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A simple way to close the “Recognition Gap”

(August 28, 2023 Newsletter)

“More than 80% of supervisors claim they frequently express appreciation to their subordinates, while less than 20% of the employees report that their supervisors express appreciation more than occasionally.”

I came across this astonishing figure in The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath, in a chapter on the importance of recognizing others. They then add that “One survey found that the top reason people leave their jobs is a lack of praise and recognition.”

This “Recognition Gap,” as the Heath brothers call it, is familiar to me from dozens of clients over the years. Here are examples from both sides of the gap:

  • In preparing to lead a workshop on feedback, I was told that managers in the group don’t give a lot of feedback. Yet when the workshop began and I asked the participants to write in the chat how often they give feedback, the answers ranged from: “almost every day,” “all the time,” to “at least once a week.”

  • Clients also often confide in me that they’re thinking of leaving their jobs because they feel unappreciated (and these folks are all in a management position themselves).

So what is going on here? How can the “Recognition gap” be so vast?

As usual, it’s part-mindset, part-skillset.


  • Time is often cited as a primary barrier to giving more feedback, but I don’t believe that Time can be blamed as often as it is.

  • It’s really Presence. (A) When one feels pressured, tunnel vision kicks in and instead of noticing the good that’s happening, we go into “what needs to be fixed” mode. (B) And instead of pointing out little corrections on the spot, we store them away in the “I don’t have time for this right now” bucket, which fills up until a Courageous Conversation needs to happen.

  • The mindset shift, then, is to stop blaming Time and start focusing on Presence.


  • Recognition doesn’t have to be long and detailed, especially in informal contexts.

  • Imagine the following – you and your team are frantically finishing a slide deck for an important meeting. You get a message with the next version of the deck. Instead of writing back “Thanks” or “Looks good,” how about you try one-word recognition, “Creative!” or the slightly longer “The new section’s beautifully laid out, thanks” or “Thanks for the quick turnaround.”

  • Inversely, the deck comes to you and isn’t there yet. Instead of just fixing it yourself or writing back “Keep at it,” try “Slide 3 still has too much detail” or “The content is still too dense.”

Like a sports coach who stands on the sidelines yelling “Nice pass” or “Sarah’s open” instead of just “Great job” or “Come on!” you too can dole out short and specific sentences that indicate to your team members in real time, “I see you.”

  • Of course, many of you are player-coaches, so pointing out what you can as you also participate in the game is better than nothing.

  • And debriefing after the “game” ends is necessary in both cases (coach or player-coach).

If it feels like it takes too much “time” to recognize and appreciate the work being done on your team, remember that practice will lighten the load. Getting into the habit of doling out bite-sized recognition will increase your presence in stressful situations.


The Coaching Corner

Focusing the topic

When was the last time you were in a 1:1 and your team member was going on and on, jumping associatively from topic to topic as they try to make a point?

Next time that happens, try one of these prompts:

  • “It sounds like there’s a lot going on. Can you give it to me in one sentence?”

  • “I want to make sure I got your most important point. Can you summarize it for me in one sentence?”

  • “It seems like there are a bunch of intersecting issues. Which one is most important for us to dig into?”

With time, you can help the person speak more concisely without doing the filtering work for them.



  1. 4 Things to do Before a Tough Conversation

  2. “Khan Academy Founder Sal Khan on AI and the Future of Education” – ReThinking podcast interview with Adam Grant. There’s an important point toward the end: we can’t let “growth mindset” get distorted or flattened to a belief that effort is the end goal. Effort is the path to mastery, so no, A for Effort isn’t enough


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