Engineering Leadership Meetup - May-24

Leadership Meetup talk – Create the recognition your teams deserve

I had the opportunity to speak at the Engineering Leadership Meetup on 22nd May.

Below are my notes from the talk.

My talk was titled – Create the recognition your teams deserve.

I’m certainly no expert on recognition but I do have a passion for building healthy tech cultures and I believe good recognition is an important part of that.

I’m going make 3 claims…

  1. Recognition opportunities are overlooked
  2. We’re not recognising the right things
  3. Most recognition awards are unimaginative

Some or all of these may resonate with you. I will cover each of these further down.

Create the recognition your teams deserve

The recognition I’m referring to here is for product and engineering teams, not company wide recognition.

A question, do you believe your teams are getting the recognition they deserve?

Based on my claims above I believe we are missing out on opportunities to celebrate the great work that’s going on in our teams.

Why is recognition important?

It would be good to start with why recognition is important.

We watched a video clip from the series Mad Men that I found referenced here.

It can make you angry watching that!
Do you know managers that are like this? Those who take the glory for themselves without any praise or thank you. Could there ever be a time when salary alone is enough to keep teams motivated?

How do you think Peggy feels here?
How would you feel if your manager spoke to you like that?
Probably demoralised and unvalued.

I’m sure it’s not the work environments we want to work in.

I like this description of recognition I found here:

Recognition provides positive reinforcement that encourages growth. It gives employees the empowerment that comes with knowing they are valued and appreciated for their unique abilities and the psychological safety to stretch and learn.

How does it make you feel when you’re recognised for something you’ve done?
You can feel valued by your team, peers, and company.
It helps to make you feel you belong to something.

Recognition is important because…

  • Boosts morale & motivation – Helps people feel valued and appreciated.
  • Fosters a positive tech culture – Helps build a positive environment where people feel supported and encouraged. It promotes collaboration, teamwork, and a sense of belonging.
  • Helps retain talent – People who feel recognised and appreciated are more likely to stay with you.
  • Encourages good behaviours – When employees feel valued, they are more likely to take risks, share ideas, and innovate.
  • Shows you care – It shows you’re aware of the work that’s going on and you appreciate it.

Money is obviously important, however, people will get money in any job.


Good recognition can be priceless for enhancing people’s engagement and team success.

Why is recognition being overlooked?

So we’ve looked at why recognition is important. Now, why do I believe it’s being overlooked.

You could say that good recognition is hard to do.
I say ‘good’ recognition because there are a lot of easy things to do.

Gone are the days when you can get a bunch of pizzas as a thank you. There is always a time and place for food. But in our hybrid/remote world now it’s not very inclusive.

Establishing recognition that people look forward to and can have as a memory is hard.

But, just because something is hard doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.
So, why is it often overlooked?

We could say – time.
With the endless list of things we need to do, there isn’t enough time to implement some form of good recognition.
But I don’t believe time is the root cause.

What’s more likely is…

  • It’s not a priority – with everything else that’s important recognition seems less important. But if we know why it’s important and the positive impact it has on your tech culture, maybe thinking through recognition options should be a higher priority.
  • Don’t have the budget – budgets are usually tight but recognition doesn’t have to cost a lot. It’s more about the act of showing your appreciation and that you value someone’s work/effort.
  • Worried it won’t be fair – we all want something that’s fair. The reality is, as managers we know that with a lot of things we do there will always be people that don’t agree. We can’t please everyone! One thing you must do though is be able to justify our acts (like giving recognition to a particular person). If people are then upset, encourage them to continue with their good work then maybe next time it might be them! I’ve also heard that we shouldn’t be giving individual recognition because we work in teams. I disagree and cover it in the ‘Teams vs individual recognition’ section here.
  • Anxious it might fail – it takes courage to establish something new. There is concern when you don’t know how something new will be received. It takes courage to overcome imposter syndrome. I try to focus on the benefits of what I’m introducing to cancel out any worries.

