WHY “WELL-DONE!” DOESN’T WORK: how to give brain-friendly recognition

Merry Christmas!
Brighter Thinking With a Bottle – I’ve been to prison

‘Tis the season to be jolly… and also when many organisations formally give rewards and recognition to their teams.   In numerous studies, recognition has been found to be more motivating than simply providing a pay rise.  Indeed, the brain is wired to respond to changes in Status and for some, the offer of a higher-ranking job-title will go a lot further to maintain and increase their engagement at work, than having more money.

The well intended “Well done!” does not suffice if you wish to create a lasting positive impact with someone though – at work or at home!  This form of general acknowledgment does not register with the brain in a meaningful way.  If you would like to ensure that the recipient feels appreciated, understood and they maintain and repeat the behaviour in the future, provide Brighter Thinking brain-friendly recognition instead. The following illustrates the difference:

For example, you want to recognise John for his improvement in leading and managing his team: they are a lot more productive, harmonious and the external results reflect this.

“Good work, John!” – this comment will flow over quickly and will not be felt.  It is more like social glue in a conversation.

“Good work, John.  I see that you have made changes and the results demonstrate how you are doing things differently.” – this is better, however John is none the wiser on what you have observed so will be unsure of your real opinion and what to continue doing.

“John, I’ve noticed that you have really improved your approach to leading and managing your team.  The fact that you are scheduling regular weekly catch-ups with each of them and are being reliable and on time for these meetings has demonstrated your commitment to their wellbeing and performance:  they are feeling so valued.  The team is working together much more now and your strong leadership and approachability has fostered this.  I am impressed with how you are leveraging your strength in building relationships.  The steady increase in sales from last quarter and year-on-year reflects the positive impact that you are having and your priority in developing your team.”  Now you’re Brighter Thinking!  This time John is aware of exactly what he has changed and is doing right, is clear on what you have noticed and how this correlates towards performance.  Even writing this feedback towards an imaginary person gives me a warm glow!


If you appraise the individual in front of others, the reward in the brain is felt even more strongly.  Likewise, never chide someone in public!  The pain will be magnified because of the perceived and actual loss of status occurring when in a ‘social’ group.  Take them aside privately to share what you would like them to do more of instead.

How about experimenting with this Brighter Thinking brain-friendly strategy this month?  Yes, it takes a little more time to acknowledge someone powerfully; however I guarantee that you will create a lasting positive difference, whether the person that you recognise is in your work, a supplier, partner or even a young family member.

Let me know what happens.  What recognition have you received that has had a motivating impact on you?  Tell me at info@rachelbamber.com.