President Obama and the federal government recently honored two World War I soldiers with the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor on the battlefield.
The soldiers in question, Pvt. Henry Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin, were previously snubbed for the medal because of race and religion. Obama stressed the importance of showing gratitude, even almost 100 years after the fact.
As The New York Times reported, the president said: “It takes our nation too long, sometimes, to say so. We have work to do as a nation to make sure that all of our heroes’ stories are told. The least we can do is to say, ‘We know who you are; we know what you did for us. We are forever grateful.'”
This got me thinking about how we show gratitude daily.
“Strike while the iron is hot” is the general wisdom for recognizing employees for their accomplishments, but what happens when you have a lapse?
Sometimes life gets busy, and outside circumstances prevent you from delivering timely recognition. Maybe you’ve been on your way home after a long day and thought you should have spoken up more after someone helped you out or did something great.
Better late than never
It happens from time to time, and the moment of recognition can be completely forgotten.
It’s not the worst thing in the world to forget. As much as we like to stress engaging and recognizing employees early on, the posthumous medal ceremony should remind us that it’s never too late to recognize someone for their accomplishments. In some cases, it’s absolutely necessary to do so to restore balance.
All we’re talking about is avoiding awkwardness. Yes, it’s awkward to approach people and thank them for something long ago. It was awkward for the U.S. government to admit to intolerance and award these medals nearly 100 years after the fact.
We don’t do it for ourselves, though; we do it for those who deserve the recognition. We are judged by our actions, not our words, and late gratitude is better than no gratitude at all.
A recent Gallup poll showed that 25 percent of employees are flat-out ignored by their managers. The respondents said being ignored by a manager is about twice as bad for engagement than if the manager focused exclusively on the employee’s weaknesses.
Forgetting to recognize your people is bad news, so pay attention and celebrate the moment—even if that celebration comes a long while after the achievement itself. Make it right, and rest assured your employees won’t forget how it makes them feel.
It may be an awkward subject to broach, but surely we can all endure a few moments of awkwardness to give people their due.