“If you tell a Hun he is doing a good job when he isn’t, he will not listen long and, worse, will not believe praise when it is justified.” —Attila the Hun

A client once told me that a supervisor had asked if she needed anything to help her accomplish her job. She said, “No, but every once in a while it would be nice to hear thank you and receive a little recognition for doing good work.”

Her supervisor told her, “We don’t say ‘thank you’ or ‘good job’ because it demotivates staff and makes them complacent.”


I worked with some of the most hard-nosed soldiers the Canadian Army ever produced. When they gave you an “attaboy,” it was a great day.

I remember working so hard on a patrol that even the insides of my eyelids were sweating. Everything was running like clockwork. My section accomplished our mission and returned to headquarters to brief the bosses.

My Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) was in the briefing and never once broke his stony expression. The look on his face could have scared the snakes off of Medusa’s head. I had no idea what was in store for me. But after the briefing, the RSM took me aside and said, “Nice work.” It was a terrific feeling.

People want and need recognition beyond their compensation package. No one deserves to be taken for granted. Some people need their ego stroked, some need a quiet touch on the shoulder, and some need to be publicly honoured. Just be careful not to give platitudes.

Even Attila the Hun had it figured out.

The leadership skills of the manager may be the most important factor in achieving desired results. And two of the most difficult tasks in dealing with employees are praising and reprimanding.
Giving Credit

Human beings crave recognition. Recognition helps to satisfy this desire and gives the person being commended inspiration and renewed enthusiasm. As Attila the Hun warns, some people hand out so much praise that it loses its significance. Praise should be kept for the extra effort and for really good performance, not just for doing what is expected.

To be an effective manager, you should know that people do better in a positive environment of acceptance and understanding.

To use praise effectively:
• Give credit when it is due.
• Be specific about the reason for the recognition.
• Be sincere.
• Ask the advice of your people. The most sincere form of praise is accepting someone’s advice and suggestions. If you can’t accept a suggestion, you should provide a diplomatic explanation why.

Taking Corrective Action
On the other hand, good leadership and management often require that an employee be called to account for making mistakes, or for work or personal factors related to the job. The following is a refresher on how to reprimand someone.


• Time the reprimand properly. As a rule, the reprimand should be administered as soon after the offence as possible.
• Reprimand the person in private, never in the presence of others.
• Begin the reprimand with a question based on the facts, not an accusation.
• Take nothing for granted. Give the employee a chance to tell the entire story.
• Listen.
• Give constructive advice. Leave with a feeling that no resentment has been incurred and that a positive plan of action has been developed to correct the problem.


• Reprimand someone when you are emotionally upset.
• Interrupt the person’s story or anticipate a particular response.
• Get manoeuvred into an argument.
• Nag. Once the issue is settled, forget it unless there are signs of it being repeated.
• Compare the employee to other people. Always compare to a company standard.

The golden rule of corrective action is that the emphasis should always be on the error being corrected or the offence committed—never, never, never on the person who is being reprimanded.

How and When to Take Corrective Action
It is easy to commend your people for good work, and doing so is often a great pleasure to a leader. But to correct a fault, provide a reprimand, or terminate an employee for poor performance takes courage. In my career, I have had to do too much of that kind of HR “dirty work,” but I draw the courage to do so from the knowledge that the employee has been treated fairly and has been provided with every opportunity to improve.

How Do You Measure Up When It Comes to Recognition?
Read each statement or question below. On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning “never” and 5 meaning “always,” mark an “X” where you think you are today on each measure, and then mark an “O” where you would like to be.

1. You involve people in a creative climate in which they feel free to participate.

1 —– 2 —–3 —– 4 —– 5

2. You understand that people don’t behave in uniform ways, and you take into consideration the personal makeup of each individual.

1 —– 2 —–3 —– 4 —– 5

3. You have accurate, objective ways to assess the performance of your people.

1 —– 2 —–3 —– 4 —– 5

4. You hold regular interviews with people to stimulate them to achieve desired results and coach, guide, train, and counsel them on a goal-oriented basis.

1 —– 2 —–3 —– 4 —– 5

5. You train people to take corrective action when desired results are not forthcoming.

1 —– 2 —–3 —– 4 —– 5

6. You take corrective action quickly when deviations from desired results and performance occur.

1 —– 2 —–3 —– 4 —– 5

7. You show proper appreciation to staff when they merit it.

1 —– 2 —–3 —– 4 —– 5

8. You do not ignore mistakes, but you don’t dwell on minor ones.

1 —– 2 —–3 —– 4 —– 5

What are you going to do today to get to where you want?

One thought on “The Do’s & Don’t of recognizing your people and 8 Questions to see how you are doing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *