Recognition of Achievement

Like rewards, recognition can help motivate learners to participate, share ideas, and give input during a session. When you recognize someone, you have potentially demonstrated some degree of appreciation or approval for his or her behavior. The major difference between rewards and recognition is that the latter comes in a variety of intangible forms. For example, someone raises a hand to ask a question or offer a response to something you said and you call on the person. In taking this simple action, you have potentially satisfied a need the participant has for attention or to be acknowledged as significant.

Recognition can also sometimes be accompanied by giving tangible rewards. For example, in addition to asking the group to give someone a round of applause for a creative idea, you can also reward the learner with a piece of candy or a small prize.

There are many ways in which you can recognize learner performance and thus respond to intrinsic needs. Here are a few ideas to consider.

Use the Names of Learners

An old adage says that "There is nothing sweeter than the sound of one's own name." Maybe this is why successful business people use their customers' names often during interactions. If nothing else, using a person's name cuts down on confusion when you refer to them in a group.

Have a Dress Down Day

If your organization does not already have them, get permission for trainees to attend your session in business casual clothing. This will send a message that they are getting special treatment and help relax the environment. This latter benefit can enhance learning opportunities because psychologically a level of stress is eliminated or reduced.

Get Senior Management Involvement

Request that a member of senior management come in at the beginning or end of the session. Ask the manager to stress the importance of the program and thank attendees for their involvement and investment of time.

Incorporate Ceremony and Ritual into Your Programs

You can add ceremony and ritual by doing simple things. For example, whenever someone offers a solution or a perspective related to an issue or problem, have all participants join in a round of applause for the person. You can also recognize some important learner event such as an anniversary with the organization or a birthday. You might bring in a small cupcake with a candle or sparkler on it and have everyone sing. Be cautious about celebrating birthdays unless you are sure that it is acceptable. Some individuals do not celebrate such events because of religious or cultural beliefs. When in doubt do not celebrate; find an alternative way to recognize the person.

Decorate the Room

Use colorful signs or posters to make learners feel that they are appreciated and anticipated. For example, put up a brightly decorated "Welcome" banner in New Hire Orientation programs. You can buy vinyl-bordered blank banners at party stores and use dry erase markers to write in whatever information you please or you can create paper banners with computers. Personalize the banner or sign by listing the names of new employees on it. Perhaps even take a group photo and give each new hire a copy later as a memento. They can later review the pictures on an anniversary date with others who started working at the organization when they did.

Schedule Training Offsite

Whenever possible, conduct your sessions away from the workplace. This prevents learners from going back to their office during breaks and returning late, but it also keeps supervisors from sending someone to get learners or ask questions. In addition, it often makes participants feel special or important to go off to a program.

Arrange Site Visits

There is something about an effectively planned site visit that makes a program seem more valuable. Most learners love the opportunity to see how others are using the techniques or tools that they are being taught. They also like to see how problems similar to their own are being handled. Such trips can also enhance the perception of a program's importance and usefulness.

Provide Ongoing Kudos

Throughout your session, give kudos for achievements by learners. These might be coupled with tangible rewards.

Give Feedback

Whenever a learner does something well, or perhaps when expectations or goals are not met, let them know what you observed. If necessary, let learners know how they might improve their performance. When giving feedback, focus on the behavior and not the individual. Give the feedback that is sincere, specific, and timely (as soon after the event as possible).

Note Exceptional Behavior

Take time to point out examples of exceptional behavior in your sessions. Compliment the participant demonstrating the behavior. Doing this can encourage that participant, and others, to repeat similar behavior. For example, during a break, you can use a colorful cutout shape, such as a star (see Tools for Trainers in the appendices) to write a personal compliment. Put the note on the seat of the learner who exhibited the behavior while she is on break. She will find it on her return and know that what she did was noticed and appreciated. This type of recognition would be in addition to any public acknowledgment she received from you with the group present (e.g., a sticker on her name tent).

Photo Wall of Fame

As learners enter the room, take a Polaroid or digital photograph of them. Once they develop or are printed from a computer, have each person write his name and a strength he has, related to the session topic, on the bottom of his picture. Post these on the wall for all to view during the breaks. This is a good way to help people put a name with a face and to learn what resources they have in the room, should they need assistance later or in the future.

