Cultivating a Culture of Excellence: The Role Of Employee Recognition

Written by Vladimir Tosic

Corporate and Startup Leader. Culture builder. Marketer and product designer.

November 13, 2023

Company Culture   |   Core Values   |   Mindset

Image by: Pixabay

Anyone who ever had to put together an Ikea cabinet knows that human beings think they don’t need instructions until life proves them wrong.

Much like a tricky DIY project, sometimes you just need someone with a different perspective and more experience to point out the obvious so we will do it for you: You need a blueprint for success.

Excellence is the golden standard all companies strive for, yet surprisingly few ever achieve it. The reason for this is that people treat a corporation like a well-oiled machine, but no matter how well you maintain the system if it’s not programmed to deliver good results all you are going to get is a fast computer repeating the same mistakes.


What is excellence, and can we get it on eBay?

Excellence is not a destination, it’s a process, and it’s shaped by a consistent understanding and upholding of the company’s values. The first thing you need to do is state your core values and goals.

If it’s efficency, make sure everyone knows that your goal is to monitor and upgrade the workflow until you optimize every single step. If it’s growth, encourage the ones who push the limits. If what you are after are vision and unique services, give your creative team a corner office and supply them with coffee.

Make sure you communicate the importance of your key values to the ones who need to make sure they are being followed.


Practice what you preach

One bad apple can destroy all dreams of excellence within your organization. If you have a team leader who talks about dedication but suddenly disappears at the first sign of a problem, or you champion integrity and then your top manager shifts the blame for a mistake onto a subordinate, know that you will lose a key ingredient for excellence – your employees’ trust.

There is a way to protect against humans who will, of course, make mistakes and be human, and that is enforcing a strategic plan to encourage excellence through recognition.


Tell Marry we said hi

There is a good chance that if you are reading this you are an HR professional, a team leader, or a decision maker. If you are, congratulations, you could have chosen an easy life, yet here you are looking for a way to make the office a better place, good job, you!

If you have to fill out or read the annual review you know Marry. Marry is that hard-working person everyone relies on.

When George forgets to send a follow-up to a client Mary reminds him. When Kelly suddenly gets a stomachache before an important meeting (again), Mary appears and sits in her place. When you need something done, and done right, your feet will automatically take you to Marry’s desk. You want to keep Mary on board, and you want more people to be like Mary. So what do you do?

Well, you tell Mary we said hi. And you take out a piece of paper or open the Notes on your phone and write down what makes Mary so amazing. She’s smart, reliable, creative, and kind. She knows her job well and her work ethic is immaculate. Great! So, those are the traits you want to see in others. Because pointing at Mary and telling George and Kelly they should be more like her won’t work, you need to be a bit more precise about it.


Recognition as a tool

First, tell Marry that you appreciate that she is punctual in meetings. Go out of your way to show her she writes the most accurate briefs for staff members by emailing back: Great as always, Marry. This instruction email is so well written we will use it next time we get to onboard someone new!

Don’t stop there. Ask Marry if she is interested in taking a stretch assignment or leading her first small team on a new project. Recognize the effort it takes to be so dedicated and praise her in front of all Georges of the company. Sooner or later they will see that Marry got promoted and that the pathway to success in your company is following in Marry’s footsteps. Communicate that excellence is rewarded and watch George arrive on time with a fresh sheet of paper ready to write down all the instructions he needs to email the product department instead of improvizing like he usually would.

No matter how grumpy people are, most of them want to do good and be rewarded for it. Try meeting them halfway and recognize the traits you want to see in their everyday work. Be patient and be consistent, that is how the foundation for a great organization is laid.

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