Recognizing Excellence on Your Team

Plaques. Pizza Parties. Parking Spaces. The list can go on and on. After all, who doesn’t like to to be recognized and get prizes, right? There are even popular books that give hundreds of ways to recognize your employees. In the quest to provide employee recognition, companies often assume that more incentives will lead to higher employee morale.

Take it, like it & be happy about it.

In many companies, if you win “employee of the month”, the award is a plaque. This plaque may even be coated in gold with your name etched in elegant writing and bedazzled with jewels! Well, what if you don’t like plaques? You get the plaque anyway! What if you don’t have an office or cubicle to hang it in? You get the plaque anyway!

Let’s say that you are on a team that attained all of its goals (revenue, profitability, customer satisfaction, etc). The award is “Department of the Quarter” and the prize is…wait for it… a pizza party!  Yes! EVERYONE loves pizza right? What if you don’t like pizza? You get the pizza anyway.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with plaques or pizza parties. It’s actually a great thing to have an organizational norm (or tradition) to celebrate excellence.


If I want to make you feel recognized, then I should know what makes you feel recognized. It may sound like common sense, but I can assure you, that it is not common at all. Recognition is not about the giver, it is about the recipient. What are the things that make you feel appreciated? How do you like to be recognized? Do you prefer public recognition or private recognition (1-on-1)?

Banquet Houseman

Years ago, when I was a banquet captain, one of my employees was Teodoro. He was simply amazing. Easily one of the hardest working people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with. One day, I wanted to show my appreciation and recognize him for a job well done. So, I asked him what he would like. He told me that it would mean the world to him if I wrote a letter to his family in Honduras, telling them that he’s doing a great job. That’s it.

I had another colleague, Emily, who loved Starbuck’s coffee. Specifically, she craved a tall caramel macchiato with extra cinnamon. One morning, I brought that to work for her. Both Teo and Emily felt recognized, appreciated and valued.

In addition to the organizational norms, I encourage you to spend time with each of your employees (start with the hardest working ones) and find out:

  • What are their favorite hobbies/special interests?
  • What are their favorite snacks and non-alcoholic beverages?
  • Do they like public or private recognition?
  • From whom do they like to receive recognition?

In the end, recognition is about serving those we want to celebrate. And service is not about the giver, it is about the recipient. So make the recognition meaningful…make it personal…and make it memorable.  Invest the time to celebrate your team, and then watch them celebrate their customers.

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