Help Learners Succeed

Throughout your program, share experiences (positive and negative) along with tidbits of wisdom. Offer any information (e.g., the type of material I have offered in the Resources for Trainers in the appendices) that will assist participants in growing professionally. This could be done by sharing research findings, giving contact information for future networking, or offering your ideas on a particular issue.

Create a Credit Chart

Prepare a flip chart with the name of each attendee on the left side of the page. Before beginning your session, have each person write down one creative idea related to accomplishment of stated learning objectives. Next, have each person in turn offer his or her idea to the group while you write it next to his or her name. Post this list for reference during the session and institute any ideas that are feasible.

Have Participants Co-Facilitate

If you have someone with a special talent or knowledge related to your session topic, ask them to share what they know with others. You might learn some new things also. They can share a best practice, explain a process they use, or otherwise share expertise. Recognize their efforts with group applause or a ceremony and/or a reward.

Use a Traveling Trophy or Award

Create an award or buy a plastic trophy that you can use in class. Present it to the first person who comes up with a solution, volunteers to assist, or whatever else you decide. Tell learners that the recipient gets to hold the award until someone else offers a creative solution or takes some other designated action. If you use these to designate group leaders, you may want to have a trophy for each group. The award provides visual confirmation of positive performance.

Arrange for Peers to Say "Thank You"

Build in activities during and at the end of your session in which learners can give one another thanks or positive feedback. For example, you can have participants turn to one another to say "thank you" for offering information or helping make the learning experience better. You can also have everyone form groups at the end of a session, then pass out small strips of paper so that each person has one strip for every member of his or her group. Have all learners write the names of peers on the strips of paper so that they have one for each teammate. Finally, have members of each team write one positive thing on the strips that they liked about their teammates. Encourage them to sign the strips so that people know who the comments were from. Collect all the strips and separately group the comments for each participant. You may want to do this as participants fill out their session evaluations. Without reading the strips yourself, distribute them to the appropriate learners. Each learner now has nice comments from his or her peers with which they can end their day.

Give "Thank You" Letters

If you cannot get a member of senior management to attend your session closing, ask that one of them (ideally the president or CEO) at least provide a letter addressed personally to each learner. Ask him or her to stress the importance of using what was learned to improve themselves and the organization and thank them for their participation. You can draft this letter for signature, thus increasing the likelihood of getting one done and that it will say what you need. At the end of the session, present the letter in an official organizational envelope, possibly along with a Certificate of Achievement, diploma, and/or a small present.

Establish a Special Award

An award for some special performance can be used to enhance participant pride and spirit. The award does not even have to be serious in nature. For example, you might create a No. 1 Team Player certificate. Have learners vote for the winner at the end of the session. The certificate can be colorful with balloons or a group of cartoon characters on it along with the wording. I recently used something similar to this at a leadership retreat and the learners loved it.

Say "Thank You"

In addition to having learners say "Thank you," take the time at the end of your session to thank participants for helping make the session a valuable learning experience and for what you learned from them. Follow this expression of gratitude with a reminder that you are available as a resource in the future, then provide your contact information if you have not done so.

Point Out Successes

Too many facilitators look for things that learners do wrong. For example, mistakes on tests are typically highlighted with red ink. Try highlighting "correct" and creative answers with a neon highlighter marker or giving positive strokes in class regularly.


What value do you see for addressing the intrinsic motivators of your learners?

What other intangible strategies can you think of to recognize your learners?

Mystery Learner

This is a variation of a technique used by the Central Florida Chapter of the American Society for Training & Development in Orlando, Florida, to make new members and guests feel welcome at monthly meetings.

As learners arrive for a session, select one at random to be your "mystery learner" whose role is to network and enjoy refreshments without drawing attention or identifying himself or herself as a special person. Ask the learner to remember the name of the second member of the group who comes up and voluntarily introduces himself or herself. During your opening remarks and participant introductions, explain the "mystery learner" process and ask the selected person to do a self-introduction and to identify the second person whom they met. Give both learners a round of applause and a small prize. The purpose of the process is to encourage people to communicate and network, and to get them thinking that through involvement comes tangible and intangible reward.

Good words are worth much, and cost little. —George Herbert English clergyman and poet

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