62

I work at a small, but rapidly growing company (~40 people now, 100+ people in sight). We use Slack as our primary communication tool, and recently, a new channel has been created that is dedicated to public (yet internal to the company), peer-to-peer "shoutouts".

While I 100% believe that recognizing people for their hard work is absolutely essential, I'm not convinced that this approach is a good one (albeit well intentioned). To the contrary, I'm actually concerned it may have some unintended, negative side effects.

  1. Employees may be disappointed that their hard work isn't being recognized if they're not the ones being mentioned in the channel.
  2. There may be false affirmation of performing well just because you've been mentioned in the channel.
  3. Some people legitimately don't like public callouts, even if they are well intentioned.

To put this a different way, I feel as if this approach solves for the wrong problem. Instead we should be focused on facilitating the following:

  1. Management should be open and transparent to an employee about his/her performance, and relate praise when it has been given/deserved.
  2. When an employee does well, others should message that employee directly and/or message that employee's manager.
  3. 1:1s, annual performance reviews, leveling, and compensation should be structured to show how valuable the employee and his/her work has been to the company.

With this said, I have no hard evidence to back up either sides of my case here. While I may feel one way, perhaps I am wrong, and all companies should have a channel like this because it's a productive and simple way to help the team feel recognized.

Conversely, in my experience at large, successful tech firms and a variety of smaller startups - no one has done this. Why?

Does anyone have any evidence to support one side or the other? Any personal experience that directly relates? Is there a healthy balance that I'm perhaps missing?

5
  • One important distinction in my opinion, is the channel rather intended for the company to its employees or more for colleagues amongst each other? – AsheraH Feb 10 at 13:29
  • @AsheraH It is currently used for colleagues amongst each other, although there is no rule in place to say that a manager/VP/CEO can't also use it to address his/her direct reports or the company as a whole. – Friendly King Feb 10 at 14:14
  • 1
    The question of "is it a good or bad idea" can't really be answered without knowing what the intent of the channel is. What did the creator(s) of the channel want to have happen? Without knowing that, it's hard to say. If the channel was created just because someone thought it would be a good idea, and that's all the thought that they put into it, then by default it's probably not a good idea. Business is filled with plenty of decisions like that. – Andy Lester Feb 10 at 16:08
  • 1
    Could you address in your question: what is a shoutout channel? This is implied by the content of your post but it would be easier to read if you clearly defined it. – gerrit Feb 11 at 13:48
  • What about an internal channel where people post links to press coverage that the company got? – Martin Ueding Feb 12 at 8:46

12 Answers 12

132

I used to work for a very large US based company that used to pride itself in having a very large number of Engineers. It would constantly boast about the large numbers and how technically excellent it was - this was to the outside world. Internally there were regular town hall meetings that were delivered on various levels - Corporate, Business unit, division and operating unit. In all of these the CEO or head of unit would include call outs to the sales teams that had brought in deals or teams that had made corporate acquisitions. These callouts namechecked many members of these groups. I was there for over 5 years and in that time I don't think that there was EVER a mention of the Engineering teams producing the great products that these wonder salesmen had available.

When I was at primary school, three of us did a project on coal mining (at that time the mainstay of the local economy). The teacher was impressed and as a result the school arranged a trip to the local colliery. There were not enough places for all of the class to go so names were drawn out of a hat and the three that did the work were not chosen to go. Nearly 50 years on this still rankles.

Having these public announcements raises real risks of disillusionment of those that really put the work in under the radar as their work is not often noticed.

1
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Feb 12 at 13:18
77

Is a public “shoutouts” channel a good or bad idea?

It's a bad idea. A terrible one. Same as "employee of the month", for the reasons you yourself have mentioned.

I've had personal experience with these in small companies, and most of the time the wrong (or popular) employees get the credit, and the hard working ones go unnoticed. This leads to resentment and blame culture.

Employees can thank or praise their colleagues if they want, but make it a public forum and it will be driven by popularity, not hard work.

Managers should be the ones thanking employees if they do a good job. Just thank them normally. Publicly shouting them out or making a fuss seems disingenuous and self-serving.

If an employee works particularly hard on a project and management want to show appreciation, then thank them or send them a small gift in the post. This should be a private thank you. Don't make it a public ceremony to advertise the companies virtue.

If it was a team effort, then reward the team. Maybe take them out for lunch, or let them have a Friday off.

Management should be doing regular performance reviews (like once every 6 months). It's managements job to know how employees perform using real metrics and reward hard work with something tangible.

