Are Appreciation Triggers Results Alone?

Appreciation TriggersOne of the most frequent questions I am asked when I’m conducting a training for a business is:  Should you show appreciation for someone who isn’t performing well?

A tension exists in the world of recognition, employee engagement, and appreciation.  There are differences of opinion on the relationship between an employee’s performance and recognizing them.  Should you recognize an employee if they aren’t doing well in all areas of performance?  Is appreciation independent of performance?

To address the issue, I think we need to keep two foundational principles in mind:

  1. The purpose of work is to provide goods or services to customers in a profitable manner.
  2. People are more than “production units”, even at work.

So both sides of the argument have valid points.  Wise supervisors don’t communicate recognition without regard of an employee’s performance.  For example, why would you reward an employee who doesn’t show up to work regularly or on time?  There are some “bottom line” behaviors that need to be in place — showing up is one of them.

Conversely, if employees are only recognized when they produce results “above and beyond” the norm, they begin to feel that they are only valued as a super achiever.

Especially when referring to newer team members, a helpful mental image is that of a youth sports coach.  When a child is learning a sport, good coaches don’t berate or punish them if they cannot perform some of the higher level skills.  Rather, coaches encourage and support “good effort” on behaviors that approximate what they are looking for.  They try to shape the athlete’s performance closer and closer to the desired goal.  If the focus is solely on what a new team member isn’t doing well, the player can get discouraged and give up.

I think the same is true with employees who are growing into their position (or even learning what “work” is really about).  Supervisors should focus on and encourage those actions that are moving in the right direction. Then when appropriate, give gentle corrective instruction on critical skills that are still lagging.

Finally, appreciation can be communicated for characteristics that aren’t necessarily related to productivity.  I personally enjoying working with cheerful people more than grumps, or warm, friendly colleagues in contrast to cool and indifferent ones.  So I can express appreciation to a colleague for those qualities even if they are not the highest producer on the team.

I’d love to hear your perspective on this issue.  Please share your thoughts by posting a comment on our 5 Languages of Appreciation group page on LinkedIn.

Special guest post, Dr. Paul White, co-author – Appreciation at Work.