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Sinead Healy

Fanclub Recognition

Co-founder & MD

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How to recognise achievers, not self-promoters


We’ve all probably come across at least one co-worker throughout our careers that was quick to let everyone know about their achievements throughout the day and angle to take centre-stage during team meetings.

And whilst for the more-discerning of us this may just be something of an annoyance, maybe even something to expect from working amid a larger team, it turns out those employees could actually be causing a lot more widespread harm than you’d originally think.

Researchers from the Ashridge at Hult International Business School found that so-called “self-promoters” are actually prevalent within workforces - and they’re reaping the rewards of a corporate culture too.

The study looked at teams across a number of employment sectors such as transport, health and government as part of a productivity study and found numerous instances where employees appeared to be highly engaged and motivated.

But in one of every five teams they evaluated, they found something of a conundrum - the employees appeared to be very engaged in their work, but teamwork and productivity were seriously lacking.

The reason, according to the research, was that these teams included staff that were ‘gaming the system’ and whilst appearing to be very engaged (and vocal in self-promoting their involvement), they weren’t actually getting much done.

These employees, who caused dysfunction within a team, were though, seen to be rewarded for their apparent efforts.

Dr Amy Armstrong, a senior researcher on the project commented that ‘they're rewarded for that dysfunctional behaviour’ because these pseudo-engaged employees are often encouraged by the managerial system for which being vocal in meetings and overtly, seemingly engaged with goings on around the workplace are seen as positive behaviours.

As a result, these self-promoters can benefit from promotions, pay increases and frequent rewards and recognition, to the detriment of the wider team.

And it’s not difficult to see why these pseudo-engaged ‘workers’ can go unchecked. For starters, an office filled with energised and vocal staff (even if a good number of vocalisations centre around their own day-to-day micro-achievements) can make a workplace appear to be committed and supportive of company goals - productive even.

But in workplaces like this, according to Dr Armstrong, teamwork and real-work engagement can completely tail off throughout the entire workforce. Self-promoters benefit the most, whilst those less vocal or not that way inclined in terms of outward self-promotion will see their efforts unrecognised, underappreciated and ultimately, pointless.

Building a culture that recognises real achievers and achievements

The issue of recognising and rewarding these self-promoters really stops at the door of team leaders and managers within an organisation for which it is their responsibility to understand the mechanics of their teams, how they operate, who contributes and who does not.

But this level of insight is all too often lacking. Whether it’s due to lack of time, resources of real people management ability and experience, it can become too easy and comfortable to hear the loudest person in the room and appreciate the good ‘acehievements’ they have to tell.

And as the study suggests above (and hundreds more studies will tell too), this lack of recognition for quieter but more productive team members - those that don’t subscribe to frequent self-promotion but really produce most of the work - can have a serious and long-lasting impact on the wider organisations productivity, motivation levels and performance.

So what can businesses do to really get under the lid and see the inner workings of their departments and teams and begin to asses who the real achievers and those deserving of appreciation and recognition are?

The first approach might be to invest in people analytics or project management tools for which you can see which team members have completed which tasks and what they’ve spent their time working on.

Lack of real visibility into who actually contributes on a day to day basis is one of the core reasons why self-promoters are allowed to continue self-promoting and get rewarded for doing so.

Gaining this level of insight will ensure that the employees who are really driving projects forward and show great levels of inward-motivation are recognised.

And the actual recognition your business offers is the next step to ensuring high motivation and real engagement.

Great company cultures are built around employees and leaders working towards a shared, common goal. Rewarding and showing appreciation for behaviours that are in-line with this shared purpose helps ensure that a strong, engaged and supportive culture will out.

Assess what rewards and/or recognition strategies you currently have in place are, and for what gratitude is shown for. Is recognition strategically delivered to employees working within the company’s goals or are they a more informal and off-the-cuff showing of appreciation? The latter could be one of the reasons why self-promoters flourish.

If the way in which an organisation rewards and recognises its employees aren’t formalised or known by all staff (or indeed some managers), then that needs to change.

Combining a deeper level of insight into how employees work and what they’re working on, alongside a revised and enhanced approach to employee recognition and the wider workforce will begin to realise that, although they may not shout about it themselves, the work they do is seen, appreciated and will be rewarded.

Author Profile Picture
Sinead Healy

Co-founder & MD

Read more from Sinead Healy

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