Personalizing Recognition: Are You A Hydrangea or A Cactus? 

When it comes to giving recognition, most people only go by a generalized “thank you.” While this is satisfactory, it would be significantly more impactful if credit is tailored to each receiver. This shows that you acknowledge and genuinely value their contributions. 

In the workplace, nothing is more motivating than feeling like our efforts are appreciated by our leader. Research done by the Harvard Business Review concluded that employees who receive regular recognition are more engaged, productive, and satisfied with their jobs.

The Cactus and Hydrangea

Recognition is a powerful tool that you can use as a leader to motivate your team. However, it is important to assess your employees first before giving them gratitude and appreciation for their hard work. 

Dr. Richard Osibanjo, Leadership & Organizational Development Leader at Intel, used the analogy of plants to categorize his team into two — cactus and hydrangea. He mentioned that by seeing his employees through these two lenses, he could engage and inspire them better.

Why these two plants? Plant owners will know that cactuses and hydrangeas require different care. 

As cactuses are native to a desert environment, they are independent plants that have adapted to store water over long periods. However, surviving a drought does not mean they do not need water. Healthy cactuses generally need watering every one to two weeks depending on how dry the soil is.

On the other hand, hydrangeas are plants that need a lot of care and attention. Hydrangeas require deep watering of the soil 3 times a week to encourage root growth and to prevent their leaves from wilting.

So, how does this apply to employee recognition?

People who are considered cactuses are often self-motivated and adaptable to any work environment. They do not feel the need to be constantly praised for their efforts. Of course, like an actual cactus, this does not mean that cactus personalities do not appreciate the recognition. They just don’t need it constantly to feel validated. 

When you want to show appreciation to people of the cactus personality, it is important to be specific and sincere. Rather than saying “good job” for every result they produce, focus on their work ethic and character.

The opposite can be said for people who are hydrangeas. They don’t shy away from attention like the cactus. They are social creatures who enjoy the spotlight and crave appreciation.

For people considered to be hydrangeas, public compliments and recognition will always be welcome. This could mean highlighting their achievements during team meetings, expressing appreciation over a company-wide email, or in the form of an award.

By understanding your team and their preferences, you can be more effective in providing recognition. This ensures that how you value your employees hit the mark every time. 

Related Read: 5 Love Languages In The Workplace For Employee Recognition & Retention

Why Should You Personalize Employee Recognition? 

Personalizing recognition is an excellent way to create the best working environment for everyone involved.  These 4 reasons show why personalizing recognition can be beneficial:

1. Recognize Hard Work

Most of us have experienced being put in a group to do a project at work where one person did the majority of the work, yet credit goes to every group member.

While leaders should recognize all employees for their efforts, the one person who goes the extra mile should receive more appreciation for their hard work. When a person’s efforts go unnoticed, they can become demotivated to give their best when a new project comes around. 

2. Prevents Slack Culture

The same can be said for employees who do not put their weight on their work. If everyone gets the same level of recognition, this can be a big problem for businesses. Employees who know their efforts are overlooked will be less productive and slack off instead. 

3. Supports Development

Did you know that recognition can be a tool that you can use to track professional growth among your team? By giving them credit for their work, you can show them that you have taken note of the areas they have excelled at.

This also allows you to encourage employees when they start second-guessing their abilities. However, suppose your employees already doubt themselves. In that case, you should acknowledge their concerns and provide reassurance by sharing your confidence in their abilities. 

4. Setting Standards for Excellence

We all know that individual recognition is important, but did you realize it can set your employees up for future success? When celebrating personal accomplishments, you should explain why they are rewarded. The more specific you are, the better. This way,  you can better establish what standard of work your other employees should aim for.

How to Give Better Personalized Recognition

It is important to give recognition in the workplace because it helps employees feel valued. But how do you know what kind of reward or praise will be most meaningful for each team member? 

1. Be Frequent

You may have wondered, how often should you give recognition? According to a study by the Achievers Workforce Institute, 50% of employees are more engaged when they receive recognition immediately. The study also suggests that recognition should never take longer than a month as its impact will fade over time. 

2. Make Them Feel Unique

Have you ever felt different when someone compliments you on your music taste versus the color of your eyes? You have no control over your eye color, but getting a compliment on your music taste is more personal. The same applies in the workplace. Employees want to feel special and different, so show them you value their unique talents and abilities. Highlight what your employee did differently, showing that you “get” them as a person.

3. Praise the Process

Usually, people get praised for their results. However, this can feel very generic and impersonal, as anyone can finish a task. The process of getting results is one that needs more effort. So focus on recognizing your employees as it reflects their true skills and talents. 

4. Communicate More

You would not know how your employees feel and what kind of support they need unless you ask them. You may find it uncomfortable at first to discuss this with your employees. Yet, an honest and open conversation is needed. This is a way to keep track of each employee’s expectations whilst ensuring that no one is left feeling frustrated and resentful.

5. Assess Individuals Before Giving Recognition

The cactus and hydrangea analogy comes to mind again. You should always think about how you want to give appreciation to your employees. Everyone is different, so think about how they prefer to receive your gratitude. You can do it publicly, over email, with gifts, etc. 

Understanding Your Team

Recognition is one of the most important things we can offer someone. It shows that we’ve noticed their efforts and appreciate them. 

But what kind of recognition do our colleagues or employees crave? Are they a hydrangea that needs constant reassurance, or are they a cactus that can be left to work independently? 

Understanding how different people react to appreciation allows you to manage a more impactful recognition strategy. Whichever way your team falls in each category, remember that you can always ask them directly how you can cater to their needs. Doing this makes the whole process more transparent and inclusive, which builds trust between you and your team.

And what better way to understand this than watching Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching’s webinar replays? The 2 webinars follow the theme of “Leading and Managing Remotely” It gives out great insights and anecdotes from our guest speakers who know firsthand what it takes to make your team feel valued even when they are in an isolated work setting.

You can find the link here.


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