Do You Recognize Them?


In the State of Michigan, as many of you know, we are in the throes of a profound budget crisis.  Belts are being tightened so far that we’re punching new holes.  On my radio show last week, I talked with Chester Elton, author of the best selling book, The Carrot Principle about how you do employee recognition when you’re absolutely flat-out broke.  I told him: we don’t have the money and even if we found it, it would look bad to spend it on recognition.  His answer bears repeating.

He said never underestimate the value of a hand-written note.  In our virtual, high-tech, e-this and e-that world, the personal note has only gained in value.  He also argued persuasively that great recognition happens all the time, at the scene and at the moment of good work.  Close in time matters.  Sometimes the praise is not spoken, but has to do with actions that confer status on someone you want to recognize.  So for instance, Chester recommended bringing a good performer to a high-level meeting, allowing them to network with and contribute to “the higher ups.” 

That simple suggestion reminded me of ways that I had seen bosses multiply their staffs loyalty by quite literally recognizing them, i.e., by seeing them:

·         Congressman Levin always introduced me and my colleagues on his staff who were traveling with him – to the audiences to whom he was speaking.  He literally recognized us in the crowd, and by doing so others literally recognized us.

·         Years ago County Executive Ed McNamara surprised me when he invited me to present a report I had worked on for him, rather than doing it himself.  When I was done he called me in his office and offered a tried and true form of recognition: he told me I did a good job.  Better than that he recognized something I could do better, and he gave me advice I have never forgotten, “don’t say ‘we should do X and Y,’ Mr. McNamara told me, but say ‘We will be doing X and Y,’ and then make it happen. 

Sometimes great recognition – which spurs loyalty and generates energy – flows with total simplicity from just paying close attention.  Paying attention is a great way to

Lead with your best self,


  • Dan,

    You are right on the money, again! In my career with big automotive companies in Michigan, it was always very easy to get lost in the structure and feel that no matter what I did, it did not have much affect on the outcome of the company. Sort of the “Queen Mary” syndrom, where the act of one little shiphand had no impact on the direction of the boat.

    Thanks for your insight and thoughtfulness, and thank the governor for her courage and leadership. She is the kind of person I would want my daughters to be, if I had any daughters!

    Walter Borda
    Founding Member of “Republicans for Granholm”

  • “Confer status” on someone you want to recognize? How about just giving everyone the respect they deserve and acknowledging their efforts? Include people in meetings with “higher ups” because they know more than you do about something, but not because it “confers status”. I suggest that acknowledging status would go a lot further.

  • My brother was a local union leader. He often said, and I agree “the people I represent will walk through hell barefooted if they think they are appreciated” I have found that to be true so many times. When you ask someone to do something be sincere telling them, that they can do the job very. More often than not they will do better than you expected.

  • This message spoke volumes to me. Your message this morning is empowering–I don’t need money or permission to “Recognize” someone-we just need to do it.

  • Dan: Good words, as usual! Several years ago now, early on in my ministry, I learned that giving a verbal pat on the back does indeed go a long way as long as it is done authentically. Being a United Methodist pastor currently serving a financially-struggling congregation, as most are no matter what the denomination, I have often relied on a note of thanks for jobs well done. E-mails are fine in some circumstances, but the note in an addressed and stamped and mailed enveloped is a better thing. At the same time, I have found that a couple of well-placed comments in committee or board meetings expressing my appreciation for efforts put forth are appreciated. I know that I appreciate them when they are directed my way in similar situations. So, pay it forward and just see what happens in the areas of miracle-making. Thanks for your efforts, Dan. Rev. Jim Evans, Jr.

  • Recognition doesn’t always have to be top-down, either. Recognition of managers by managers is often lacking, because everyone assumes that it is happening, and most often it is not.
    Recognition is communication of what matters most, and it is acknowledgement, at its most basic. To be effective, it must be Frequent, Specific, and Timely.
    Disclaimer: I consult on recognition, and Chester Elton, whom Dan references, is a colleague and friend. His wealth of knowledge on this topic is available to all, at no cost, at
    I try to find at least one person to thank a day. I hope it has impact — I know it does on me.

    • Recognition applies in homes between family members also. So often, the “stay at home” parent is never thanked or appreciated for the most important job in the world – parenthood, be it a mom or a dad. I feel it, or should I say “dont feel it”. I left my law practice to raise 3 children and have much gratification within myself for making this choice – but I am never thanked by my spouse. He (she) just assumes that I know I am appreciated. I would like to hear it once in awhile – it would give me so much more energy and a better attitude. So, to all you parents out there, make sure you recognize the other parent for their contributions, be it in the home or outside the home. Healthy communication keeps it all happening.

  • Straight on. We can and will do what needs to be done. And one of the highest values is respect for others. Acknowledgement is powerful. So here is some acknowledgement of you and your wife.

  • Right on, Dan.
    I use the Leadership Practices Inventory with school administrators and the six questions on Encourage the Heart are a perfect examination of conscience on recognition. It doesn’t ask people to rate how good the organization’s recognition program is. It asks if the leader praises, expresses confidence, rewards, recognizes, celebrates, appreciates and supports. Organizations have programs. Leaders recognize people, one on one, personally, and at every opportunity.
    Tom Nugent
    Grosse Pointe Farms

  • Remember the observation of William James (noted American Author/Psychologist)that the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.

    Appreciation, like leadership is not a “position commodity”. Give of yourself to others and you will reap the benefits of being human.

    Steve Jenkins
    Leadership Student

  • I agree that recognition can be something that is easily overlooked when budgets are tight and minds are distracted with daily tasks. However, in our office the leadership has responded to this issue by creating an employee recognition committee. The committee has then been given the flexibility to create the kind of recognition that it sees fit. As a state agency we have found creative ways for staff to support their own recognition system and at the same time tried to make it fun to “collect” the money needed to run the program. I wanted to recognize and thank our leadership in the Office of Child Support for making this possible, we are lucky have true leaders!

  • I work for an incentives company that rarely incentivizes its own employees. It’s amazing: praise costs absolutely nothing and means so much, at least to me. I can do without gift cards, etc. I thrive on verbal praise. I wish managers weren’t so stingy with it. Mine spends his time feeling sorry for himself and his workload, even though he’d rather die than not have “power.” He also feels strongly that no one else works as hard as he does so he’s very begrudging about recognizing his people.

    Also, regarding recognition of stay-at-home parents: I have a great example of how to do this. A friend gave his wife a really nice extra gift at the holidays from “the company” (their family) in recognition of all her extraordinary contributions. Even if it was just a certificate I think the gesture and his outlook is priceless.

  • Recognizing an employee, and employees for their contributions is always a good thing, and ideas and reminders about it are good. The state budget however is punishing to state employees and citizens. There must be a point where the employees feel more and pressure for lack of sufficient funding. The state ought to keep records of increasing or decreasing employee turnover and the reasons that employees stay or leave. Also records of suicides, and mental health problems that employees have should be followed up to see how much the stress of work caused the mental health problems. Seeing people suffer and knowing they will not get the help they need is a terrible form of torture.

    Mark John Hunter
    Alpena, Michigan

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