Minion Recognition

Most organizations do not regularly recognize employees for their contributions.  Others do minimum recognition.  However, one rapidly growing IT managed services provider does minion recognition.

More on that in a moment…

Why is employee recognition important?

Because when you fail to regularly express Sincere Gratitude for employee contributions, many employees do not work as hard and even superstar team members quit.

This costs you a lot of money.

Gallup says:

“A lack of recognition remains one of the most common reasons why employees leave an organization. What’s more, some Gallup research suggests that the more talented the employee is, the faster they leave, compared with other disengaged employees.

It’s true that many organizations have recognition programs now – however, most do not take into account what’s most meaningful for each individual.”


This is the first point I want to make about employee recognition:  You must recognize an employee in ways that are meaningful to the individual.  Otherwise it has limited or no value.  Your effort to appreciate them may even offend the person.

Recognition Lesson #1

Connect your compliment to what is meaningful to the employee.

One Gallup poll concluded 65% of people received no recognition for good work in their workplaces. 

I read a similar statistic decades ago in a book titled, The Carrot Principle.  Do you believe this is true?  That two-thirds of workers never get any recognition during an entire year?

I think these survey conclusions are wrong.

My experience is that most of these workers were complimented, however along with the compliment they were corrected or reprimanded.  Something like, “Thanks for finishing that project for XYZ Corporation yesterday, Bob.  Next time, please try to finish a couple hours earlier.”

Or here’s another one:  “I didn’t think you could do it.  Nice job!”  Is that insulting?  I don’t believe in you, but wow, for once you delivered…

Or how about this one where the person puts their big butt into the statement, which obliterates the compliment:  “I love the way you designed this report.  The colors and graphics are fantastic, but next time we don’t need something this fancy.  It’s overkill.”


The second point I want to make about employee recognition is that it needs to be sincere.  When you attach a correction or reprimand, it makes the compliment seem insincere. 

Recognition Lesson #2

Be sincere.

Sincere Gratitude is the third strand of 3strands Leadership, our simple recipe for anyone to become an effective leader.  Being thankful for what you have, including your employees, is an important habit for all leaders.  Recognition is one method of expressing your appreciation.

You have two choices when giving sincere recognition: 

#1:  Separate the correction or reprimand from the compliment.  Have that discussion at a different time.  Simply give the compliment.

#2:  Respectfully and empathetically provide the advice, correction, or reprimand first.  Discuss it.  Agree on next steps.  Move on.  Then, give a specific compliment rather than a general one.  It’s much more powerful.  For instance, I say to you, “Nice job!”  It’s a compliment, and when it’s sincere, my exclamation is appreciated by the employee.

However, sometimes you want to touch the person’s heart more than their brain.  This takes some thought and total sincerity.  Let’s say instead of my simple “Nice job” compliment, I say to you:  “I know you worked through several drafts of this report to improve its clarity and catch all the possible mistakes.  Your extra effort made this report a success.  You really helped our team by making it your best.  Thank you!”

Now let’s consider one more tip before we get to the minions. 

Recognition Lesson #3

The best way to recognize an employee captures their attention. 

It’s not some plain paper certificate, boring trinket, or a casual greeting.  You don’t do this all the time, but monthly or quarterly this approach pays big dividends!


Four years ago Ben Parr wrote an article for The Harvard Business Review titled, 7 Ways to Capture Someone’s Attention.  Getting someone’s attention, curiosity, and having them immediately appreciate your recognition is important when complimenting and rewarding employee contributions.

Here is a quick overview of Mr. Parr’s suggestions.  Check out the article if you want his complete thoughts.  I am adding a lot of my own commentary to his list of 7 ways to get someone’s attention.  Our objective is to increase the impact of the compliments we give team members.

#1:  Automaticity - Sensory cues direct our attention automatically.  If a female hitchhiker wears red then she’s more likely to get a ride.  You turn your head when somebody fires a gun.  Try to identify subtle ways to trigger people’s instincts to capture their attention.

