other words, each brain grows most where it’s already strongest. As Joseph LeDoux, a professor of neuroscience at New York University memorably described it, “Added connetions are therefore more like new little buds on a branch rather than new branches.” Through this lens learning looks a lot like building, little by little by little on the unique patterns that are already within you. Which means learning has to start by finding and understanding those patterns.” – Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall, The Feedback Fallacy, Harvard Business Review 2019

When you can reframe recognition as a way to help your team get smarter, faster re-cognition, it’s easier to see the ROI and the effort may feel more vital.

2. Schedule Small Chunks of Time For Informal Recognition

Karin, did you just suggest I formalize informal recognition? Well, yes. I did.

If it doesn’t come naturally to you, your best bet to be great at recognition is to turn it into a task. For example, if you schedule a task on Thursday that you’re going to pick up the phone or walk into people’s offices and thank them for something specific, meaningful and timely, and you KNOW that task is coming up. You’re going to be more likely on the lookout for examples to complete that task.

3.  Measure It

Giving yourself a micro-goal can make all the difference. One way to do this is to put three pennies in your pocket. As you walk around during the day, every time you notice (and recognize) something positive that you want more of, you move the penny to the other pocket. At the end of the day is to have all the pennies moved over to the opposite pocket.

After you build the habit, what was once felt unnatural should come more naturally.

4. Ask Others to help

It’s likely that someone on your team carries this gene, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Designate someone to help you think of ways to do creative recognition.

Or even more simply, ask your direct reports to let you know when they see something great going on, or to nominate a peer. This doesn’t have to be a big formal process or program. It can be as simple as saying, “I’d like to learn more about the great work and collaboration that is happening around here. I’d like each of you to drop me an email each week letting me know about one great thing that you’ve experienced.”

Then you have a nice list to choose from to reach out and say a quick “thank you” to the person they mentioned. Side benefit—your inbox will be filled with good news. Why wouldn’t you want more of that? 😉

Your turn.

What advice would you add for someone missing the “How to Be Great at Recognition” Gene?

See Also 8 Reasons Recognition Programs Fail (CEO Magazine)

Prefer a video version of this “How to Be Great at Recognition” topic? Check out my Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn.

Recognition and Appreciation: A Frontline Festival

Welcome to the Let’s Grow Leaders Frontline Festival!  This month, our contributors share posts about recognition and appreciation. 

Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!

The December Frontline Festival will be your Best of 2019. Do you have a best practice to share? Have you written a blog post, recorded a podcast or video that received a lot of traction? We would love to have you join us. Send us your submissions here!

Now, on to recognition and appreciation. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or links to your favorite articles. What would you add?


Appreciate the Value of Recognition

Nate Regier of Next Element Consulting gives us Two Mistakes that Will Kill Your Employee Recognition Program.  How can it be that even among organizations that are making the effort and have good intentions, less than half of their employees are satisfied? These two mistakes can kill even the best-intentioned recognition efforts. Follow Nate.

Chip BellChip Bell of Chip Bell Group gives us If Herzberg Ran Affinity Programs. We think we know about how to recognize and affirm great service performance until we look at it through the eyes of a motivation research pioneer and expert, Fredrick Herzberg. Follow Chip.


Julie Winkle GiulioniJulie Winkle Giulioni of DesignArounds gives us Employee Recognition – The KISS Method. Recognition just might be the most leverageable 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. This month, you can read the post or watch the microlearning video on the topic produced by my friends at AthenaOnline. (link expires 12-1-19) Follow Julie.

Robyn McLeodRobyn McLeod of Thoughtful Leaders Blog presents Why Your Cookie-Cutter Approach to Recognition is Not Working where she shares that as a leader and manager, it is your job to know what each of your team members needs to feel valued and acknowledged. Finding out what motivates them and fuels their energy for the work can only happen if you ask. Follow Robyn.

John HunterJohn Hunter of Curious Cat Management Improvement provides Take Advantage of the Strengths Each Person Brings to Work. Managers should recognize the strengths each person brings and appreciate how to take advantage of those strengths. That also is a way to show people you care about them and have taken an interest in them. Doing this greatly improves the appreciation people have for their job – being able to do what you do well is rewarding.  Follow John.

Jesse Lynn StonerJesse Lyn Stoner of Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership shares Why Nobody Noticed You Changed and Five Things You Can Do to Make Change Stick. Are you not getting the recognition and appreciation you deserve? Perhaps you’ve changed and nobody acknowledges it? Here’s what you can do about it. Follow Jesse.


Recognize the Value of Appreciation

S. Chris Edmonds of Driving Results through Culture gives us a Culture Leadership Charge Video: The Leader’s Most Powerful Tool. The leader’s most powerful tool boils down to two compelling words: “Thank you.”  The research found that people that practice gratitude enjoy significant physical, psychological, and social benefits. Which one of your team members can you thank today? Follow Chris.

Maria Tanski of Patriot Software provides 8 Out-of-the-Box Ideas for Employee Recognition and Appreciation. If you want to retain top-notch talent, you need to show employees that you appreciate their hard work. These unique recognition and appreciation ideas will give you a fun way to show employees that you care.  Follow Maria.

