Leadership’s Got Everything to Do With It: Women’s Guide to the Sustainable Leader and Organization states one of the best ways to empower and motivate your staff is to recognize them; show them that you appreciate their work and you view them as a significant part of the team. But how do you do this? The notion of recognizing someone varies based on who you ask. Some managers believe recognizing is as small as a “thank you”; while others note recognizing should include some sort of public appreciation. Though both can be effective methods, there is a better way to understanding how to recognize your staff. In my experience as a trainer, when I ask some of my participants how they recognize their direct reports, many reply with similar answers; “ I make them visible to upper management by including management on emails” or “I recognize them in front of the team”.  Rarely do I hear, “I recognize them based on how they want to receive it”.

What does that mean; recognize them based on how they want to receive it?  Just as you cannot manage every employee the same, you cannot  recognize them the same either. We as managers feel we are doing a stand up job by giving a direct report credit in a town hall style meeting in front of all company employees. We believe this will make them feel valued by the organization. Instead, the employee feels embarrassed and uncomfortable, but we as the manager had no idea. Many times, we recognize our staff based on how We want to be recognized, rather than how our direct reports want to receive it. The recognition should be for and about our direct reports and not about us.

Here are a few steps to determine how your direct reports would like to be recognized.


As remedial as this may seem, the easiest way to understand your employee’s preferred method of recognition is to simply ask them. Ask open ended such as: “How do you like to be recognized?” “What makes you feel appreciated in the workplace?” “If you were to do a great job on a task, how you like to be acknowledged?” These questions start an honest dialogue with your direct report. Once you undercover their desired recognition style, write it down and take note of it.


You have asked your direct report the appropriate questions to garner an answer, now listen to them. Implement the 80/20 rule of communication (80% listening & inquiring and 20% speaking) and actively listen.  Also, listen when they tell you they do not like a certain type of recognition. Do not recognize in a method that is conducive or easier for you despite what your direct reports are telling you.


Your direct reports will “tell” you how they want to be recognized by their body language, behavior and personality. This involves learning to “read” your employee and having some sense of emotional intelligence.  Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.

As a manager, you want to also be cognitive of how your direct report behaves and reacts in certain situations. If you notice a direct report is more reserved, quiet and does not interact frequently with co-workers, it may not be a great idea to praise them in a public setting. Perhaps a private conversation with this direct report may be more suitable.

In addition, an assessment test, such as DISC can provide great insight to how your direct report may want to receive recognition. This particular tool is used to understand one’s behavior and temperament, which can aid a manager immensely when considering appropriate recognition.

The most important element to take away from this article is recognition should be personalized, based on what your direct report wants and desires. This may seem like a daunting task depending on a manager’s number of reports. Despite the number of reports or time it may take to invest in determining an employee’s desired method of recognition, it will be worth it in the long run when a report feels valued, appreciated and not just another number.