You may not be a music video fan, but you may have heard about the stunt that Kanye West pulled when Taylor Swift was accepting the MTV music video of the year award.  During her acceptance speech, Kanye jumped on the stage, took the microphone away from her and announced that Beyonces video was the best ever.  If you don’t know of Taylor Swift, she is a 19 year old country music singer who is very quiet and shy.  Needless to say what Kanye did was devastating to her and prompted a loud round of boos from the celebrities in the audience.  As one celebrity put it in her twitter “…you just stepped on a kitten.”

Unfortunately there are many CEO’s, business owners or top managers who inadvertently “step on kittens”.   Other similar expressions are “raining on her parade”, or “stealing her thunder”.   What ever you call it; it happens all the time and can thwart efforts to promote employee engagement.  Most employees are motivated by something other than money.  Recognition, fun challenges, socially significant project, and working with people you like are just some of the other motivators that are important considerations for promoting engagement.  Most people want recognition in one form or another.  Many times managers while trying to praise and motivate- end up ‘stepping on kittens”.

Here are some examples that may sound familiar to you.
  • Insincere Recognition:  Jeff is an engineer who did a redesign on a product.  The results ultimately saved the company thousands of dollars per year.  The CEO heard about it and wanted to express his appreciation.  When he saw the engineer during a company meeting, he went over and said “great job on the ED Toy project, I really love the graphics”.  The problem was that the engineer’s project had nothing to do with the graphics.  What the CEO essentially told him is that he knew nothing about the project, or what the engineer did, and probably that he didn’t care.  A great opportunity to praise someone turned into a huge demoralizer. 
  • Reassignments:  Sally was working on a project that was relating to reducing water consumption on a house hold appliance,  The environment and being “green” was extremely important to her and she was extremely proud to be part of this project.  Before the project was finished, her manager reassigned her to a different project; a project that the manager felt would give the employee more visibility.  In actuality the manager denied the employee the honor of finishing one of the most important projects she ever worked on.  She was pretty devastated by the move.
  • The Unrecognized Supporting Cast:  Bill was selected from the engineering department to be a full time team member for an ERP implementation project.  The project lasted 8 months and was a huge success. Bill along with the rest of the team got a bonus, a nice recognition dinner and some added vacation time.  The problem was that Jill had to take on Bills work load while he was on the 8 month ERP project.  She ended up working a lot of extra hours because of the added work load.  Jill received no recognition nor compensation.  Needless to say, she was not highly engaged after that.

Recognition and awards can be a double edge sword if not thought out.  However, I do not want any company to stop recognition.  Even good solid, well thought out programs can cause somebody to have hard feelings once in a while.  If your company consistently, fairly and frequently gives opportunity for all employees to receive recognition, then the occasional “kitten crushers” will be forgiven.