Is your recognition style motivating or demotivating your team?

Praise and recognition can be a bit of a minefield, says Doug Upchurch.

To raise a group up to be more than the sum of its parts, its takes a transformational leader that not only knows themselves, but also their team.

However, there are things leaders may be doing (knowingly or unknowingly), which can demotivate individual team members. It takes deep self-awareness and an active pursuit of feedback to recognise these grey areas and transform them to positively impact their team.

Like many aspects of effective management, the factors that motivate and/or demotivate team members are dependent on an individual’s personal style. For example, one team member may be demoralised by heavy task management, whereas another may crave close attention. Someone may be discouraged by excessive time pressure, whereas another may thrive on a clear timeline being put in place.

Closing the credit gap

In today’s working world, the phrase ‘give credit where credit is due’ is more relevant than ever for leaders. 

Recent research discovered a quarter of UK office workers are unproductive for up to two hours every day, roughly equating to 40m hours of lost productivity across the UK each week. The Fellowes poll found that a driver for the lost hours was that 40% of people felt their work wasn’t valued by their managers. 

Receiving recognition for the work you’ve done can feel very personal. While some people crave recognition in a public forum, others may cringe at the thought of being openly praised.

While this statistic is startling, one reassuring aspect is that the degree to which an employee feels valued is something that leaders can impact – the main consideration being how to step back and give praise in that person’s preferred interpersonal style.

Remember – giving credit is a personal thing

Receiving recognition for the work you’ve done can feel very personal. While some people crave recognition in a public forum, others may cringe at the thought of being openly praised. This spectrum presents a challenge to leaders as there is often a fine line between a motivator and blocker.

When leaders don’t get it right, it can lead employees to feel disillusionment, dissatisfaction and perhaps even eager to find another job.

Many people – in particular those who like to support, help or inspire – thrive on personal engagement and feeling understood within their professional community. Not being acknowledged for work they’ve poured their hearts into is likely to be extremely demotivating.

The challenge here for leaders is a) not over-compensating by giving inauthentic praise and b) not giving too little acknowledgement, which can lead to demoralisation and the feeling of being overlooked and under-valued.

On the other hand, there may be team members who cringe at the thought of being openly praised and shy away from requesting feedback because they don’t want to seem ostentatious. They work incredibly hard; however, do it quietly and diligently, so that it’s hard to always notice their ongoing efforts.

The challenge here is a) you don’t take that person for granted or b) you praise them too overtly, leading to their embarrassment.

Understanding individuals to know how much credit to give is key                                                                  

Every person is different. In fact, diversity of strengths, skills, preferences, work styles, challenges and areas of expertise is what makes teams and organisations stronger together.

Understanding and working with the personality traits, personal values, habits, emotions and unique psychological preferences of each of your employees that drive their behaviour, is the key thing when it comes to judging when and how to praise someone for their work.


Giving credit means real, personal recognition for individuals based on their unique achievements, successes and how they prefer to be recognised. This means understanding the preferences and working styles of each team member at a deep level. 

Here are some questions leaders can start asking themselves about each person in your team:

  • What motivates, empowers and drives them? How do they like to be led and what enables their success?
  • Based on my perceptions of what motivates them, what kind of leadership approach is best aligned to support them? Am I currently taking the right one or am I leading in a way akin to my own style?
  • What facets of recognition have seemed to resonate with them previously? What insight have they provided me in our other interactions that could indicate their preferences in this space?
  • Are the facets of their work that I have praised previously in line with what they want to be recognised for? Could there be other aspects of how they do their job that deserve more of my attention?

How do we make recognition meaningful?

The challenge in today’s workplace is that too often, we have allowed praise (or any kind of feedback) to be more about us sharing opinions, or ticking a corporate box, rather than helping each other become the best that we can be. Feedback and recognition are like gifts, the best ones are those that have been thoughtfully selected with the recipient in mind.

There are also often unconscious ways that we might find ourselves giving out recognition unfairly. Perhaps you instinctively prefer working with people whose style is akin to yours, so you are not giving equality of opportunity to those around you?

The most successful positive feedback is thoughtfully considered before being given to the recipient. Remember that sharing when someone has done something well is focused on helping the recipient achieve their goals, not sharing your opinions. 

Credit goes right to the heart of the organisation

This facet of leadership is about far more than recognising people for a job well done or boosting their morale (though this is certainly a driver).

Giving appropriate acknowledgement of the contributions people make goes right to the heart of your organisation – it informs who leaves and takes their knowledge and passion with them. Recognition and engagement go hand in hand.                                                                                                                                 

To get the best out of people that enable your organisation’s success, you need to carve out ways for your team members to be successful that is true to their personal style, advocate for them on their journey to success and give recognition in their preferred style once they’ve reached the relevant goalposts.

They’ll be inspired by your trust, and you, in turn, should feel inspired by the energy, determination and intrinsic motivation they have to do great work.


About the author

Doug Upchurch is Insights’ Chief Learning Architect.




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