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Motivating Talent by Giving Credit in the Workplace

Motivating Talent by Giving Credit in the Workplace

I'm told to encourage good behavior in my now almost five-year-old. I'm supposed to provide positive reinforcement when he does “expected” behavior. Expected behavior is effectively completing tremendous feats such as: getting his shoes on, wiping his own tush, and eating the seven-course breakfast someone else painstakingly prepared for him.

I cheer and jump up and down like a crazy cheerleader who took too many caffeine pills whenever he completes these basic human tasks. Filled with pride, he continues on as a productive member of society.

[Related: Keeping it Real: Mom Strength at Home and the 9-5]

Somehow in the workplace, however, we forget the importance of explicitly recognizing the “expected” behaviors of colleagues. A little credit, recognition, and appreciation goes a long way. I often tell clients the importance of articulating what you think goes without saying. This can go for when you are on the job search, in an interview, or simply when working with other people on projects.

Nearly 79% of employees quit their jobs because they don’t feel appreciated. Losing staff is not only taxing, but also expensive. As such, I've outlined several ways that you can consider giving credit as a leader, a peer, and a subordinate in the workplace to help get you started.

1) Know your audience.

While my son would love a full Thanksgiving Day Parade to greet him on his way to school after he successfully completes his morning routine, some folks are a little more understated. In the case you manage an introvert, they won’t want their good deeds getting called out in the middle of an all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Instead, consider writing an email to your boss telling her what a fabulous job your employee did on a project. Make sure to copy the employee, too. Oftentimes, those lower on the totem pole don’t see the fruits of their labor. Giving them a shout-out to the big boss shows them that their efforts are meaningful and recognized. Watch as they leap at that next enormous filing project with the gusto of a five-year-old who was just rewarded with a lollipop for making his bed.

2) Name drop.

Did you get overwhelmed with projects and a colleague helped you out? Make sure that everyone you submit the report to knows you received support. Showing an ability to collaborate and ask for help when you need it is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Having the courage to tell your boss someone else also contributed to the labor shows the friend who helped you that he is appreciated. Chances are he’ll likely want to help you again instead of wanting to watch/calculate/plan your professional demise with voodoo dolls because you took all the credit for work he helped you with during your time of need.

[Related: 5 Leadership Lessons I Learned The Hard Way]

3) Acknowledge power grabs.

There’s a variety of psychological reasons why a boss decides to take credit for your work. Forbes offers some good tips on what to do if that happens. One of the most crucial responses is to nip power grabs in the bud. Ask for a 1:1 conversation with your superior and find positive ways to move forward.

This is very nuanced, and I recommend seeking counsel of trusted colleagues, career coaches, family, or friends before entering into conversations like this. Also, write out what you want to say ahead of time to sort out your thoughts logically. Verbal diarrhea can be messy to clean up. Do not send angry e-mails in the heat of the moment.

No matter what, never undervalue the currency of saying thank you for a job well done. Investing in appreciation for good work increases the amount of good work taking place.

[Related: Four Ways to Ditch Modesty and Speak Confidently About Your Achievements]


As the founder of Schtick, Heather Tranen helps the pragmatically passionate find their schtick and make stuff happen. She believes that finding a meaningful career goes beyond blindly following passion. It takes hard work, introspection, and a little dose of reality. She partners with individuals and companies to help people discover and channel their value.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.