5 Reasons Your Recognition is Backfiring

by  Karin Hurt  |  Leadership Development

Someone gets recognized with the best of intentions… and the eyes start to roll.

Or, the audience begins to clap very slowly with plastered-on smiles.

Or…a quiet murmur comes over the crowd.. and the text messages start to flow.

Sometimes recognition backfires.

On the other hand, we’ve all witnessed the exuberant celebration when a name is called, and the whole audience seems to scream ‘YES!”  People rise to their feet…. it’s hand slaps the whole way back from the stage. The congratulations go on all night. When the recognition is on target, everyone feels fantastic.

As a leader, I recognize.  I’ve been recognized. I have also been in the constant conversations about who should be recognized.  I must admit, the higher I get in the organization, the more recognition scares me.

Recognition matters.

Recognition can backfire.

It’s important to understand the impact.

5 Reasons Your Recognition is Backfiring

After participating in hundreds of recognitions over the years, I have seen patterns that cause recognition to backfire.  Avoiding these pitfalls will help to ensure your recognition is a success.

1.  Recognize numbers achieved through bad behaviors

In an effort to remain “objective,” many leaders rely heavily on numbers and stack ranks as they select who to recognize. Over-reliance on the numbers can be a slippery slope.  A good way to overcome this is to identify additional behaviors or related metrics to use as gateways. I encourage you to build a deeper context to your recognition criteria.

2.  Recognize the leader without acknowledging the team.

Leaders need recognition too.  Sometimes there is huge value in recognizing a leader in front of their team. However, this is risky and must be done with care. Many times it’s best to use big recognition forums to recognize team efforts, and save the individual leadership kudos for another time.

3.  Recognize a big deal as if it’s a small deal

Or… a small deal as if it’s a big deal.  “Thanks for saving us $5 Million dollars, here’s your certificate” can backfire. Ensure you calibrate level of accomplishment with level of recognition, as well as ensure all leaders doing recognition at the same event are aligned.

4.  Mispronounce the recipient’s name

This mistake seems really basic, but it’s all too frequent. It doesn’t help if you laugh first and apologize. Take the time to learn how to pronounce their name.

5.  Stumble on the accomplishment, or read from a script

The leaders who go to the microphone without the notes always win in my book.  They speak from the heart… so what if they can’t quote every number… their eyes light up… they tell a story. They mean it.  Make sure you understand the recognition enough to mean it.

How do you ensure your recognition has the impact you desire? 

See Also:

Why Isn’t This Incentive Program Working?

Recognition Power Words: The Phrases That Mean The Most

One Huge Step Every Great Boss Takes

What’s Next? Please leave a comment below to join the conversation…

About The Author

Articles By karin-hurt
Karin Hurt is a leadership speaker, consultant and MBA professor. She’s a former Verizon Wireless executive with 2 decades of diverse cross-functional experience in sales, customer service and HR. She was recently recognized on Inc.’s list of 100 Great Speakers for your next conference, AMA’s 50 Leaders to Watch in 2015, and Trust Across America’s 100 Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior.  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Anil Saxena  |  26 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Really great lessons in how recognition can almost make things worse! Reading these lessons makes me remember how I have either witnessed, or I’m embarrassed to say, done them all. The best recognition I’ve given or gotten has always been from the heart. In fact, I still have the framed advertisement that I wrote for a job fair. It was signed by all the leaders of the group I was in. We brought in over 500 people to a small job fair. I was so touched when they gave me the silly little newspaper clipping in a frame. But, it was the care and authenticity that really struck me.

Thanks again.

Karin Hurt  |  27 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Anil, Thanks so much for adding that. What a wonderful example of meaningful leadership. My favorite is the framed collage of our team all having fun together in various contexts. $15 dollars on snapfish. Hanging in my office years later… priceless.

Mike Henry  |  27 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Too late catching up on my reading. Great post! Sometimes the most obvious things are the ones that we need to be reminded about. I think the key is to truly appreciate what’s going on. Everything else is faking it. We have great BS meters. The above behaviors are necessary, certainly. But they become easier, and natural, when the appreciation is real, genuine, authentic.

Thanks for the great post!

David M. Dye  |  28 Jan 2013  |  Reply

Karin, I especially appreciate #s 4 and 5 – the reminder to get their name right and not read from a script.

That personal touch makes all the difference!

One thought I would add is to personalize recognition. Some people like public recognition while others hate it. Some prefer to be recognized tangibly while to others it’s an insult. Every team leader should know their team well enough to know how people best receive recognition and encouragement.

Thanks for the great thoughts!


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