What work should be recognised?

So, we know recognition is important and we’re going to prioritise it.

Next we need to decide which work we should be recognising.

Before that though, the challenge is discovering the good work that is happening in your teams.

There is probably a lot of great work happening that you may not be aware of. It’s important to discover this so the right people and work is recognised.

A few suggestions to discover good work:

  • Managers to share – particularly in larger teams the managers of each team are closer to the work so they should share good work.
  • Investigate yourself – you can use the tooling you have to find out anything you’re not aware of. This also involves chatting to the team and learning more about their work. Part of this is also encouraging people to share useful changes/ideas with others to promote collaboration.
  • Nominations – having everyone in the team nominate who should get recognition is a good way to discover work that is making a positive impact.

Once you have ways to make good work more visible across your teams the next step is deciding which ones to recognise.

This decision will depend on your environment and culture. One factor I recommend is to recognise the behaviours you want others to follow.

If you celebrate actions that lead to unhealthy work habits it could lead to these behaviours being adopted by your teams. This is not what you want.

Here are some areas you can look out for…

  • Creating a positive impact for your customers – who is going out of their way to resolve customer issues?
  • Code maintainers – who keeps your code repos is a good state to make it easier for others to use?
  • Proactively improving tech processes – who works to keep your pipelines or build systems running efficiently?
  • Side projects that are adding value – who has projects that add value externally to customers or internally to your teams?
  • Coaching other engineers/teams – who helps to share knowledge and support others?
  • Bringing innovation in their solutions – who brings a new perspective to their approach instead of simply doing what they’re told?

This is not an exhaustive list, find the behaviours you value and celebrate them. We want teams where people are leading by example.

Be creative with recognition

We now know recognition is important, we’re going to prioritise it and we have an idea what we want to recognise.

Now we have an opportunity to introduce an award that will be memorable. We want people looking forward to receiving the recognition and something that shows their work is valued.

One opinion on a gift that doesn’t work – SWAG! People get swag when they join a company and with anniversaries. They probably have enough hoodies, t-shirts, socks to last a lifetime. It’s a too easy option that shouldn’t be used for recognition. The same could be said for Amazon vouchers!

Being creative with recognition makes a difference, it shows thought and time has gone into this.

It starts with getting to know the people in your team. Once you know more about what interests them and where their passions are, any gift or award related to these will mean more to them.

A few ideas…

  • Interests/hobbies – it doesn’t have to be expensive but something related to their passions can mean a lot.
  • Conference or concert ticket – might be a budget stretch but could be something someone values.
  • A family day out or a meal with their partner – help them create good memories they can connect back to work.
  • Involve them in exclusive company events – maybe they will value the opportunity to interact with more senior leadership and have exposure to a broader perspective.
  • A public post on LinkedIn – if someone is active on social media this could help their brand.
  • Personalised trophies or plaques – these can be reasonably priced. Something with their name engraved and what award they’ve won can create a lasting memory.
  • Something else personalised – be creative with something personalised and unique. Personalised gifts will always have more of an impact than something generic and can create lasting memories. An example of something I created is in this post.

In a previous role, I went through many of the steps I’ve described here. In this blog – Be creative with recognition – I detail how I created regular recognition for our product and engineering teams.


In summary and in response to my 3 claims at the beginning, we should…

  1. Prioritise establishing good regular recognition – Good recognition gives your teams something to look forward to and can create lasting memories. This should provoke us to increase its priority. Sometimes it takes courage to establish something new but the positive impact recognition can have on your teams must outweigh any personal worries in getting there.
  2. >Discover & recognise behaviours others can follow – increasing the visibility of the good work that is happening promotes more collaboration across your team and celebrates those who are leading by example.
  3. Be creative with recognition awards – it’s your chance to introduce something that is exciting and help your team or company stand out.

The question is, will you create the recognition your teams deserve?

Here are the slides from my talk:

A few photos from the evening:



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