Here’s a fun exercise: Think about an old boss you didn’t like. On a scale of one to 10 and no, you can’t use negative numbers.  How would you rate their skills of recognizing, praising, and rewarding hard work and achievement?

If you’re like most people, you probably give them a two, or at most a three.

Now rate yourself. How well do you recognize and praise your employees?

That exercise might not be quite as fun.

Effective employee recognition is mostly art, not science. That’s why most formal recognition programs never deliver what they promise: It’s easy for employees to spot an insincere, “we need to put something in place” recognition program.

So, don’t worry about creating a program. Just follow these tips to give your employees the recognition they deserve:

    • Don’t Wait.  The more time that passes between great performance and recognition, the lower the impact of that recognition.  Immediately is never too soon.
    • Be Specific.  Generic praise is nice but specific praise is wonderful. Don’t just tell an employee she did a good job; tell her how she did a good job. Not only will she appreciate the gesture, she also knows you pay attention to what she does.  And she’ll know exactly what to do the next time in a similar situation.
    • Be Genuine.  I once had a boss who walked around the plant every Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m.  He said warm and fuzzy—albeit vague and generic—things to employees during his little tour, but all of us could tell he was just checking off a box on his to-do list. (Thursday, 1 p.m.: Check in with troops and make them feel appreciated.)  Never praise for the sake of praising. It’s obvious to everyone, and you lessen the impact when you really do mean what you say.
    • Save Constructive Feedback for Later.  Many bosses just have to toss in a little feedback while praising an employee. Say, “That was great how you handled the customer’s complaint, but next time you might also consider…” and all I hear is what I should do next time.  Praise and recognize now. Save performance improvement opportunities for later.
    • Go Hunting.  We’re conditioned to spend the majority of our time looking for issues and problems we can correct. Spend a little time trying to catch employees doing good things, too.
    • Be Surprising.  Birthday presents are nice but unexpected gifts make an even bigger impact. Unexpected recognition is always more powerful, too.  Winning “Employee of the Week” is nice but receiving a surprise visit from the owner because you won back a lost client is awesome.
    • Strike A Balance.  It’s easy to recognize some of your best employees—they’re always doing great things. (But maybe, just maybe, consistent recognition is one of the reasons why they’re your best employees.)  Find ways to spread the positive feedback wealth. You might have to work hard to find reasons to recognize some of your less than stellar employees, but that’s okay. A little encouragement may be all a poor performer needs to turn the productivity corner.
    • Create A Recognition Culture.  It’s easy: Just make recognition something you measure. One of my old bosses started every management meeting by having every supervisor share two examples of employees they recognized or praised that day. At first it seemed cheesy and forced, but we quickly embraced it.  Plus, there was a nice bonus: Peer pressure and natural competitiveness caused a few of us to help our employees accomplish things worthy of praise so we had great stuff to report.
    • Treat Employees Like Snowflakes. Every employee responds differently to recognition. Many appreciate public praise. Others cringe if they’re made the center of attention. Know your employees and tailor your recognition so it produces the greatest impact for each individual

And remember that recognizing effort and achievement is self-reinforcing. When you do a better job of recognizing your employees, they tend to perform better. And that gives you even more achievements to praise.