Motivation built from recognition

  • Published
  • By Col. Naomi Boss
  • 28th Medical Group commander
"Worker dead at desk for five days"

This was the headline to an article I received last summer, supposedly from the "New York Times." In the article it described a 30-year employee who had a heart attack while sitting at his desk in an open-plan office he shared with 23 co-workers. Beyond the sadness of the death and that no one noticed, the article ended with, "The moral of the story, don't work too hard, nobody notices anyway."

I couldn't comprehend the sadness of a death no one noticed and was insulted this was viewed as an example of why not to exceed expectations. However, more piercing than this call to mediocracy is the pointed failure to appropriately notice those who work hard.

The 28th Bomb Wing recently recognized outstanding performance with the annual awards ceremony to "Celebrate our Finest"; what a great event. Salutes also need to be given to those who wrote, tweaked, and scored the packages and supported those nominated in so many ways to enable these individuals to excel. Supervisors need to find the time to elevate their top performers; no one should ever be steered into believing they need to write their own package. Too many great, humble people will be overlooked or become disgruntled in seeing others take all the glory. They may give in, adopting the belief it is good enough to just meet the basics or worse yet, quit.

We applaud the really big stuff, for example, Air Force-level functional awards; however, the challenge should always be for supervisors to find ways to celebrate the perhaps smaller successes that may still have a lasting, career-changing impact. Discuss with peers, to include those outside your organization, ways to formally recognize individuals and teams. Some units have traveling trophies, yet others may use certificates or "time off" awards. Never underestimate the creativity of fresh minds when developing unit awards. A word to the wise - ensure formal awards are fair and equitable. Yes, there are sharp Airmen who seem to repeatedly stand out; however, it is the supervisor's job to be mentoring additional Airmen to glean future recognition.

We can't just go around handing out 3-day passes and gold watches, we can provide Airmen the informal recognition that carries them through a rough day, long shifts, and tedious inspections. Rebecca Boyle, Federal Savings Bank Training Services manager, writes, "Any time you make people feel better about themselves, you are building strong motivation." A sincere, quick comment in the hall or on the flight line may be just what someone needs.

The person at the head of the table or holding the stick may get some of the recognition; however, it is especially important for them to publicly share their gratitude to those who arranged the tables and ensured the stick works. Furthermore, every squadron has Airmen and civilians with unique skills who ensure mission capability. Take the time to recognize this synergy across squadron and group lines.

The true moral of this article should be to recognize, celebrate and reward those who work hard, for they will continue to enliven the workplace and carry the mission the extra mile.