This post is a redo of a post from a few years back (about 4 or 5 to be not-exact.) I decided to remix/repost based on a twitter conversation I had with @TrishMcFarlane and @AKABruno (aka Matt Stollack.)

Trish said:

“Interesting. Recognition makes me uncomfortable (personally) but validation is important to me. Wonder why?”


Today the idea of recognition is huge! Much bigger than when I first wrote about this. Companies have placed an unprecedented focus on recognition as THE way to drive employee engagement. Companies have launched, purchased, folded and pivoted – all in the name of cashing in on the recognition gold rush that sprung up around 2009. I blame it on the book Drive, which when published, shifted the conversation toward recognition as a driver of performance and engagement (to the exclusion of all else I might add.) Since then companies have poured more money into software and “social recognition” than Congress has on boondoggles and defense contracts. (FYI – by definition, when done correctly, all recognition is social – you don’t need software for that.)

Yet engagement numbers still lag.

Could it be that recognition isn’t the panacea we’ve all been sold it is?

I think recognition is only part of the answer. And like anything – it never is ONE thing. It is a mix of things – in the right measure – as Nick Lowe said.

Validation AND Recognition

In 2009 I wrote a post where I suggested that recognition wasn’t the real answer to engagement and driving behavior change and that we should seek to VALIDATE vs. recognize.

I’m back at it today. I believe the way you humanize your work environment and help your employees find meaning requires more than simply recognizing them. You need to validate them. Validation creates a value statement and communicates the impact of the activity.

THAT is what people really want.

Recognition = I see what you are doing.

Validation = What I see you doing makes a difference.


I think we need both and too often we stop before we get to the second half of that equation.

We need to not only SEE what someone is doing, but we need to connect that behavior to a mission, a value, a goal. Just doing something means nothing unless somehow you can connect that behavior to movement in the direction of success.

Some may say that I’m talking about a distinction without a difference. I disagree.

Saying thanks is nice. But saying, “thanks BECAUSE this helps you/me/us achieve [this goal]”, informs the recognition event and communicates far more than just “thanks.”

Ask yourself – how many “likes” did something you posted on Facebook get? How many of them really impacted you? Now think about comments you may have received on a status update? I’m betting you can remember far more comments than likes.

Too much of today’s “recognition” is simply the business version of “Like” on Facebook. Easy. Simple. Vapid.

Don’t stop short.

Don’t just recognize.



If you haven’t seen this before it is worth the view. While it does focus on the idea of complimenting people vs. validating – the idea of identifying and commenting on the things that make people unique is part of the “validation” conversation.

You have 15 minutes to spare don’t you? Do it!