Recognition and Appreciation Gone Sideways

Recognizing and appreciating your project team members is an important part of project leadership. But some people wield it like a 6-year-old who just found daddy’s gun. This is posted on behalf of a colleague who wishes to remain anonymous.  So many bridges to burn . . . so little time! – Kimberly

Sketched Face“I was a senior Manager at one of the big 4 consulting companies working in one of the firm’s offices with my staff. Each year the firm conducts a global employee survey to see how management is doing. Well, as it turns out our site had pretty poor scores in the “rewards and acknowledgement” area. As one would expect, word came down from high to the site partner that we needed to pay more attention to acknowledging and rewarding contributions. Here’s how it was handled.”

“First of all, every manager (I being one of them) was REQUIRED to hold a staff appreciation meeting within 1 week time. At that meeting it was REQUIRED that the manager publicly announce some wonderful thing that each person did. No staff member, was to be spared being acknowledged and verbally rewarded (god forbid they should incur any un needed expense that might affect the senior level bonuses).”

“So, in accordance with the mandate I called an “appreciation” staff meeting with my team. Now, let me interrupt myself to explain how big consulting companies (or at least this one) work. It all comes down to “time is money”. In other words, every hour a staff member spends must be charged to a “charge code”. If the “charge code” happens to be a client contract, then the firm gets revenue. If the “charge code” is not associated with a client then the it comes out of overhead and affects the bottom line profitability of the division and in this case the specific site. This in turn directly affects the profit of the site and the bonus of the partner running the site. Because of this, the invitation to this mandatory staff meeting, included a note indicating that the meeting time was not to be included on the time sheet, however each employee was still expected to log in their full 40 hours for the week. So, the “great job guys” meeting was being held on the employees personal time. How motivating!”

“There we are back in the meeting. I give “atta-boy’s” to my supervisors and as we planned ahead of time, each of my supervisors in turn gave “good job” anecdotes to each of their team members. As this was going on I checked off each name on my staff sheet to turn in to upper management as proof that we had done our duty. So, here we are in a meeting that everyone knows was forced by upper management. Even though I’m being sincere in my praise of good work, there is no way in hell it could possibly be perceived that way. Most of what was said had already been said in other meetings or one on one sessions anyway.”

“Next my boss comes to the podium, and echo’s what a good job my staff has done and how important they are to the organization. This was followed by a similar speech from the next level up. Talk about stone cold negative body language in the audience. I was impressed that no one in my staff said anything negative. They were probably too stunned by the stupidity of management. Now here’s the kicker. Even though it was mandated (and everyone knew it was mandated) that everyone would be recognized, my boss, as well as the next level up did not say one word about me, the leader of this team. Oops!! In the few days after the meeting just about everyone on my staff came around to my office and asked what was up with that, and “How come so-and-so didn’t say anything about you?”, etc. They also were not real polite in expressing their opinion of those “leaders” above me.”

“Needless to say, I no longer work for that company.”

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7 thoughts on “Recognition and Appreciation Gone Sideways”

  1. This story reminds me of an episode of the “Office”. I guess TV is sometimes not too far from reality. I think your friend made the right decision. Remaining in this atmosphere can be stressful and she would certainly start to emulate her bosses as time goes on. Better to jump ship and find something better because there is always something better out there.

  2. It might seem anything automatic or REQUIRED tends to be dangerous…
    I once had a boss who REQUIRED us to have a social gathering after hours once per month.
    I told him privately, “You can make us come but you can’t make us have fun.”
    Strangely, once we all arrived we ended up having fun anyway.
    A little common sense mustaccompany these well-intended policies.

    John

  3. It sounds weird, but recognition and appreciation are not always good. Your friend’s story reminds me another story about the opposite effect from appreciation. I once had a boss who gave reward to a team member for the hard work he did. However, those extra work is really unnecessary since that team member orginally screwed the things up. Of course, boss did not mention the bad part at all. I looked around, and saw all the disagreement faces. The group meeting turned out to be a weird situation, since nobody tried to applaud for this appreciation. After the meeting, rumors and complaints circled back and forth within the team. Needless to say, other people feels their efforts are unnoticeable.

  4. The Best Recognition programs are “home grown”. The act of invovlement in creating the process is what breaths the life of authenticity to make it meaningful.

    When the mandate from on high comes to implement a company wide program, i suggest you leverage off what’s provided, but adding a twist. Getting others involved in giving recognition makes it not only easier on you, but you’ll start developing the skills of others to look for and acknowledge key team contributions too.

    – Jefferson

  5. Marina Weinstock

    I believe that the leadership should practice what they preach at all times. Forced recognition never amounted to anything because it is given in haste due to fashion of the day; never appreciated by employees because we all can read between the lines; and it is very quickly forgotten by one and all, starting with the leadership team. For a lot of companies employee appreciation programs were and are a major paradigm shift. Most of the old established companies were pushed and prodded into really recognizing the need for it by the modern competitors borne during the “. com” days. It’s a long-term project and I hope that more and more companies will start realizing what a significant contribution a sincere, well thought-through, appreciation program can make to their bottom line.

  6. Here’s a thought on what I might have done in this situation. I would’ve taken my team to lunch or dinner, maybe even throw a party at my house. Good leaders share their bonuses with their team. Even the folks who didn’t deserve praise probably would’ve walked away happy from a nice meal or party. Its really easy to read this story and see a gang of Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Bosses handing down this edict to middle management. Good leaders make lemonade when given lemons.

  7. Hey how about actually giving regular team members a real reward like
    umm.. god forbid a few bonuses for actually killing themselves on
    a successful project. Or do you only get those for sitting around
    on your butt in upper managerment?

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