Create A Culture of Recognition On Your Project Team

As I watched my boss get an award and recognition for work my team and I did, I got pissed. Not only did he do jack shit, he didn’t even know about our project, or that we’d completed it early with 100% of requirements met, until two days ago! I shared status updates with him and tried to keep him informed, but nothing was read and a lot of 1:1’s were cancelled. When he wanted a summary of the project’s scope so he could talk somewhat intelligently about it, he kept calling me by the wrong name, even after I corrected him. “OK Josh, can you walk me through that again?” “Um, sure and my name is Jason.”

What an ass. But, he taught me a valuable lesson; those who get recognition don’t always deserve it. I will be the person to recognize the contributions of my team, even if others don’t. I will create a culture of recognition.

The contributions of others, including project team members, stakeholders, and functional leadership, strongly impact a project leader’s effectiveness. By recognizing the contribution of others for their outstanding performance, a project leader can create an environment of achievement on the team. Recognition of others is a powerful motivator a project leader can use to:

  • Retain top talent on your team (and maybe even for the company)
  • Increase employee engagement
  • Raise morale
  • Encourage high performance

Highly effective project leaders share credit for work well done and encourage all members to participate and contribute at their highest levels. Here are some tactics I have used, and learned from others, to create a culture of recognition.

Make recognition timely. “Hey remember that time you did something awesome? Well, that was awesome! Yeah, I know it was a few months ago, but just wanted to tell you.”

Sound familiar? Have you ever done something, good or bad, and after quite a while someone finally says something about it? Most of the time we have no idea what they’re talking about and have forgotten.

When a team member does something worth of recognition, recognize them right away. If they helped another team member, highlight that at the next team meeting. Worked late to finish a feature prior to release? Let them and their functional manager know the next day. Solved a complex problem? Talk about it at the next management project status meeting. In any case, be sure to recognize the person right away.

Be predictable, and unpredictable. First, don’t reward the same people over and over again. I used to watch a mail PM give recognition to a female project team member because he had a not-so-subtle crush. It was creepy.

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When I say be predictable, find opportunities to celebrate team accomplishments at those key dates or milestones throughout the project. Did you roll out the first release? Lunch for the team and congratulate everyone during the management project update meeting. Project complete? Happy hour with everyone including the project sponsor and any key stakeholders. Recognize the team at major project intersections.

Unpredictable requires more attention on your part as the project leader. You may not always see a team member jump in to help someone else. Or, they worked extra hours because an issue popped up they overcame. You can recognize them on a one-on-one basis, to the project team, and to management. I know some people who hate any level of recognition, but I send them an email anyway and cc: their boss. Pay attention when they do something and unlike my former creepy co-worker, don’t recognize the same person every time.

Make recognition public (or as public as the person is comfortable with). On a M&A program I was leading, I had the opportunity to give an update to the executive team at their monthly leadership meeting. I was short, to the point, and done in a few minutes. At the end of the update, I mentioned a couple people who were going above and beyond. Thankfully, some of the leadership took notice of the names I’d mentioned at reached out to those I recognized, thanking them for their efforts. One person loved the attention. A couple others were PISSED at me! Turns out, they hated being put in the spotlight and choose to fly under the radar.

When you give individual recognition, understand their level of comfort with how you communicate that out. Some don’t mind having it shouted from rooftops, or at least team meetings. Others would rather have an email saying “Thanks.” In any case, I always make sure their functional manager (and maybe their boss’ boss) is copied so it’s noted during their review cycle.

Encourage teamwork and camaraderie. It’s one thing when I recognize a team member. It’s something even more awesome when team members recognize each other! In fact, make it ridiculously easy for people (project team members, sponsor, stakeholders, etc) to recognize each other. Find ways where they can tell you so you can do the recognition. Or, give them opportunities to recognize each other, either publicly or privately, or both. Recognition increases teamwork!

Ask for the team’s feedback, and thank them when they do. I’m admittedly NOT the smartest person in the room. I’m OK with that.

I’m frequently asking my team for feedback, whether at team meetings, retrospectives, 1:1, or anytime I get the opportunity. I’ve gotten some great feedback and always recognize the person who gave it. This can also help encourage others who are shy to speak up and share their ideas.

Tie recognition to organizational values. I learned this from a leadership consultant. In her experience, most managers have no idea what their organizational values are. So in giving recognition, you can also be an educator of corporate values along with highlighting the contribution of others. For example, if the company has a value of “Continuous Innovation,” you could email something like this to the person and their boss:

Jenny has prominently displayed her alignment with [company]’s value of continuous innovation through…

Recognition is critical to an employee’s satisfaction. Whether they’re a project team member, sponsor, stakeholder, or someone else, giving them recognition is quick, easy, free, and has long-lasting positive implications. Next time someone deserves recognition, don’t hesitate to give it! Trust me, it goes a long way.

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