Recognise This! – People are watching. Recognise what you want to see emulated in others.

Yesterday, news broke that the leaders of Facebook, Google, Apple and DST Global have joined together to do something unprecedented in the world of medicine – and in recognition.

Sergey Brin, founder of Google, and his wife, Anne Wojcicki, founder of 23andMe, Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, and his wife, Priscilla Chan, and Yuri Milner, founder of and DST Global, gave $33 million dollars to recognise 11 scientists with a $3 million prize each for their breakthrough discoveries and contributions to science.

This goal of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences is “recognising excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.” A lofty, but worthy, goal indeed.

The recognition of the prize itself for these 11 scientists is undeniably worthwhile

The chairman of the board of the foundation behind the Breakthrough Prize is Art Levinson, who is also chairman of the board of Apple and Genentech. His comments on the Prize: “I believe this new prize will shine a light on the extraordinary achievements of the outstanding minds in the field of life sciences, enhance medical innovation, and ultimately become a platform for recognising future discoveries.”

That’s the knock-on effect of recognition done right.

When people see excellence recognised, they are encouraged and inspired to continue their efforts along the same vein. I imagine the path to discovery for all of these Breakthrough Scientists was fraught with failure and slow progress. But all of them stuck with it and achieved great discoveries that will benefit all mankind. Any scientist pursuing similar research to cure the incurable likely experience the same frustrations and need the encouragement and inspiration to keep going.

That’s why the same group of founding sponsors has committed an additional $15 million in prize money going forward, recognising five Breakthrough Scientists each year with $3 million. Indeed, the press release about the prize explains:

“One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Breakthrough Prize will be a transparent selection process, in which anyone will be able to nominate a candidate online for consideration. Also, the prize can be shared between any number of deserving scientists and can be received more than once.”

Lessons for Employee Recognition in the Workplace

Sure, giving deserving employees in our organisation millions of dollars from your own pocket is not possible. But there are several lessons to be learned from the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for the workplace, especially if your organisation is willing to commit relevant budget (at least 1% of payroll) to strategic, social recognition.

1) People are watching. To get the most from the knock-on effect of recognition, understand that people are constantly watching and noticing what gets recognised and rewarded in an organisation. They will emulate those behaviours and achievements, so be sure you are recognising and rewarding what you want to see more often.

2) Great achievements can come from anywhere, but no single person or small selection committee can see it all. It’s critical to empower all employees to notice and appreciate the excellence happening around them every day. Those in the trenches are the ones most likely to know who deserves recognition. Let them “catch someone doing something good.”

3) Team recognition for team efforts is critical. Programmes like “employee of the month” and employee of the year” – when they are the only or primary forms of recognition – are more of a detriment and hindrance to recognition than a help. If people work together to achieve greatness, then recognise all of the people involved.

4) Excellent people repeat excellence and deserve repeated recognition. Never fall into the trap of “Tom got recognised last month, so we can’t recognise him this month for exceeding customer expectations and salvaging a critical client for the company.” If someone does something deserving of recognition, recognise them! Strategic recognition is frequent, timely and very specific.

Do you see the knock-on effect of recognition in your organisation?