Pablo Picasso’s mother Dona Maria said to her son: “If you become a soldier, you will be a general. If you become a monk, you will be Pope.”

Musing on this later in life, Picasso said: “I wanted to be a painter, and I became Picasso.”

This has to be one of the most palpable examples of the power of recognition, of acknowledging talent and instilling confidence.

Recognition: The Nuclear Fuel of Human Interaction
The power of recognition can be seen in a number of instances.

Management author Charles Handy notes a ‘striking feature’ of entrepreneurs he studied was the intervention of some respected figure in their early lives who gave them ‘the self-belief and confidence to set out on their own.’ Handy associated this act of recognition with what Freud reputedly referred to as planting a ‘golden seed’.

Frederick Herzberg’s ground-breaking research on motivation in the workplace found that the top motivators for employees are (in order): achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, advancement and growth. Recognition is a key motivating factor for staff.

Psychologist R. D. Laing writes of a patient’s maladaptive attempts to subvert real contact with other people, at the same time as the patient longed for the possibility of ‘a moment of recognition’.

On a grander scale, the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel opened up entire new pathways in modern philosophy with his insight that human society is not a series of atomistic individuals entering into contracts with each other, but rather a whole in which individuals are constituted within relationships of reciprocal recognition. Society can then be understood as a series of these recognitive relationships: family, market and government, and broader culture.

When we talk of a national or cultural identity, what else do we mean than the recognition of a distinct race or heritage?

Recognition is the nuclear fuel of human interaction.

It is fundamental, formative and generative.

Harnessing the Power of Recognition
What does all this mean for strategic management? How do we harness the power of recognition in our efforts to achieve results?

The first and most obvious application is the well-known reward and recognition scheme to acknowledge employees who have gone above and beyond. While often caricatured by the workforce as McDonald’s ‘Employee of the Month’ style efforts, these programs nonetheless go some way to giving recognition. The trick is to keep the basis of recognition fresh, without it being overshadowed by the programmatic nature of the scheme.

Second, recognition of successes can be incorporated into team meetings and briefings. Publicising successes – and those responsible for them – builds esteem and bonds teams together. It can also contribute to strategy as organisational strengths are taken to book and take root in a division or organisation.

And it goes without saying that avoiding the opposite of this is a major organisational hygiene factor: many of us at one time or another will have had a boss or colleague who either did not recognise a massive work effort, or who (ahem) appropriated the credit for our idea or good work. This is quite simply one of the most dispiriting experiences in the workplace. So, giving credit where credit is due, and ensuring that recognition goes where it rightly belongs, is key.

Third, giving impromptu acknowledgement as a situation allows is one of the most powerful applications of recognition. All the more so when the specific aspects of the accomplishment are identified:

Well done on getting that briefing in on time and to such a high quality. Good work.

That was a nice piece of chairing when that meeting looked like it was rapidly heading south. Nice one.

That was a tidy piece of analysis that really clarified things for me – thank you.

It’s these little pieces of acknowledgment that act as the glue which bind us together; which (to borrow a favourite phrase from Peter Drucker) weld individual efforts into joint performance.

They are so easy to give, yet so monumentally powerful.

Fourth, we know that stakeholder engagement is critical to any change effort. Key means of mobilising stakeholders include acknowledging their role in contributing to a change effort, or recognising their expertise and the part it can play in effecting change.

The new system we’re implementing really needs the kind of database management expertise that you and your team have; can we call on you to lend a hand as we’re nearing go-live?

Finally, giving recognition not only to what is, but to a shared vision of what could be, is one of the defining facets of leadership. The collaboratively defined recognition of a shared future may just be the best means to articulatinga corporate vision …

Our skills base and accumulated knowledge is second-to-none; we can accomplish breakthroughs in this particular area of technology.

With our manifest strengths in customer service, it’s conceivable we can be a top-tier player in our industry on the eastern seaboard.

We can utilise our analytical expertise and communications know-how to leverage community sentiment and win this campaign with a sizeable majority.

A Different Orientation
To be clear, this is not a moralistic homily about the virtues of being nice to people at work. I’m not trying to improve your character. I’m not your mother.

I am however inviting you to focus on a pathway to significantly improved results by recognising the role and contribution of other people. This brings with it something which goes beyond mere technique or methodology (notwithstanding my wording above about the ‘application’ of recognition) to a fundamentally altered orientation to enliven those around you by engaging them at their core.

I will have more to say about this in the next e-newsletter, but in the meantime it’s worth considering supplementing ‘hard’ techniques for getting others to do what we want them to do, with igniting a spark in others by acknowledging their skills and efforts.

Picasso would have to agree.


Director I Michael Carman Consulting

PO Box 686, Petersham NSW 2049 I M: 0414 383 374

Handy, Charles., (2008) Myself and Other More Important Matters Random House, p.50.
Herzberg, Frederick (1987) ‘One More Time: How Do You Motivate Employees?’ Harvard Business Review September-October.
Laing, R. D. (1971) The Divided Self Pelican, p.114.
Walther, Ingo F. (ed) (1994) Pablo Picasso Volume 1: The Works 1890-1936 Benedikt Taschen, jacket liner.

© Michael Carman 2016