GREAT Staff Recognition

They Won’t Love That Gift Just Because It is From You

While in Atlanta to attend the North American conference of the International Association of Facilitators in April, I went to the Perimeter Mall in search of a quick meal. In the food court, I came face-to-face with a poster, with a message that was just plain stupid:

“She will love what you buy because she’s your mom.”

You may recall when as a five-year-old, you came home from kindergarten with something special for your mother. She seemed thrilled with the pencil holder you had made from an empty soup can and a few popcycle sticks. She gave you a hug and told you she would keep it forever.

And you believed, just as you did a few years later when, after saving your allowance for weeks, you used your accumulated wealth to purchase the largest bottle of perfume your mother had ever seen. She was so happy and promised to save it for special occasions… really special occasions.

Time passes and you reflect on childhood experiences. You now realize why there were so few of those special occasions. Maybe the gift wasn’t so special after all. It did not match your mother’s interests and preferences.

It would seem that those who created this slogan for the Perimeter Mall never reached this level of understanding. They still believe it is the gift that is important and that any gift will do, as long as it comes from you. It is a cynical interpretation of the truism that “it is the thought that counts”.

The poster reflects the sense of obligation surrounding the practice of honouring mothers on the second Sunday in May. A gift shows that you remembered Mother’s Day. Settling for any gift shows that while you are good at remembering dates, you don’t know – or remember – enough about the recipient.

Some supervisors take the same approach to staff recognition. Give an employee a gift and it will show I care. A bigger gift shows I care more. Give everyone the same gift and it shows I care about all of them…equally. And because it is coming for me, they will love it.

That’s not going to happen. Unlike mothers on Mother’s Day, staff members aren’t going to hug their supervisors because they remembered to give them gifts. While some may truly love the gift, most will receive it with indifference or even disdain.

What makes recognition meaningful is that how is expressed is appropriate for the recipient. For some, a gift may be the right way to express appreciation. But for other, it won’t be. To recognize effectively, a supervisor must not only notice when the job is done well. She must also know each employee well enough to know the form of recognition that would be most appropriate for that individual. The more appropriate the means of expressing appreciation, the
stronger the message of appreciation…whether directed towards staff members…or your mother.

First published in Briefly Noted by Nelson Scott, May 2008.

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