6
  • 3
    I agree; public recognition incentivizes all kinds of toxic behavior, and I'm guessing also gives machavellian types a shiny coin to aspire towards (without caring whether it really should have gone to you). Private expressions of appreciation aren't as susceptible to this. – bob Feb 10 at 14:29
  • 2
    @bob I once worked at a well-known big-box computer store where the salespeople received commissions for every service plan sold, but not for anything sold without a plan. The numbers were publicly displayed in the break room. So some people figured out you could "sell" people a plan without telling them simply by deducting the price of the plan from the total cost and slipping it in there. As a result, they "sold" more plans than anyone else, and always got employee of the month bonuses on top of it - essentially this system was rewarding them for stealing from the company. – Darrel Hoffman Feb 10 at 15:03
  • 22
    "driven by popularity, not hard work" — Exactly that. – MC Emperor Feb 10 at 15:13
  • 1
    One comment further - praising an employee in recognition of a specific thing well done should be with a CC to the manager's own manager as well – sq33G Feb 10 at 15:57
  • 4
    "be driven by popularity" --- Yeah, this seems like an idea a 'young' (or trying to be) Management team obsessed with social media, likes and shares would have. Do they love how many instagram followers they have? At the very least don't call out people but teams but even then I don't see how that public channel will end up as a good thing. If you want to be transparent do performance reviews and publish the results for all. It will still generate injustice feelings but at least it's slightly better. – AlfaTeK Feb 10 at 16:37
15

Although I haven't worked anywhere that does public-shut-outs via Slack, I have worked at companies which didn't publicly acknowledge success, companies which did acknowledge success in a not particular fair way, and a company which did it in (I think) a fair way.

When there was no public acknowledgment of success, I didn't feel particularly engaged with the companies success, because I felt like a very small cog in a large wheel. If our project succeeded at great cost to our team, there was no wider visibilty of that so it didn't really feel like it mattered to anyone else. Equally if we failed, it didn't seem a big deal.

In the company which celebrated success in an unfair way, the CEO would congratulate success each month, and it was always new contracts won by sales people. It gave the impression that only new income was important. Our work, of keeping current customers happy was unrecognised, which felt very unfair. But did it feel much worse than the place that didn't celebrate success at all? I don't think it did. In both places it was hard to feel like your work fit into the company at large. If there were other issues causing feelings of unfairness between teams (hardworking teams being missed for promotion, pay-raises, etc), then this would definitely make it worse, but on its own it didn't feel serious enough.

At the place that celebrated success more fairly (a much wider range of teams), my team would sometimes feature in the public celebration. I felt more engaged with the companies success and I hope that fed in to better work from me. There were still teams that must have missed out (I don't remember acccounts often getting mentioned!) so it's vital that whoever instigates the policies to do public call-outs, has plan with how to engage everyone in the company.

I think it would be easy to never call people out, congratulate yourself on never alienating one team over another and then be puzzled people aren't as engaged as you'd like.

1
  • Public-shut-outs... Freudian slip? :D – Dom Feb 11 at 10:51
11

My employer does something similar. It is called "Partner Points"; it is run by Achievers. Each month, every employee is given 500 points to award to any other employee they wish, publicly. Points accumulate over time and can be redeemed for various goods (think of a credit card rewards program). The employer, of course, pays monthly for the program, which thus funds the rewards. There is encouragement, not quite pressure, to make sure you award points every month because they are use-it-or-lose-it each month.

My employer is somewhat large (> 500 employees) and this program is moderately popular. I can't see that it causes any of the negative effects mentioned in the other answers. It doesn't have much influence on how people think.

5
  • 8
    Do you feel like everyone gets recognition that they deserve, or are there some people getting more just because they are more visible? I think on my team there are some people who are more outgoing and more visible compared to other people who contribute equally but are quieter, and probably the more outgoing people would be given significantly more points just because of that. – user3067860 Feb 10 at 18:36
  • The UI tries to steer you into awarding points for a specific event -- "Joe helped me with difficulty X while I was working with customer Z" -- rather than "I think Joe's a swell guy". I agree that outgoing and visible people tend to accumulate points faster. But there's no scoreboard of who has the most points, at least none that I've seen. – Ross Presser Feb 10 at 18:46
  • 2
    @user3067860 I used to work for a company with similar program, and actually it worked reasonably well for teams that didn't tend to get a lot of recognition. Those people simply awarded all their points to each other every month, which gave them all points and drew the attention of the rest of the company to the work that team was doing. – senschen Feb 10 at 18:48
  • 5
    @RossPresser "But there's no scoreboard of who has the most points" - this is the key difference with the scheme OP is talking about. It is not about public recognition (or lack thereof) it is akin to your colleagues privately saying "thanks for helping me out' – Dragonel Feb 10 at 19:23
  • 4
    At first glance, "Achievers" does sound like a better alternative solution than this public chat shoutout idea. Maybe he could suggest that they use that instead. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 10 at 21:46
9

Since you're looking for actual evidence, I'd suggest you look at books written or inspired by Edwards Deming, the father of just-in-time manufacturing

He found that individual incentives had potentially negative effects within organizations. Instead, he emphasized collective incentives or team incentives, over individual incentives.

