Whereas personal initiative remains an essential driving force behind individual progress, knowing that our work matters to someone is scientifically proven to make us feel more motivated. In fact, if you can take 15 minutes to watch Dan's talk, you are bound to be transfixed by this quote:
"...ignoring the performance of people is almost as bad as shredding their effort in front of their eyes."In a world of ever more complex actitivities and ever more complex supply chains and work arrangements, measuring performance becomes proportionally more challenging, which also affects the frequency and quality of recognition amongst people working together.
Nevertheless, peer recognition and mutual dependency remain fundamental aspects of healthy work relations, which makes me strongly believe that successful organizations must engineer (yes, engineer) policies that broaden the means of recognition and deepen the effects of that recognition in the workplace.
No perks program, please!
As a common example of a well-intentioned recognition tool, an organization may setup a system of peer-to-peer recognition where employees can award each other a number of points for a special contribution and where the recognized peers can later redeem the points for some sort of perk.
Unless these perks have fundamental impact on the career/life/practice for the recognized person - and they rarely do - perks programs are the perfect example of a poorly designed initiative. I could write a few paragraphs worth of negatives, but I will just list the top three that come to mind: a chore that is not integrated into the workflow, unrelated to career development, and worst of all, infrequent.
I particurlarly liked this toolkit article ("Managing Employee Recognition Programs") as a comprehensive overview of recognition policies and how they can be implemented, and I would add this other article on gamification ("How to Use Gamification to Engage Employees") to the list.
Even with all those resources out there, there is still a long way to go, to be paved with concrete and concerted effort to elevate peer recognition to the core driver in a culture of appreciation and meaning in the organization.
In simpler terms, such engineered recognition policy should observe the following principles:
- Clarity on what is recognizable. Is it shorter time-to-market while meeting customer demands? Is it reducing operational costs while maintaining or improving quality? Is it addressing problems off-hours?
The set of criteria must strike a balance between covering enough good behaviors while not overwhelming those responsible for evaluating against the criteria.
For teams following an Agile process, a simple and effective mechanism is to use a "quest" tag on stories and let the team collectively vote on the stories that deserve the "quest" tag, typically things that are important for the whole team, but falling through the cracks of collective attention, areas of expertise, and customer demands. Some examples would be the profiling the whole system periodically for hotspots, or maybe cutting down build time by half.
The exact technique doesn't matter and organizations can learn a lot about themselves in the process of defining the criteria.
- Integral part of work stream. Recognition must be a completion criteria for any project and broken down in smaller intervals if the project lasts longer than a few months.
This point depends on the previous one, that is, the clarity of what is recognizable. Once again, teams following an Agile process can simply tally up the number of stories with the tag "quest" that were completed across the team and put extra emphasis on them during the sprint review meetings.
As with any part of the worksteram, it should go without saying that low overhead is a goal too.
- Integral part of career advancement. Whereas we still want to take the discretionary powers
delegated to a self-organized hierarchy into consideration, the recognition must be partially bound by feedback from peers.
A holacracy constitution comes to mind. Everyone must be able to contribute, everyone must be subject to the same rights and duties, but not everyone's participation must necessarily carry the same weight (a meritocracy is better than a democracy, sorry folks) . Conversely, recognition must be rooted in peer recognition and defensible against the recognition "constitution".
- Publicly visible. Barring exceptional circumstances, everyone must have full access to everyone's recognition status.
The previous example about using sprint review meetings may be supplemented in cases of outstanding effort. Extra points awarded to HR if working data points into company directory, internal online tools, and physical workspace. On the physical workspace, extra coolness points for displaying dynamic content using flat panels in public areas to broaden the impact of recognition.
- Meaningful. This is probably the most important and challenging part of a recognition program, allowing people, in as much as possible, to find out which parts of the activity they consider important for the larger mission, but also to themselves. This is very hard to achieve in a hierarhical organization and the reason why I am strongly believer of a self-organized free-market for people to find their place within large organizations.
I could explore examples of each of these points, but it is easy for anyone to extrapolate them to the particularities of their own organizations. It is also a fun and transformational exercise for any team out there.
Now imagine how it would fundamentally change team dynamics if more of the work done on a day-to-day basis acquired more meaning, not through contrived directives, but by simply making the intrinsinc meaning of the work more visible to the people executing and consuming the work?
Imagine if a significant fraction of individual drive and motivation was not lost over casual lack of recognition for work well done (the virtual shredding of work before our very eyes) . Remembering to say "thank you" still goes a long way and everyone should keep it in mind, but what about designing the work flow so that the "thank you" opportunities are made a regular part of the team relations?
There is much to be appreciated out there, in life and at work. We know we take a lot of it for granted. Being publicly thankful for all those things costs virtually nothing. It makes us feel better and it makes others feel great.
Now go thank someone. Repeat it everyday.