This is part of an ongoing series where we discuss the things that are killing your company culture. Who knows? You might read something all too familiar and realize it’s time to make a change.
#91 of the 17,000 Ways We Can Wreck Our Company’s Culture
Here we go again, another installment in a series designed to demoralize you for all the things you’re doing wrong as a manager. Pull up a chair!
This time I’d like to try and be on-theme-cute: I’d like to recognize you, Mr. Mediocre Manager, and you over there, Ms. Lackluster Leader, for taking a wrecking ball to recognition, one of the best ways to manipulate motivate your team into doing spectacular things. You’re doing a bang-up job of banging things up!
No, but really, I just want to check in: you know the purpose of these Culture Killer articles isn’t to send you into a dark pit of despair [for long], questioning everything you’ve ever done as a leader of people, right? That I really just want to help us all get better by poking fun at the myriad of ways that we ruin our employees’ lives? Good, Glad we’re clear.
You had your assistant send an Edible Arrangement to the Product Innovation team for winning that big industry award (but not the Large Dipped Fruit Delight, which was a more appropriate size but unfortunately more expensive than the small box of Swizzle Berries you ended up going with). You had your assistant write the message for the accompanying card, so “Yay, You Guys!” was taped to the box of six berries that went to the team of 10 high-performers.
You think that the recognition box is checked because everyone gets a grocery store cake on his or her birthday. Just to drive the point home: you think that your team getting to blow out candles awkwardly in front of peers who don’t care about them and are only in Conference Room B for the mid-day break and a chance at the corner piece of cake means that people have been “recognized.”
At the team offsite, Crystal shares that recognition is a big motivator for her, and you make a joke that she needs a weekly ribbon-giving ceremony. Worse yet, you never acknowledge this important revelation and fail to use the powers of recognition to tap into her enormous potential. Crystal leaves after eight months and you resurrect the lame joke that she must not have received enough ribbons. People laugh awkwardly and avoid eye contact.
You worry that if you compliment Raj on his consistently brilliant work that it’ll go to his head and he’ll take his foot off the gas pedal. Better to keep him in the dark on where he stands with you because every good leader knows that “Being Kept In the Dark” = Control = RESULTS.
You once read that managers should praise in public and reprimand in private, but in the moment you always get them mixed up (because you never really learned how to give any kind of feedback) so you aggressively admonish Sandy in front of the group for not having page numbers on her slides, then pat her on the back—when you’re alone after the meeting—for suggesting a $300k cost-savings initiative.
You believe that recognition for a job well done is bananas because “that’s what the money’s for” (said condescendingly like this, by Don Draper).
You couldn’t care less about being recognized—it’s just not what’s personally important to you—so, therefore, it’s surely not a thing for anyone else, and you get to skip it for everyone else. Whoever said that leaders needed to be in tune with their teams’ individual motivators was from the 80s anyway.
Jeff hears from Ramone that you spoke highly of his presentation at today’s morning status meeting. Jeff had no idea you felt that way because after the presentation you told him he needed to “work on his executive presence,” which set off a chain reaction of total and utter confusion à plummeting confidence à eating his feelings for lunch (ordering the mac & cheese with fries, thank you very much) à scrolling through Indeed.
You create an Employee of the Month program and get out of the gates strong for the first few months. Then it gets annoying and everyone keeps suggesting Sophie anyways, so you let the program slip a little– until a client comments on the outdated plaque in your lobby from August. It’s January, so maybe you need to blow the proverbial dust off the program?
Angela is a real superstar on your team, and if you let her know she’s made of stardust, she might want to spread her wings and maybe tell Kim in HR she’d like to do things that stars like to do, like “grow,” “develop,” “be challenged,” and God forbid– “GET PROMOTED OUT OF YOUR TEAM.” You can’t afford to lose her, so like any right-minded psychopath, you decide to cage Angela like a bird, not telling her she’s star material, and certainly not telling Kim in HR that she’s a superstar. Caged birds can’t spread their wings.
You believe that people really just work for money (made evident by the “CASH IS KING” sign on your office wall), so you arrange year-end bonuses for your team and forego the delivery of thoughtful, positive feedback. You’re totally unaware of the research that verbal rewards are just as lucrative as financial rewards and that money can actually demotivate many people.
As mentioned, you believe that people really just work for money (cash is still king in your office), but your budget won’t allow for extra bonuses this year. What to do? You think people will resent you for giving recognition instead of the dough, so you skip the recognition part altogether so you don’t look cheap. Instead, you end up looking cheap and
You abdicate all responsibility for “delegate” recognition. What does this look like? You agree with Kim in HR’s proposal to set up a recognition program for the team. You can’t (or you choose not to) attend any of the meetings they invite you to for valuable input, and you don’t know what they ended up deciding or rolling out in the year, but it’s a task that’s been crossed off your list and all you know is that that feels so good. (You never recognize Kim for creating, executing and managing the program, even though it resulted in a 15% lift in the employee engagement scores. Oh, irony!)
Given your “more must be better, right?” mindset, you OD on recognition– overzealously thanking everyone for everything (like when you said “Jin, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this– you’re phenomenal” that time he passed you your phone). When Jin actually does do something phenomenal, your words won’t hold much meaning.
You turn recognition for others into a personal love-fest, like when Miguel’s team broke their sales record, and you called him up on stage to presumably collect his star-shaped acrylic award, but you then waxed on about all the sales ideas that were yours. Miguel wanted to shove his star-shaped award where your sun don’t shine, but instead, he stood there like a class act, applauding you for his award.
You publish weekly Rack ‘n Stack metrics that are almost always wrong, so Rick gets all the accolades for his false first place, while Marissa, who’s really on top, gets zero “nice work” emails from you. Marissa spends almost an hour most weeks trying to rectify the ranking calculation problem—going between IT and that confused new guy in FP&A—to no avail. Rick basks in the undeserved glory.
In response to the gloomy “sales gets all the love” refrain you’ve been hearing for years, you agree to a recognition lunch for “the others” and ask your assistant to set up a buffet in the conference room to celebrate their contributions/ whatever it is their managers said they achieved. You can’t make the lunch because you’ll be at the Annual Sales Conference at the Four Seasons in Cabo.
Does the truth hurt while reading any of the points above? Maybe even just a little bit? You’re welcome, then, for the dose of reality that you’ll hopefully come to see as helpful. In the instruction manual, I’m building for the care and feeding of employees, getting a little love from a manager is near the top. The best news about recognition is that it can be free and that a little can go a long way if you stop and figure out what kind of recognition your team members need. Mary Kay said it well with her pink-hued statement that “there are two things people want more than sex and money… recognition and praise.” What’s stopping you from doing the opposite of just one of the points above, today?