At the end of the month, you sit down and look at how your team’s been performing. One team member is absolutely killing it. You’re tempted to give them some kind of reward for a job well-done. But then you catch yourself — conventional wisdom suggests that individual recognition leads to resentment, a cutthroat culture, and less cooperation. But is it really best to reward your team but ignore the individual?
The good news is, recent research has upended prevailing views on how to motivate employees. There may be some merit to focusing on individual recognition after all!
Research On How To Reward Your Team
According to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, recognizing individual employees boosts the performance of co-workers as well.
As part of this experiment, more than 250 students were told to make small boxes on their own. Then they got into groups to build the boxes into towers. The researchers praised the top performer in half of the teams, and then they repeated the assignment.
In the second round, the teams whose top performers had been praised saw significant improvement in both individual and team tasks. The other teams saw no improvement.
Why does rewarding individuals help the team too? It’s because other team members tend to work hard to emulate the top performers. Public recognition spurs them on.
Here at The Newsletter Pro, we bestow the title of “Pro of the Month” on one top performer each month at one of our Monday company-wide meetings. Everyone not only sees the public recognition, but also hears about why this person merited an award.
Building A Meritocracy
There’s a fundamental conflict in today’s workplace. Most companies need employees to work together as a team to get results. The problem is it’s human nature to seek out individual recognition as opposed to recognition as part of a group.
That’s where the beauty of recognizing top performers comes into play. When each team member’s performance improves in pursuit of individual recognition, the whole group’s performance does as well. You reward your team when you reward the individual.
This phenomenon is especially pronounced if the person you recognize is appreciated by the team. This person should be someone who’s central to their success — someone they may turn to for assistance.
But don’t start praising individual team members willy-nilly! Keep in mind that any reward system you choose should be applied across the entire company. If some teams feel left out, this overall approach can actually be a drag on their performance. It can also hurt team morale — the opposite of what you want.
The other key is to have recognition based on merit, rather than on arbitrary factors like who’s most friendly to the boss. The positive benefits of individual recognition are likely to disappear if it seems like the whole system is rigged. That’s why you should always back up your decision with an explanation.
For example, you can tell the team, “Chelsea stayed late on Friday and made sure her client was taken care of. She saved our company from losing a huge account! That’s why I’m giving her the Employee of the Month award!”
The technical term for this is the “recognition spillover effect.” Basically, the individual team member’s performance encourages better performance across the rest of the team. Best of all, this promotes a positive and collaborative rivalry, rather than a dog-eat-dog bloodbath.
Individual Recognition In Your Business
Thoughtful recognition tells team members that their efforts are rewarded. It reminds them that they’re not the only ones working hard and doing great things for the company. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition between team members to see who can do the best job!
How can you apply this knowledge in your own business? Well, at The Newsletter Pro, we don’t just recognize individuals formally with “Pro of the Month.” We let the team get in on the fun. They decide amongst themselves in their departments who they want to recognize as “mini pro of the month” from another department.
Each team recognizes someone great within another team. For example, writers may recognize a graphic designer. Marketing might pick someone from Production they thought went above and beyond.
Make Recognition A Habit
Public appreciation for a job well-done truly is infectious. Have you made it a habit to recognize individuals for their accomplishments? If not, start
with at least one monthly meeting where you designate an employee of the month.
Shout out individuals through company emails when they’ve done something special. And keep mixing it up. However you choose to do it, give individual recognition a shot to see what it can do for your team’s productivity and morale! Reward your team by recognizing individual success, and they’ll reward you with hard work and dedication. It’s a win-win!