Creating a Culture of Recognition Takes Work

It's about more than shouting people out on Slack.
Michael Hines
Written by Michael Hines
June 28, 2021Updated: June 28, 2021

People are more productive when they’re happy, and one easy way to make people happy is to let them know when they’re doing a good job.

Despite the obvious benefits and the easy math, creating a culture of recognition actually isn’t all that easy. That’s because it requires leaders to go beyond setting up celebratory Slack channels and encouraging team members to shout each other out at company all-hands. In order to cement a culture of recognition, leaders need to take a deep dive into what it means to show recognition and to think intentionally about how it’s expressed.

We recently asked four Chicago tech leaders to do just that, and their responses serve as a primer for any leader who is trying to create a culture of recognition at their team or company.

 

Quick Tips

  • Ask team members how they would like to be recognized and rewarded for their hard work.
  • Shout out everyone who contributed when recognizing team wins.
  • Sincerity matters when showing appreciation.
  • Be descriptive with your recognition so that people know the impact of their work.

 

Laura Dominguez
Head of People and Communities

When it comes to creating a culture of recognition, Laura Dominguez, head of people and communities at Cisco Meraki, is careful to note that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to appreciation. “We must start by connecting with our team to understand how they want to be recognized,” Dominguez told Built In.

 

What are a few ways you or the other leaders on your team recognize employees for their hard work? 

To effectively recognize an employee for their hard work, we must start by connecting with our team to understand how they want to be recognized. I meet with my team individually and ask them for their preference: Do they like to be awarded publicly or are they a private person? Recognition can range from “Connected Recognition” — a Cisco program that allows employees to recognize their fellow peers and teammates for their outstanding work — to time off from work.

Recognition preferences are different for each person and those preferences can also change, and they may be different for someone in their first job or for someone who needs a flexible work environment to attend to family needs. It’s important to connect with the team to understand their needs. 

We must start by connecting with our team to understand how they want to be recognized.


As a leader, what have you done to encourage a culture of recognition throughout the entire company and your team?

We put a big emphasis on learning and development and reward our employees in a multitude of ways, such as internal movement or providing visibility and exposure to executives and other parts of the organization. As a team, we also work on a variety of different projects and stretch assignments, which allows us to work with and recognize the efforts of others on different teams. 

 

When it comes to giving meaningful employee recognition, what is the most important best practice you follow?

“Meaningful” is defined by what’s important to the employee. When it comes time to recognize my team, I first remember how they like to be rewarded. What are the top three things they prefer and how do I make those happen? Sometimes it’s encouraging a team member to attend a seminar they’ve been wanting to go to or providing them with growth opportunities in their role.

I look at their skill set, strengths and accomplishments and try to provide them with purposeful challenges to expand their experience. It’s important to note that recognition is not just celebrating big accomplishments, but also acknowledging the small wins. The more we do this, the more success we have in employee growth.

 

Establishing a culture of recognition requires leaders to, well, lead by example and shout out employees regularly for their accomplishments and contributions. The goal is for team members to model this behavior so that recognition comes from the entire team and not just leaders. Aptitive CTO Fred Bliss has some advice for how to make this happen: “Add on to recognition when it’s called out,” Bliss said.

 

What are a few ways you or the other leaders on your team recognize employees for their hard work?

We encourage employees to continuously pursue learning opportunities that are interesting to them. This can range from reading articles about emerging tech to completing full certification courses. As an additional incentive for their hard work, we send out gift cards to those who achieve new certifications. Plus, we share these achievements with the company via Slack, on team calls and in person, and high-quality work on client and internal projects is also acknowledged in these ways. Of course, another way employee success is recognized is through raises and promotions. We assess potential promotions every six months, if not more often.

When recognizing a team’s success, do your best to mention everyone who contributed.


As a leader, what have you done to encourage a culture of recognition throughout the entire company and your team?

I try to lead by example. I encourage others to give recognition where it’s due, so I regularly call out the great things our employees are doing. One easy way to start doing this is to add on to recognition when it’s called out. This could include reacting to supportive messages via Slack, sharing additional details about a notable project that someone else brings up or commenting on the recognition when someone calls out a team member’s success.

 

When it comes to giving meaningful employee recognition, what is the most important best practice you follow?

First, give recognition to all employees instead of praising the same few people repeatedly. This can take some work as it requires learning about the successes of your quieter employees who may not be as quick to toot their own horns, but your employees will appreciate your efforts. Second, recognize both big and small accomplishments. This allows you to share in your employees’ successes day to day rather than waiting for major wins to come up.

Finally, give credit where credit is due. A team leader may have kept the team moving, but all of the parts are important. When recognizing a team’s success, do your best to mention everyone who contributed.

 

Tanay Desai
Head of Sales

Creating a culture of recognition isn’t something that happens overnight. It requires intention and the ability to recognize and highlight the numerous contributions team members make in their daily work. That said, when it comes to giving recognition, Tanay Desai, head of sales at audio branding agency PHMG, has a best practice that’s incredibly simple to adopt: “The most important thing is to be authentic.”

