The power of acknowledgement

14 Aug 2020 · 8 min read
Why it is so important to master the art of acknowledging and recognizing employee effort.
Andreia Fontes, director of Printing & Converting, PMI

Written by

Andreia Fontes, Director S&PD and Leaf Tolling, PMI

An employee receiving recognition from his team at work

The importance of acknowledgement at work

As leaders, we sometimes overlook the profound power of small gestures. Our roles can make us so attuned to the bigger picture that the little details lose out. But more often than not, it’s the little things that create meaningful change over time. And one such gesture is the simple act of acknowledgement.

Validating others helps to shape cultures within organizations. Over time, it builds the backbone of motivated and high performing teams, where each employee feels heard, valued and appreciated.

It takes such little effort to instill this art into one’s leadership style and create value from it.

Here are the five key lessons I’ve learned to reap the rewards of delivering praise and recognition to others:

1) Understand what acknowledgement means

The very act of acknowledgement has been defined as the “recognition of the importance or quality of something”. When you identify and recognize the importance or quality of someone’s efforts, that person subsequently feels seen, heard and understood.

This process can take many forms – written in an email or text message; visually through body language; or verbally with the choice of words used to respond.

Regardless, there is an entire communication loop that takes place when you acknowledge. It begins with listening intently. And it ends with responding intently. So, whether it is an appreciation email or simply a “noted” text message, acknowledgement inherently highlights intent and deliberation, which makes the receiver feel appreciated.

2) Recognize the impact of acknowledgement

It is linked to higher fulfilment at work…

Social media has fueled a stronger need for recognition and validation than we have ever seen before. This is especially true for the Millennials and Gen Zs of the workforce. This sense of recognition is further linked to a feeling of fulfilment and purpose at work – other important drivers of employee satisfaction in today’s workplace.

When people are recognized, it gives them a greater sense of purpose – reinforcing how their work contributes to their team, function and overall company. With that sense of cohesion, team members are naturally inspired to bring new perspectives to the table. On the other hand, without acknowledgement, these same people can feel disconnected and confused about their impact within the system.

“Employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work”. – Salesforce 2018

It creates a healthy work environment…

When team members feel confident to speak up, they are also more likely to share suggestions and feedback, open up about their challenges and come forward with new ideas.

Next time you are in a team meeting, try going around the group and speaking to each person individually – acknowledge what they are doing well, and ask them about their challenges. In my role, I have found this helps us collaborate better as a team and step outside our job descriptions to think more innovatively. Research also shows that when you refer to someone by their name, the person instantly feels recognized.

Acknowledgement is especially critical for those who are just starting out. Imagine beginning a new job and not getting timely feedback or recognition. It would be easy to feel lost and become demotivated.

Recently at a meeting, I shared my thoughts about a certain topic and my colleague responded, “Andreia, I love that answer. I will shamelessly steal it and use it as well.” Such a simple act of acknowledgement, and yet it made me feel instantly connected, valued and more motivated. I came away smiling from that interaction, spurred to carry this feeling forward and create it for someone else. Such is the impact of acknowledgement.

It’s necessary in the ‘new normal’ of working…

Employees who don’t feel heard, appreciated or valued at work are prone to major dips in motivation. This was true when employees came into an office where leaders were physically present. Now, the situation has become even more challenging in a virtual workspace, where visual cues and spatial contact have diminished.

As this new work environment becomes the norm, how you choose to engage with your employees right now will have far reaching consequences on the overall performance of your team. Regular acknowledgement is even more necessary in this scenario to prevent disengagement and demotivation. If we don’t step up as leaders and show that we care, employees can easily slip into apathy.

3) Approach acknowledgement as a habit, not a tool

We are often told that leaders need to embody the qualities they seek. It follows that if you want an engaged workforce, you will need to engage as well. This is why I believe that acknowledgement should not be considered just as a tool for employee motivation but an intrinsic attribute of a good leader. Through practice, it can become a habit and ritual central to our daily exchanges with our teams and peers.

“An environment that fosters continuous and supportive peer feedback with more frequent check-ins can spur employee growth and development.” - Globoforce 2018

In our personal lives, when we choose to reach out to a friend or thank someone when they hold the door open, we enact the values we live by. The same applies to leaders. It’s the small patterns of behavior that present our leadership style to the world.

And acknowledgement is a habit that requires minimal effort. Sometimes, a simple “txs” text or a 👍🏼 emoji can help maintain that connection. When you make acknowledgement a habit, the effort is greatly minimized as it becomes an automatic response. But the value you derive from it remains high.

Make a choice to prioritize a gesture of acknowledgement. To take a moment to recognize impactful work. To really see the quality and importance of our people’s efforts.

4) Know when and how

Successful teams are inherently more open to giving and receiving acknowledgement and feedback at work. Some companies have guidelines put in place for meetings and brainstorming sessions to ensure that each person is heard. This helps amplify the voices of even the youngest and newest members of a team, encouraging them to speak up.

Often though, it may not be obvious that a team member is looking for an acknowledgement (for example, when an email isn’t directly marked to you). But that is precisely where we need to step in and show that we care – that we see and hear our employees and value their efforts.

Lastly, we are in an era where technology is our best ally. Consider using social media to share your team’s success story. Or an internal chat to celebrate someone’s hard work. Why not set a reminder or schedule a reply for a particular time? What works for me is to record audio messages on my phone, which is much easier (and sometimes more heartfelt) than typing out a long reply.

5) Make it a priority

Recognizing the universal importance of acknowledgement, Oprah Winfrey commented: “The single most important lesson I learned in 25 years talking every single day to people was that there’s a common denominator in our human experience… we want to be validated.”

Like many other aspects of our professional lives, the art of acknowledgement requires us to simply work smarter rather than harder. But above all else, it requires us to make a choice.

The choice to prioritize a gesture of acknowledgement. To take a moment to recognize impactful work. To really see the quality and importance of our people’s efforts. And to praise them for it.

Every single day. Till it becomes a force of habit.

(Top image. © Getty Images)