As humans we all share certain inherent characteristics. These traits run across culture, education, gender and time. The need to a part of a group or a team and to be recognized for bringing value to that group are just one set of characteristics that we all share as humans.
There are multitudes of studies on these types of issues and while some provide real insight I believe that some actually hinder transformation for leadership. One area of research in particular explores the idea of whether companies provide sufficient tools to leaders to provide recognition to their staff. Further exploration of the question delves into all the ways that companies should be supporting their leaders by providing various programs (tools) that can be used for recognition.
I have to admit that this approach not only does not resonate with me but I suspect it actually hinders leaders from understanding the true nature of recognition and meaning for staff. For example, I used to love personal day-timers. You know those neat books you could carry around to put notes or appointments or client information in? I was always on the look out for the "next best" timer to try out. The problem was that once I had used it for a bit I would eventually fall out of the practice of using it. I developed quite a dusty collection of them and none of them actually did for me what I needed. Why? Because I didn't use them. Seems obvious I know but what I eventually discovered was that the issue of personal organization could not be addressed by something extrinsic but had to first be addressed intrinsically or internally. Until I determined that this was important enough for me to seriously address and make an effort toward no amount of cool day-timers were going to help.
And so it is as well with the issue of recognition. All the recognition tools in the world are not going to make you any better at providing it until you start to "do" it. The "doing" of recognition actually does not require much in terms of tools but it does require practice. Only when a leader begins to exercise that muscle and it becomes a regular part of their daily activities do tools even start to become useful. I know of one successful leader who is spoken of in glowing terms by all who work for him. When I asked him what he attributed that success to he opened his desk drawer and produced a list of all his staff. There were check marks beside each and he confided that he uses this list to make sure that each and every week he has at least one meaningful conversation with each of those people. In short he had to practice recognition and it cost him and the company nothing. His recognition became intrinsic and that is where really effective recognition begins.
I remember doing my student teaching at Fort Saskatchewan Penitentiary. Here was a classic case of a captive audience, literally, and the challenge was how to get them to learn, to perform when there were no external compulsions to do so. One student in particular seemed only interested in being in class in order to get out of the cell block. There was little participation and while he did not interrupt the lessons he wasn't taking much out of them either. I had made a point of trying to get to know each of my class and I recall that he had some amazing doodles and I complimented him on it.. He complained that it was hard to get good stuff to draw with and it gave me an idea. The next morning I presented him with some charcoal pencils and a sketch pad. While he couldn't take these back to general population (the pencils could be potential weapons) I told him he was free to use it and sketch in his free time during school hours.
At the time I recall thinking that it really was no big deal and a pretty simple gesture. But I was wrong. His demeanor in class changed and he began to be a part of the discussions and really started to enjoy the lessons. My three months went by quickly and on the last day he presented me with a beautiful sketch of a Ptarmigan. He shared that the pencils and the sketch pad had meant a lot to him and he had asked his mother to look at getting him into an Art college when he had completed serving his time.
It wasn't a lot but taking the time to get to know him and discover even just a little about his passion around art was really my first lesson in understanding that truly effective recognition always starts on a personal level. Add all the "tools" you want later if you wish but never skip this step. Get to know your team for who they are as people and you will discover how much more productive and enjoyable your team can be.