Praise Individuals As Well As Groups

Praise is often given to groups of people in recognition of a group achievement. This is a good thing. When we’ve all pulled together to meet an objective, that recognition helps extend the “feel good” moment that comes with achievement.

Unfortunately, individuals within the group can be left feeling anonymous, not sure that their individual contribution has been noticed.

A number of years ago, the Vice President of Marketing asked me to help him write a speech. Our company, a major energy corporation, had been sold, which resulted in some substantial internal changes. Consequently, our department was being disbanded, and the people dispersed to different departments and functions. The speech was to be made at the end of a special dinner in honour of us all.

In talking of some of our major accomplishments, he was hesitant to mention the individuals who had clearly made huge contributions, for fear of disappointing those who were omitted. I pointed out that there were just over thirty people in the whole department; instead of mentioning no names at all, why not mention everyone by name? So here’s what we did.

First, we listed the major projects he would be mentioning, with the leader’s name and a list of team members. Then we looked at the complete staff list to see who had not already been mentioned. As he talked about each project, he worked in the names of all the team members. Then he reminded us that there was more to our department’s work than individual projects, and that each of us had made an important contribution over the years — and that’s when he incorporated all the other individuals’ names.

His speech was greeted with loud applause, and many people had tears in their eyes as their names were mentioned. To be mentioned in the same context as those who always seem to get the credit can do wonders for people’s self-esteem.

When your group is smaller, it’s easy to compliment everyone by name. Simply say, “The new software rollout went off without a hitch. I want to thank each one of you — Andrea, Tom, Ricardo, Jennifer and Ali — for your hard work and enthusiasm. I appreciate the contributions made by each of you to the success of the project.” More junior members of the team will be delighted to be included.

As human resources professionals know, what’s rewarded is repeated. Individual praise by name is more of a reward than we realize, and will often encourage people to give even greater efforts to future projects.