 

What are a few ways you or the other leaders on your team recognize employees for their hard work?

I think giving shoutouts is really important. Knowing you did a good job is great, but hearing it from your boss, seniors or the president of your company is even better! This public acknowledgment is a great way to inspire and motivate people. As a team leader, I also encourage peer-to-peer recognition. Praise is massively appreciated when it comes from the people you work with every day. 

Appreciation only works when it’s sincere.


As a leader, what have you done to encourage a culture of recognition throughout the entire company and your team?

There are always incentives and competitions going on within our team, which really helps solidify our culture of recognition, and the winners always get the rewards they deserve. This also extends outside of the office as we get together to play sports throughout the year as part of our “PH Perks” program. We’ve just got back on the softball field and recognize all our players with game reports and winning celebrations. 

 

When it comes to giving meaningful employee recognition, what is the most important best practice you follow?

The most important thing is to be authentic. Whether it’s praise for an individual or the whole team, whatever I do to honor my employees, I do it from the heart. Appreciation only works when it’s sincere, and giving praise is just what is needed for a happier, more productive office environment.

 

Sammy Dahlstrom
VP of People Operations

Just because leaders and teammates are praising one another doesn’t mean people feel like their work has really made a difference. “Common recognition phrases like ‘great job,’ ‘nice work,’ or ‘thanks’ lose their meaning because they are used so frequently,” Sammy Dahlstrom, VP of people operations and at Neighborhoods.com, told Built In. Instead of these stock phrases, Dahlstrom said she intentionally words her feedback so that it clearly communicates impact.

 

What are a few ways you or the other leaders on your team recognize employees for their hard work? 

We use a tool called TINYpulse, which allows employees to send and receive “cheers.” Cheers take the form of acknowledgments, thank-you’s and praise and are sent directly to the recipient as well as to an all-company Slack feed. It’s heartwarming to see how supportive our team members are of each other. 

In addition, each month the people operations team selects a working group to showcase. These spotlights are showcased on our ADP profile, which is our internal HR software, as well as in our monthly internal newsletter. Highlighting different team members gives them the chance to be seen, share more about their projects or offer up personal tidbits that others may have not known. 

Also, whether in an in-person office setting or remote environment, nothing beats a good old-fashioned “thank you.” Our VP of Marketing, Mike Hernalsteen, takes time to personally thank the individual contributors on his team with a quick Slack, email or video check in. Mike and other leaders also make individual wins visible by raising them as topics at weekly leadership meetings.

Praising positive behavior in a public forum amplifies the impact across the organization.


As a leader, what have you done to encourage a culture of recognition throughout the entire company and your team?

Our company’s “Championship Team Principles” are a set of guidelines for how we treat one another and emphasize relationships as the foundation of our business. As such, there must be a balance of positive regard and critical feedback. Recently, each department participated in a feedback workshop where they could learn new skills and practice them in a safe space. 

We kick off each bimonthly all-hands meeting by acknowledging team members who demonstrated one or more of the Championship Team Principles, such as support, coaching is the catalyst or leadership. Praising positive behavior in a public forum amplifies the impact across the organization. 

 

When it comes to giving meaningful employee recognition, what is the most important best practice you follow?

Common recognition phrases like “great job,” “nice work,” or “thanks” lose their meaning because they are used so frequently. Following the SBI model developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, effective feedback includes situation, behavior and impact. I take an extra minute to think about the impact of someone’s behavior to ensure my recognition is meaningful.

Jobs from companies in this blog37 open jobs
All Jobs
Data + Analytics
Design + UX
Dev + Engineer
HR + Recruiting
Marketing
Operations
Product
Project Mgmt
Sales
Product
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Product
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Design + UX
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Operations
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
HR + Recruiting
new
Neighborhoods.com
Chicago
Operations
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Marketing
new
Neighborhoods.com
Chicago
Sales
new
PHMG
Chicago
Operations
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Operations
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Product
new
Neighborhoods.com
Chicago
Operations
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Developer
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Aptitive
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Aptitive
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Aptitive
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Aptitive
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Aptitive
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Aptitive
Chicago
Operations
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Developer
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Sales
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Developer
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Project Mgmt
new
PHMG
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Aptitive
Chicago
Operations
new
PHMG
Chicago
Sales
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Sales
new
PHMG
Chicago
Sales
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Sales
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Data + Analytics
new
Aptitive
Chicago
HR + Recruiting
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Sales
new
PHMG
Chicago
HR + Recruiting
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago
Operations
new
Cisco Meraki
Chicago

Chicago startup guides

LOCAL GUIDE
Best Companies to Work for in Chicago
LOCAL GUIDE
Coolest Offices in Chicago Tech
LOCAL GUIDE
Best Perks at Chicago Tech Companies
LOCAL GUIDE
Women in Chicago Tech