People need to hear that they are doing well, and the recognition needs to be specific.
Probably the most important way to be mindful in your recognition is to start recognizing others - be present, pay attention, tell people when they are doing well.
If you don't provide feedback, the natural tendency of the mind is to assume the worst, see Negativity Bias.
How else can you be mindful?
Be specific. When you are specific you are engaged with that person and clearly present and speaking honestly about what you value in them.
Provide feedback quickly. Don't wait, do it in the present moment.
Recognition of small, but valuable contributions is important.
Consistent, frequent recognition is important - best to develop the habit of recognition.
Have a baseline of honest dialog with the person. If you have previously given them constructive criticism then the recognition will be more powerful and more easily accepted.
Recognize others to a broader audience - this may mean including YOUR superiors on the recognition email or it may mean sending a thank you note home so that a spouse or child could see it.
Number 5 is interesting and requires real ground work ahead of time. It doesn't always have to be criticism - it could be goal setting or something similar. You need an honest framework for conversations and something more than just 'you always do great at everything you do.' Sooner or later that is going to become hollow feedback.
Perhaps it is counter-intuitive to start my posts on mindful recognition with a focus on the benefits to the one doing the recognition. You might say it's odd to start the discussion of a (hopefully) non-selfish act with what is essentially a selfish motivation.
But there's a reason I'm doing it.
Why? Because we can't control how much positive feedback we get form others. Bosses will or won't. Co-workers will or won't.
What we do control is how much recognition and positive feedback we give to others. Ideally this could be a self-sustaining practice built on it's own feedback loop.
So, let's consider how you might benefit from the recognition you provide to others:
By recognizing others, and by making this a focus of your leadership style, you combat Negativity Bias on your team, making them more resilient and more capable of handling change, thereby making your job easier.
Positive reflection on you as a leader (and your boss for choosing you) when your team members are recognized for their successes (even if it is you that is recognizing them). There's a kind of multi-reflexive value here - the boss is successful because I'm successful because my team is successful.
Focus on the positive to counteract the Negativity Bias in ourselves. When we recognize others we focus consciously on positive events, behaviors, and occurrences. This helps our mind remember that there are lots of good things happening, in addition to any bad ones (real or just perceived). This makes life and work more pleasant.
Set an example for others leaders to follow - positive recognition will breed more positive recognition as others follow your example. I've had a boss say, "That was great that you recognized so-and-so, I need to do more of that." It feels great when you hear or see others being recognized and you know you had an influence on that.
What stops you from offering a word of praise to those you think did a good job?
I think that it is important to recognize those you work with - those below, along-side, and above you in the org. chart. That means everyone.
I occasionally have conversations with people because they feel like the thing I am recognizing is too small to warrant recognition. I disagree that wins and recognition should only be called out on big items, for the following reasons:
You need to exercise your recognition muscles and get in the habit of recognizing people. If you wait for the one big thing then you are likely to be out of the habit and practice, and you may not follow through on recognizing the win.
Recognizing individuals for small things that you value is important because there are plenty of things that need to get done this world that aren't glamorous. Recognizing people for these things is not wrong, when it matters. Very often this is about how it was done, not what the thing was. Did someone do it cheerfully? Easily? Did it make your day better? Did it make the whole machine work a little better? If the answer to one of those is 'Yes', then it mattered and is deserving of recognition.
Praising small things that are important isn't lowering your standards. Well, it isn't lowering my high standards anyway. I know what my standards are. I just outlined them above. What are yours? Is anything going to meet your standards?
The last item might sound a bit harsh. It probably is. The most important question I think you should ask yourself if you are out of the habit of recognizing others: Is it your standards or something else that is getting in the way?
My recent blog post on figuring out some things for a Slack integration was related to the Amadeus Wins System which we built for employees to recognize other employees.
What we added to the Wins System was to publish our wins via a bot to our general Slack channel, though as the blog points out, you can't use the giphy integration when you do so.
The response has been very positive to this - partly because the employees who get recognized are glad to have the added visibility to their exploits and successes, but also for a somewhat unexpected reason.
Because Amadeus has a lot of clients, not everyone knows what everyone else is working on. When a win is published, it gives other team members an awareness that so-and-so was working on X. So, the rest of the employees have a greater visibility to what others are working on - which they really like, simply so that they are more aware of what goes on in other parts of the building.
It's always great to get that type of unexpected benefit.
The Wins System is only an internal tool, for now, but it is something that the team really appreciates, and which we hope to add some additional functionality to in the future.