Don't get lost in transmission

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2007, 12:00am

Acknowledging a job well done can go a long way to making your organisation a better place to work. There are many ways to improve recognition, but today I want to focus on the need to develop a common language.

When I am asked to speak or present to various groups, I usually use the opportunity to conduct an experiment on people's use and understanding of employee recognition.

My experiment is a simple two-question exercise. First I ask: 'How many of you received recognition in the past two days?' Within the group, at most, 10 per cent to 20 per cent of people raise their hands. Then I ask a second question: 'How many of you recognised someone else in the past two days?' Invariably at least half of the people in the room raise their hands.

The findings of my experiment consistently show that more people indicate they give recognition than they receive it.

The most plausible explanation for this could be that recognition is lost somewhere between the giver and receiver. Just as there is a loss of energy as power is transmitted across wires, some recognition is lost in transmission.

A few years ago someone introduced me to the concept of The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.

Chapman says that people communicate love in five main ways. They are words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Problems arise in relationships when people speak different love languages.

For example, a man sends a woman a box of chocolates to express his love, when what the woman wanted was for him to spend some time with her. One does not feel appreciated for his efforts, while the other feels unloved. Their love is lost in transmission.

This same concept of love languages can be applied at an organisational level. Some employees will view a simple 'thank you' as recognition, while others see recognition as something more tangible.

When I first joined my firm I had a mentor who would at first, after complimenting me on my work, point out, 'by the way, that was recognition'. It's not a natural set of words to attach to any comment, but I learned his language of recognition and came to appreciate it as such. With my mentor very little was ever lost in transmission.

We all seek validation. We want to know that as individuals we matter to others and what we are contributing to is something of value. Recognition taps into that feeling of validation that is hard wired into us as human beings. It is so simple yet it goes a long way in the satisfaction it brings individuals. So why not take the initiative to appreciate someone today for their contribution, and let them know that was recognition?

Ji-Ye Hwang is a senior consultant with Hewitt Associates, a global HR consulting and outsourcing company. She is Hewitt Hong Kong's lead consultant for employee engagement. Her views are not necessarily endorsed by Hewitt Associates.