#2:  Framing - Our view of the world is biased based on our life experience.  These frames of reference cause us to respond to some ideas and ignore others entirely.  This relates back to my recommendation to connect recognition to the individual’s definition of meaningful work.  Another technique you might use is repetition.  Repeat a message when you want an individual to believe it.

#3:  Disruption – Anything outside our expectations catches our attention.  Do something positive yet unexpected to increase the impact of your compliments.  For instance, I recommended a Client buy a life-size cardboard superhero and add a message bubble to it complimenting an employee.  They placed the superhero in the employee’s cubicle after he had left for the evening.  He was surprised by the recognition when he arrived the next morning, and loved it!  That superhero stayed in his cubicle for months.

#4:  Reward – At times you want to engage the neurotransmitter dopamine because the recognition is a pending reward.  For instance, your team might be looking forward to an off-site retreat at the end of a big project.  However, rewards we can touch, experience, or even visualize have a greater impact.  Therefore, if your off-site retreat is weeks or months away then before you go send people pictures, give them a little sand from the beach, or something else to pre-experience the event.

#5:  Reputation – People respect experts more than CEOs or celebrities.  Have experts give compliments.  Connect the contribution of the employee to your expertise.  In other words, you could say something like, “The way you handled yourself in that meeting yesterday is one of the best presentations I’ve seen in my 20-year career.”

#6:  Mystery – People don’t like uncertainty and often actively try to reduce it.  Unspecified rewards can motivate people who want to solve the mystery.  These are particularly effective if they are designed to connect with the individuals definition of meaningful work.

#7:  Acknowledgment – One of the most vital human needs is validation and empathy from others.  We want to feel a sense of belonging to a community that cares about us.  This creates an atmosphere of positive reciprocity, where you do something nice for another person and they want to respond in the same way.  Sincere Gratitude expressed in employee recognition, rewards, and compliments meets this core human need.

Now, on to the Minions!

BECA is the IT Brain Power Company of Duluth, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta.  Here’s how Sherry Estep, VP of Operations, explains their infestation of minions and minions of minions...

If you get the chance to visit our office, you will notice the minions scattered around the cubicles, break room, meeting rooms, and executive offices. People always ask us - “What’s up with all the minions?”

Shortly after Mike became President of BECA in 2013, he began brainstorming ways to increase employee incentives.  He wanted a way to reward our employees when they went above and beyond expectations, but he didn’t want to do just a plain cash reward.

Enter the minions…

IMG_9242 (2).jpg

The previous summer, Mike had been dragged to the newest Despicable Me movie by his wife (me) and kids.  Soon after, the minions became very popular in the United States.  The figurines were easy to find in stores and minions were used to sponsor a variety of products.

Mike thought they would be a fun and creative way to boost morale throughout the office.  Now 5 years after the first minion appeared in our offices, the minions have become more popular than even Mike thought possible.

How it works…

The minions are used as an incentive for our employees to go above and beyond expectations. Minions are rewarded to BECA employees when they receive an outstanding customer evaluation or are nominated by a fellow team member for their hard work.  The minions can be kept or traded-in for a cash reward.  At the end of the year, the employee who has received the most Minion Awards is awarded Minion of the Year and $500.

The craze…

What started out as a simple idea to boost morale has become a standard, if not a competition around the BECA office.  Despite the fact the minions can be turned in for money, almost all employees choose to keep them and display their minions proudly at their desks.  We have Star Wars minions, Super Hero minions, and minions from the various movies.

We encourage our clients to help by letting us know when someone has gone the extra mile for them.  Whether one of our engineers solved a tough problem or our sales team was helpful in getting something ordered, we ask them to let us know so we can hand out those minions!

Could it be that one day BECA has to expand their office space to fit all their minions?



The Bottom Line

Appreciate your people in ways that are meaningful to them.  We have a Recognition Survey you can use if you’re not sure what your people like.

There is a lot more to employee recognition, but as you can see with BECA’s minions, a simple program can have a big impact. 

Thanks, Sherry and Mike!



David Graham Russell

Leadership Activist, Author & Consultant