Gold Stars Are Free! Employee Recognition and Empowerment

When you were little, remember the teacher saying, “Good Job!” And remember how you felt when your test came back with a BIG GOLD STAR? WOW!

Recognition! It’s one of the most powerful motivators we have.

Your employees may have certificates, trophies, and plaques all over their desks and walls. But why does it seem that it is typically the same group who win all the awards?

What about employees who aren’t top performers?


Why are there are people with no ‘goodies’ hanging on their walls? Is it because they don’t like clutter? Not likely! Or is it because they rarely – if ever – win recognition? Some employees may want to be successful but are struggling, and others may have struggled so long they have simply ‘given up’. Still others may be so discouraged and unhappy that they’ve turned into troublemakers – with these employees, recognition programs may even have backfired and are de-motivating.


You say, “But wait a minute, the reason they have no awards is because they aren’t doing well. I’m not going to recognize someone for that! Plus, that wouldn’t be fair to the top performers.” Of course it’s important to recognize the top 10%, but isn’t it the other 90% who really need the most motivating? Finding a recognition program that will motivate everyone can unlock huge potential in employees, and make a difference not only in your organization, but also in the lives of the employees.


I learned a lot about the power of recognition from my high school English teacher. One day she was passing back our graded essays when she held up one student’s paper. She told the class that if we wanted to read an excellent essay, we should read this paper. The teacher went on to tell this student that she should seriously consider a career in writing. Now that is powerful! An authority figure like a teacher can move mountains in a person’s life by recognizing them in front of their peers. I know – that student was a friend of mine and that experience was a pivotal moment, starting her toward a successful writing career. (Perhaps you’ve read “Harry Potter”…just kidding!)


There are people in your organization that rarely get positive feedback regarding their work – they never get to enjoy the spotlight!

If you’re in management, you are in a position, just like my English teacher, to motivate people by finding something – anything – that they do well and publicly recognizing them for it. For some of your staff, this may be challenging and it may take a while, but if you look hard and long enough, even the weakest performer or biggest troublemaker has something they did well.


No matter that it may have been something fairly small. It was a call well-handled, an intra-department thing that got smoothed over, a small task they took on voluntarily and with a good attitude of team work. Lift it up! Be sincere in your recognition and thanks! Let your lips form those golden words of praise and gratitude and recognition! Be a generous boss!

This type of recognition doesn’t cost a thing. There are no planning meetings, big budgets, executive presentations, or record keeping. This is simply you and your own creativity at work! Give yourself a timeline and a goal to recognize everyone on your team within that timeline. If your words and actions are sincere and believable then your public recognition of their good efforts will be a powerful motivator and can move mountains in your employee’s lives and in your organization. (Pssst! Want a good deal on Gold Stars?)