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'I'd like to thank my goldfish, my family, my dry cleaner ...'

Giving credit where it's due

Ann Humphries

(CNN) -- The New York theater community knows how to share the honors, according to ETICON's Ann Humphries.

The topic is recognition -- how a company and co-workers can pay tribute to good efforts in a meaningful, sensible, useful way.

We've probably all seen the lemon model in this area: Somebody starts a big bulletin board of weekly congrats for work well done ... and two weeks later, everyone has been swept away by work and the board is forgotten, kudos to the last honorees left yellowing on thumbtacks. A visitor to company headquarters might assume the last good thing done by anyone occurred eight months ago.

CNN: So it was that when we opened the subject with Humphries, she had the June 3 Tony Awards ceremony fondly in mind.

Ann Humphries:There was Nathan Lane, you know, winning best leading actor for "The Producers," and he pulled Matthew Broderick (his co-star, also nominated in the same category) with him to the mic to share the honors. Plus, you know, whenever producers -- lowercase -- took an award, they all came up onto the stage at Radio City for the acceptance talk.

graphic Do you feel that you're adequately recognized at work?

Sometimes but not always.
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Now, contrast that with a high school I visited recently -- teachers there were complaining that they had to give out so many awards. What a terrible attitude.

Over and over in the workplace, we hear that lack of appreciation is a big problem. Employees say they get no strokes. Managers say they try to tell their workers they're doing well, but the workers won't hear it.

And when we cleared out a storage area here recently, we found a whole stack of plaques we'd been given. Various awards, cheap frames. The kind of thing you get when they think they have to give something to everybody.

The problem is that while it's good to want to recognize people, doing it with something that has no real practical value isn't really a good solution. I'd rather have a car-wash certificate or free parking for a day or half-a-day off. We hear people saying, "Give me something I can use, not a certificate of good performance."

And, really, the effort to motivate workers can fall apart if the company is so cheap on recognition. What's the point?

I remember working on a giant project once. We all were working overtime -- and for family people that meant take-out food, baby sitters, the works. And all any of us got was a form thank-you note. That was the last that place has seen of me.

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On the other hand, I have a neighbor who goes to Palm Beach for a weekend when her husband's company gives him a trip as a reward for good work.

Here's another wrong-headed one: They give you a smiley-face-gram -- which I find nauseating, anyway -- and it turns out it's an entry in a drawing. Well, that might motivate gamblers. But why not something you can actually use?

Sometimes something as small as a "thanks" on a Post-It can be great -- "I know you're struggling with the staff shortage and had to be here late yesterday. Just wanted you to know it's appreciated." Something that easy can go so far.

Some people are motivated by photos. They may not be your cup of tea -- like the employee of the month at the grocery store -- but a lot of people can handle having their picture and a congratulatory line in a newsletter. Sometimes a practical acknowledgment comes with it -- a special parking spot for the month.

If you're in a company that does the once-a-year awards banquet, be sure the corporate chief comes to it. That's important. You don't delegate the job of employee recognition.

Too many companies today invest in sales but not in their salespeople. And those salespeople leave. A few guidelines:

•  Share the credit. Don't hog it.

graphic What kind of recognition do you like best?

Time off
Ceremonies and certificates
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•  Keep the recognition coming, it should be ongoing.

•  If for any reason you can't keep it on schedule, tell the staff and apologize, don't just shrink away from the subject.

One of the very nicest ways that someone can honor you is by going to bat for you. Honoring your ideas. Listening and respecting what you have to say. I think that form of appreciation is so great. Being an advocate for someone is a great way to honor them.

My nephew once discovered that his job had become to lay people off. He refused. He walked off his own job. And I can't say he was snapped up by another company right away, either, it was a hardship. But he was willing to do that for the people he respected and the plant they had built. That was recognition that money can't buy and people won't forget.

Lastly, let me just add that sometimes you simply have to ask for the appreciation you deserve. "Hey, everybody, I think this retreat I've planned for weeks came together real well, just thought I'd give myself a hand." Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself and seek the recognition you deserve and need.

If you don't appreciate yourself, who will?

Next week: Staying presentable for business in the summer heat.

South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges has named Ann Humphries, founder and president of ETICON Inc., one of seven South Carolina Women of Achievement. Humphries, who's based in Columbia, is a Certified Professional Consultant to Management. Her clients have included several Fortune 500 companies. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Fortune and Money, and on CNN, CBS and Lifetime TV. You can contact her at


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