People thrive on recognition and praise. Every leadership book will tell you so. And many resources will give you a ton of ideas on how to recognize your employees. And so many of these ideas take either a lot of time or a lot of money. Make no mistake; your time and your money are both things that your employees appreciate.
However, many of these recognition strategies pale in comparison to a powerful conversation. People grow and professionally develop both in small steps and in big ones. Have you ever disciplined yourself to do something that may appear very small, like be on time for meetings? To others, it may be a “well, it’s about time” moment, but to you, for whatever reason it was tough to make it on time, it is an enormous leap forward.
And I’m sure you’ve also make huge strides as well, like hiring a new key position, landing a large account or launching a new product.
When a member of your team makes a huge stride forward, it deserves recognition, praise and public acknowledgement. However, we can probably all attest that some personality-challenging step forward like being on time, using a calendar consistently or routinely making sales calls can take a whole lot more energy. The acknowledgement you give as the leader to these small steps forward does more to change a person to become the best they can be than any big bonus, award or public praise – as important as that is.
How to recognize small steps:
- Identify in each employee the potential they have that they are not currently realizing – talk to them about what you see that you know they can do and do better.
- Focus on seeing specific movement forward in those areas by those employees.
- Have a brief, but specific conversation about those mini-accomplishments when they happen. “I noticed… great job!”
- Also have a brief conversation when you see them slip back into old behaviors, reminding them of your belief that they can make progress and you know they will succeed.
- Continue to have the brief, but specific conversations when you see movement forward, realizing it actually takes quite a long time to change a behavior and reform a habit. People will slip back but as long as it’s two steps forward and only one back, they are still making progress.
Be careful not to be patronizing – don’t use some silly reward system or stars on a chart. They may be small steps forward, but if they were easy for that employee, you wouldn’t have to be coaching them.