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How to Recognize People in a Way that Matters

Everyone likely enjoys the praise that follows a job well done, but what kind of praise is best received? Which activities do team members want recognition for? Who should the recognition come from? And how public should it be?

The truth is, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule. Deloitte’s new research finds people’s preferences around recognition are influenced by factors like age, role and working style, as defined by Business Chemistry®—Deloitte’s framework for understanding and engaging different working styles. There are four primary Business Chemistry types, each with unique perspectives and strengths.

  • Pioneers value possibilities and they spark energy and imagination. They’re outgoing, spontaneous and adaptable. They’re creative thinkers who believe big risks can bring great things.
  • Guardians value stability and they bring order and rigor. They’re practical, detail-oriented, and reserved. They’re deliberate decision-makers apt to stick with the status quo.
  • Drivers value challenge and they generate momentum. They’re technical, quantitative, and logical. They’re direct in their approach to people and problems.
  • Integrators value connections and they draw teams together. They’re empathic, diplomatic and relationship-oriented. They’re attuned to nuance, seeing shades of grey rather than black and white.

Integrators value connections and they draw teams together. They’re empathic, diplomatic and relationship-oriented. They’re attuned to nuance, seeing shades of grey rather than black and white.

The power of “thank you”

People say money talks, and yet our study of more than 16,000 professionals working all around the world tells us that isn’t necessarily always true. Though it’s likely few people would turn down a bigger paycheck, some of the most-valued means of recognition need not carry a price tag. In fact, we found a strong preference for a simple “thank you” across all organizational levels, generations, genders and Business Chemistry types. A huge 85 percent favor this humble gesture over things like gifts and celebrations. Likewise, new growth opportunities, preferred over bonuses, salary increases, and high-performance ratings, can also be free of cost. Pioneers, Drivers, and Millennials value these new opportunities even more than others do according to our study.

Praise isn’t just for the winners’ podium

It’s one thing knowing how to recognize someone, but it’s quite another to identify just when that recognition is due. The big successes are usually the most obvious opportunities to give praise, but many of those surveyed also deemed effort and expertise worthy of workplace gratitude.

In particular, being recognized for effort was more important to Integrators and Guardians (who tend to be drawn to roles that are more behind the scenes), than to Pioneers and Drivers, and was more impactful for Millennials (who are earlier in their careers) than for Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. If you are less visibly connected to specific projects or successes, it’s likely more important to you that the effort going into your work is recognized, regardless of whether it directly leads to a big win.

The recognizer matters

It’s easy to assume that the only recognition that really matters to people comes from leadership and those with the power and influence to boost careers and pay checks. However, our study shows that while recognition from leadership is the most valued, praise from one’s direct supervisor and colleagues come in close behind, with almost an even three-way split.  

Each generation has its own unique point of view on this issue. Baby Boomers prefer being recognized by their colleagues, while Millennials prefer recognition from leadership, and Gen X from leadership, with direct supervisor and colleagues close behind. Of course, this variation could be attributable to who one’s colleagues are – being around quite a bit longer, Baby Boomers might have more powerful colleagues at higher levels than Millennials do.

Spread the word

We also examined how private or public professionals want recognition to be. Should it be a few quiet words or an item in the company newsletter?

For the most part, people seem to prefer something in between. Nearly half like recognition to be shared with just a few others, while another third prefer private acknowledgement. Fewer than one in five showed a preference for a broad public announcement, with Pioneers and Millennials being the most likely to select this option.

So, what now? Well, the next time you’re recognizing a high-profile team success, take some time to think about who else may be lending their effort or skills with less visibility. Get curious about what people want—consider asking them how they like to be recognized. Our research tells us that something as straightforward as a humble ‘thank you’ in a team meeting, or the opportunity to work on a new project, could be enough to motivate and inspire your team to be their best. Your people are the best qualified to tell you if that’s true for them, so take the first step and ask!

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