Shelley RowShelley Row of Shelley Row Associates provides Five Ways to Reward Employees – It’s Not about the Money.  There is strong research that supports the notion that we have a “common neural currency” for rewards. Here are five ways you can harness the reward network in the brain for good feelings and even better performance.  Follow Shelley.


Wally Bock of Three Star Leadership gives us The Most Potent Reward.  Praise is your power tool. It’s the way you encourage people to try something new or to keep doing something good. Here are four rules for using this powerful reward. Follow Wally.


David GrossmanDavid Grossman of The Grossman Group shared Let’s Demonstrate We Value Our People, and Pay Them Appropriately. In this open letter to the public relations industry I care deeply about, I lay out my concerns (and potential solutions) when it comes to developing and appreciating our qualified employees in PR and communications related industries. My worry is that there’s an unintentional system in place that prevents our best employees in communications from both knowing and showing their value. We can and need to do better. Follow David.

Sean Glaze

Sean Glaze of Great Results Teambuilding asks How Do You Create Buy-In and Get People to Go All-In on Any Team? This question is one of the great challenges of teammates who care or team leaders who are struggling to inspire commitment.  Follow Sean.


BEST OF 2019

Won’t you join us for our BEST OF 2019? Share your best writing, videos, or podcasts from the year. New contributors welcome! Submit your “best of” here!

Show Me the Love: Recognition that Makes a Difference (with video)

Yesterday a high-potential, high-performing VP called:

Karin, the thing is, I know I’ve been accomplishing a lot. And I shouldn’t need this. But, I just wish one of the big guys would just say “thank you.” HR and my peers have told me “Oh, if you haven’t heard anything, you can be sure you’re doing just fine. if you’re screwing up, that will be perfectly clear. No news is good news. But. The truth is, I’m so hungry for a simple “thank you,” or a nod that I’m on the right track. Is that bad?

Of course not, I replied. “It means you’re human.”

Yes, even the guys getting paid “the big bucks” need to hear that they matter and are making a difference.

If they are, and you’re in a position to tell them– please do. And if they’re not, please tell them why. Silence does nothing to advance the game.

And for everyone else. If an exec being given increased responsibility and a healthy paycheck feels this way, imagine what the lack of meaningful feedback and recognition feels like at the front line.

When it comes to showing appreciation, it’s hard to over do recognition–  if it’s done well and is spoken from the heart.

And so this Valentine’s Day we bring you…

What I appreciate most about your leadership

What I Appreciate Most About Your Leadership

What do you appreciate most about each member of your team? Have you told them?

A Quick “I Appreciate You” Best Practice

The other night I was talking to Joe, a leader who shared this fantastic best practice.

Every time Joe has someone new join his team, he takes the time to write down “why I hired you,” frames it and gives it to the new team member.

Every new employee comes to work knowing what Joe appreciates most.

Wow! a powerful way to show appreciation and boost confidence. Who wouldn’t want that sitting on their desk on a bad day? Heck, it can’t hurt on a good day either.

I was sharing this idea with a leader on my team, and lamented, “I sure wish I had done that for you guys.”

She looked right at me and said. “It’s not too late.”

Her thirsty look made me realize I had work to do.

So this Sunday morning, I worked to identify the 3 areas I most appreciate about each member of my direct report team. I didn’t over think it. The whole exercise took less than an hour. No fancy frames, just a weekend email to start their week.

Why It Was Hard

Just as I started to write, my internal struggle began as I thought about all the “What ifs?”

What if they were disappointed about the characteristics I most appreciated? I would have to be clear, this was merely my view on how their leadership was showing up– a subjective, single perspective.

What if the leader who was also struggling in some areas took this as a sign that he was off the hook for the behaviors we had been working to improve? I decided it was okay. I was working on those consistently and would do that again another day. This focus on appreciation only, might be exactly what he needed.

What if they compared notes? I realized that would be FANTASTIC. I would love them to also think about what they appreciated most in one another.

I also made a deliberate decision to focus on leadership behaviors without the context of accomplishments or results. For this exercise, I did not want to appreciate them for the amazing year over year growth. This time, it was all about how– not what.

What I Appreciate Most

The exercise became a meditation.

I felt deep appreciation and connection bubbling up. I became overwhelmed by how much I appreciated them as a collective team. It was not lost on me that what I chose to appreciate said as much about me as it did them.

I found that I appreciated the characteristics that were hardest for me, and also those I value most deeply. A few excerpts from these notes…

I appreciate your:

  • high-energy, always-fascinated approach to everything you do. You love life and it shows.
  • relentless efforts to build genuine teams (down, up, and sideways). You live your motto, “no one wins unless we’re all winning”
  • strategic approach to what’s most important. You’re not easily distracted by “noise.”
  • deep desire to grow, eagerness to learn, and willingness to try
  • highly developed ability to listen, listen some more, and then speak with wisdom
  • strategic, scenario-based thinking. I love that before I can finish a sentence, you have a calculator doing the math
  • deep spirituality and commitment to your family. It shows in your day job.

Winning Well

Your turn.

What are your best practices for letting each team member know how you appreciate them?

Other Resources

For more Winning Well tools and techniques, check out our book. Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results–Without Losing Your Soul. You can download a FREE book group facilitators guide here.

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