Working to build the performance of a team is a focus for all managers, and inevitably there are some on each team that just “get it” and are more natural to the job than others. As we ask managers to use recognition as a tool, this can lead to challenges. Managers can get into a situation where a few people – or just the most visible people – keep getting recognized.

Now, instead of recognition inspiring the team to great performance, it can create division. The same people getting recognized can lead to eye rolls rather than learning moments. 

It can be easy for employees to chalk the “inequity” up to favoritism vs. performance differences.

To lessen the eye rolls, and increase the momentum behind using recognition as a strategic leadership tool, as a manager, you can’t be afraid of giving credit where credit is due. But you have to do it in the right way. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind to create harmony and alignment, and not friction and resentment.

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how to reward emploees without the others getting upset

Set (and reset!) clear expectations for your team

Make sure that everyone has an equal chance to deliver on job responsibilities by clearly communicating them. Do you expect people to follow-up within one business day? Make sure that is clear. Do you expect the team to try and solve a problem before they come to you for help? Ask them to do this and remind them of how it helps. Clarity of expectations will ensure that people have a fair shot at getting recognized for doing their jobs well.

Be consistent and frequent with continuous recognition

If you only recognize a few people a year, the spotlight will absolutely be more on them. Those few instances are sure to get examined extra closely. In an environment that is lacking recognition, this is only natural that people may feel possessive about those few dollops of praise you are sharing!

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If you remind yourself to find things to recognize on a regular basis, any concerns about favoritism should fade as the recognition is spread around.

Set a goal to spend 10 minutes each week considering the work of those around you to give yourself a chance to spot great work. As you train yourself to spot recognition moments, it might take even less time than that to substantially increase how consistently you recognize others.

how to reward emploees without the others getting upset

Don’t be afraid to recognize for “doing the job”

Some people’s roles may not lend themselves to going wildly above and beyond. The value they provide might be in how they do the day-to-day actions of their role more efficiently or a bit more effectively. Don’t be afraid to give them credit for these skills. It is part of the job of a call center representative to document their calls, but if someone is especially consistent and clear in HOW they document – that can be a recognition as well.

Considering the simple, but powerful ways people help will open up additional opportunities for well-deserved recognition.  

Recognize the action, not just the person

Make sure that when you tell or write recognition you are specific about what the person did. If recognition is: “Thanks to Marsha who really stepped up!” the focus is the person. In this case, it is easier to dismiss the recognition (“Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!”). If, instead, the leader focuses more on the actions:

“Thanks to Marsha who knew we were swamped and stayed an extra 20 minutes despite having a personal commitment after work! That time allowed us to connect on a plan to get the work done. Your commitment to the team really helped reduce everyone’s stress!”

With this recognition, I understand what Marsha actually did and how it helped our business. This knowledge makes it harder to argue the merit of the recognition and educates others on what Marsha does to earn this praise.

how to reward emploees without the others getting upset

Track participation to spot gaps

Despite your best efforts at recognizing, you may have folks who are less likely to get noticed – they aren’t as visible, their consistently good work gets taken for granted, they are frequently working independently and others don’t witness their efforts.

If you periodically check who has (and hasn’t) received recognition in the past few months you can check to see if some deserving folks have missed out on getting recognized. This is especially easy if you are using an online recognition wall. If you do find people that haven’t been recognized in a while, think through their work (or ask those that work closely with them to do the same).

I’m not saying force yourself to recognize everyone all the time. If someone hasn’t been recognized and you really don’t think they are doing good work, don’t recognize them just to “check a box.”

If someone isn’t working up to standard, a coaching conversation can help get their work jump started. Of course, if their efforts improve after that conversation, you now have an opportunity to highlight this effort via one-on-one or public recognition!

I hope that these tips will ensure that concerns about favoritism won’t get in the way of leaders using recognition as a strategic tool. Something will be better than nothing over time and it will make your work more enjoyable as well!

Alexandra Powell

Alexandra Powell, Director of Client Cultural Insights, not only knows American Sign Language, but uses it to secretly communicate with her husband and kids at parties. Alex is a highly experienced employee engagement consultant, trainer and speaker. For over 20 years she has helped HR and business leaders implement strategies that drive true culture change.

Director of Client Cultural Insights

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