We’re all facing a lot of challenges right now, from the financial strain and uncertainty in our businesses to the personal roller-coaster we’re all on. But, it’s your duty as a leader to think about your people, too. Leadership is personal. It’s always about the “who” over the “what”. 

Leadership experts Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner found that employees whose leaders celebrate accomplishments rate them as 30 percent more effective and report they feel up to 26 percent more engaged at work.

So how can organizations build or continue to nurture an appreciation-rich culture when times are challenging and it doesn’t feel like there’s much to celebrate? You don’t have to do it alone. Tap into the power of peer recognition and engage managers in the effort. 


Don’t underestimate how meaningful it is to know that coworkers appreciate your efforts. Engagement experts at TINYpulse found that peer recognition is a powerful tool for supporting employee engagement.

            20 percent of respondents in a study of 200,000 TINYpulse users from more than 500 organizations cited camaraderie and                peer motivation as their top driver to go the extra mile.

Encourage teams or coworkers to recognize outstanding work among their peers. This is even more important to encourage and reinforce now that many of our workforces are working remotely. Loneliness and a feeling of isolation will undoubtedly start to set in, but peer encouragement can be a good antidote to that.

In the sixth edition of The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner share a story about the powerful impact of peer-driven recognition. A manager in the surgical stapler instruments division at Intuitive Surgical created the “Red Stapler Award” for employees to recognize peers who have demonstrated the values they admire. The first winner was recognized for his ownership of a project, and his courage to continue it even though internal teams were pursuing another option.

Both the audience and the recipient were encouraged by the heartfelt, sincere celebration and the explanation that the Red Stapler Award is about and for the employees, their values, and their reasons for working at the company.

While you may not have traditional things to celebrate right now, there are always opportunities to celebrate demonstration of values and commitment to your customers and the company.


Managers are another natural fit in the efforts recognize employees. But they may be wondering, how do I show appreciation right now when everything seems to have changed.

Recognition does not have to be based on the obvious, such as a reward for the most sales or highest performance but should be based on unique contributions.

Celebrate the accomplishments of employees by giving recognition that is personal, personalized, creative, and honest:

  • Personal: Applaud employees for what they specifically contributed
  • Personalized: Recognize employees in a way that’s meaningful to each individual
  • Creative: Recognition doesn’t need to be monetary or come only from the top; kind words or acts of service go a long way
  • Honest: Don’t make things up ­– be sincere and genuine with your recognition so employees know you truly mean it

If you have a team of now-remote employees to engage, it may look a little different but it’s certainly possible to build a sense of community and meaning to boost morale. Here are some tips for engaging both in-office and remote teams:

  • Intentionally share and recognize successes. Clarify with the team how people want to be recognized and agree to support each other personally and professionally. You could begin meetings with each team member sharing small wins and recognizing another person to make sure each employee’s contributions are recognized.
  • Pair up encouragement buddies. It’s easier to follow through and provide encouragement when you can focus on one person. When a team is new to working from home, provide a network of support for answering questions and checking in so everyone has someone to reach out to.
  • Hold quick non-work meetings with your team or direct reports. Schedule times for people to chat organically and catch up. Especially if you’ve worked in an office previously and are now remote, you’re missing out on the times when you might have chatted over a cup of coffee or after running into someone in the hallway.
  • Create a specific space for recognition or fun. If you’re in the office, reserve a whiteboard or wall for sharing notes of encouragement, funny pet pictures, or cheers for others. If you’re not in the office, find a way to create this space virtually–a dedicated Slack channel, a Facebook group, a weekly email cheers thread, etc.
  • Don’t forget the personal touch. Managers can lean into small efforts that help team members feel appreciated, like words of appreciation or thoughtful little gifts. While the US Postal Service is still running, send a handwritten note or something small to team members’ homes if they are working from afar.

There are many paths to recognizing employees, but the best place to start is always, always with a simple “thank you.”

Andrea Davis is Partner and Cofounder of FlashPoint.

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