How Leaders Can Move Hearts And Minds Through Recognition

By Ang Hui Ming|22-09-2017 | 5 Min Read
In the recognition-deprived world of business, you can be the agent of change!

It's nice to know they know.

When was the last time you received a genuine praise from your leader that made you feel like you really matter? Thinking about your role, is it one in which you feel significant and recognised for the value you contribute?

For many people, the answer to each of these questions will be less than affirmative. This “recognition deficit” not only has an impact on how people perform, but it also affects the overall performance of the organisation and the company’s bottom line.

In fact, there are many research studies that support the notion that acknowledging and rewarding employee performance is good business – improving many things from employee satisfaction to financial performance.

In a 2016 survey commissioned by former Yum! Brand’s chief executive officer and author David Novak, a staggering 82% of American employees feel they are not recognised enough by their leaders for the contributions that they make. This lack of recognition, explains Novak, “takes a terrible toll on morale, productivity, and, ultimately, profitability.

Every tear adds ten cents to your water bill.

Another key finding of the survey found that 40% of Americans say they would be more energised in their roles if they were to receive more recognition for their work. Novak also concluded that recognising others and showing appreciation cost very little (if anything) and are hardly time-consuming.

Leaders who make a point of showing recognition and offering sincere appreciation to their team stand to gain a significant return on their small investment: a team that is renewed in their commitment to their leader and organisation, and dedicated to doing all they can to help their company thrive and succeed.

In essence, a global research conducted by the Cicero Group shows that well-recognised employees have more drive, better work relationships, improved personal standing and stronger connections to their organisation.

Personal encounter

To show how this works, I’ll share a personal encounter that involved a leader who knew the importance of recognising others and their contributions.

I was then the new business human resources (HR) leader overseeing the development of finance leaders across South-east Asia for General Electric (GE) when I had an experience of feeling truly significant. At the time, I was just a rookie in the HR line, coming from a pure finance background.

A couple of months into the role, then chief financial officer of GE, Keith Sherin was visiting Asia and I was given the opportunity to present to him the status of our finance leaders in the region and the various initiatives that were run in the region. It was one of the most nerve-wrecking moments in my career.

I was delighted as Sherin gave me his undivided attention as we talked about the key points that were raised. He recognised the efforts we put in and offered a sincere:

Job well done!



That day, I felt a sense of significance, and I pledge my loyalty to the company again, feeling re-energised and believing that every little thing I did mattered and added value to the people, the team and the organisation.

Dissecting the recognition approach

There were five key factors in Sherin’s leadership approach that made recognising others a priority for him. Let’s take a look at them: 

1. Giving undivided attention

Sherin didn’t once check his emails or phone during our conversation. And yet, leaders have to constantly stay on top of their communication. Offering undivided attention is something I personally struggle with as the emails, WhatsApp messages and meeting schedules all run into one another.

However, when I do give people my undivided attention, I can see that it achieves great results in terms of their motivation and focus, as well as the clarity and communication that exists both ways.

2. Acknowledging effort

Though our plans probably had loopholes and may not have been as “world class” as GE headquarters (HQ), Sherin acknowledged our efforts to localise our plans and said we were on to something that we probably could share and teach HQ. It can be worth more than gold when your efforts are recognised and held in such high regard.

3. Offering feedback and encouragement

As we talked about our plans, Sherin was engaged in the dialogue and expressed his honest opinions about how we were moving forward. He also shared his considerable knowledge to help us in our endeavours.

This level of involvement made it clear that he respected our team and genuinely wanted to help us improve in whatever areas we could.

4. Helping to connect the dots

Whether you’re working as a local team or as part of a global organisation, it can be difficult to know how your contributions affect the bigger picture.

Sherin took the time to tell us exactly how our efforts helped the company, and made me and my team feel that our roles made a difference for the organisation.

5. Providing moral support

At the end of our discussion, Sherin offered his moral support and endorsement on some plans and linked me to relevant leaders in HQ who could help us out. Knowing that he couldn’t dedicate his time for some of the efforts in the region, he was kind enough to make sure we had sufficient support in place from elsewhere in the company.

Concluding thoughts

As leaders, we should regularly be asking ourselves whether we give enough time to sufficiently recognise the efforts of our team. Of course, our time is precious and our schedules are always packed. However, we achieve what we can in no small way to the contributions of those around us.

While some might say they can’t afford the time to show their appreciation, I believe leaders can’t afford to neglect making an effort to build trust, engagement and loyalty – and that begins with people feeling that they are truly valued and respected.

Former American Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, sums it best:

Brains, like hearts, go where they are appreciated.


Well, maybe not always.

My question to you then will be: How will you recognise someone today?

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Ang Hui Ming is the co-founder of Leaderonomics and is a living testament that words of affirmation and recognition can go a long way for a person’s personal and career development. She wants to make a dent in the universe by "transforming the nation" one person at a time
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