For instance at Toyota, a company that followed his ideas, all the safety improvements thought up by the factory workers themselves were painted with a stripe using one color, while all the safety improvements thought up by the engineers were painted with a stripe of a different color.

See the book Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn (thanks to the web page on Deming found by aem, I found that book recommendation at the bottom of it)

And once you've found your evidence, I'd suggest you watch this 9 min summary video or read the book "Exactly What To Say" by Phil Jones. That book can show you how to structure your arguments.

2
  • This web page from an organization apparently associated with Deming might be a useful reference for his views on incentives: deming.org/what-really-motivates-us – aem Feb 11 at 1:23
  • @aem, Awesome find! I've just edited my answer because of it. I haven't watched that Deming video yet, but that too looks interesting. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 11 at 1:47
6

I thought back to my time as a cog in a Fortune-500 company and this set off "it's a trap!". It's for fun now, but at some point management will decide to count shout-outs and include that on performance reviews. My paranoid co-workers would have immediately arranged an informal mutual shout-out network -- "you guys are so willing to help I'm sure I'll shout-out to each of you at least once a month". "Oh, we all feel the same way, but every 2 weeks maybe?"

Why? For one, it's an official company channel. For another, the person who thought it up is going to look at how much it gets used, just to claim it as an accomplishment. For another, counting mentions is an easy thing to do and feels like an innovative way of doing stealth peer review. Especially in a fast-growing company where management may feel swamped. Finally, everything that management says is for fun, or is unofficial or is an experiment but not for you, is always the start of a new policy that applies to you.

5
  1. Management should be open and transparent to an employee about his/her performance, and relate praise when it has been given/deserved.
  2. When an employee does well, others should message that employee directly and/or message that employee's manager.

In an ideal world managers would have full insight into everything their employees are doing, good and bad. They would know their employees goals and what their employees dread, etc.

In the real world, however, such insight is often limited. Employees may not go to their manager (or the manager of the person they're wanting to praise) with said praise for various reasons:

  • They don't find the relevant manager approachable
  • They don't think the praise is important enough to interrupt the relevant manager from their otherwise busy schedule
  • If the praise worthy individual is managed by someone else maybe they don't even know how to email the other manager
  • etc
  1. Employees may be disappointed that their hard work isn't being recognized if they're not the ones being mentioned in the channel.
  2. There may be false affirmation of performing well just because you've been mentioned in the channel.
  3. Some people legitimately don't like public callouts, even if they are well intentioned.

I hate to say it but that's part of life. Employees can feel disappointed if they don't get promotions whilst their coworkers do, as well. I was disappointed that this girl I liked decided to get together with another man. I got a false sense of affirmation when Google wanted to interview me, etc.

My thought: employees already spread negativity amongst themselves. Most every company I've ever worked for has an undercurrent of malignant gossip. "Joe Schmoe's code sucks! It's so awful!" or whatever. But I think a shoutouts channel could possibly partially switch the focus of that gossip to something more positive. "I've had a similar experience with Joe Schmoe! He's a great guy!".

1
  • This is part of a fairly popular trend in the HR culture, which sees the employees as an amorphous mass. Injecting some positivity or enthusiasm anywhere in the system is better than not doing it, or so the theory says. In practice, this not only does not work but it looks callous and out-of-touch. – Sam Feb 12 at 1:43
4

I would agree with your points that it may have unintended effects for the employees, and potentially even bring liability to the company if there's ever a complaint about management favoring one employee or discriminating against others.

By announcing your support of a given employee's performance publicly, you're putting out public data that can be counted and inverted to measure which employees the manager is not ecstatic about their performance.

This inversely shames those employees, makes them feel isolated / left out, and could even make good performing employees wonder why they weren't called out that day.

the ones that do get this kudos might feel awkward being put on blast

I think it's bad for a lot of people, while potentially not an issue / good for some.

Overall, I think it's an attempt for the company to make employees feel valued, that slightly misses the mark.

Side note - Companies that take steps like this may be doing it because they can't afford to do things like "youre doing a good job, here's a bonus / raise" - rather it's easy and nearly free to send a public message saying you're happy about an employees performance. So even the super well performing employees..... it's likely they're not getting rewarded the way they would have been in the past at other orgs.

4

I'm going to go against the grain here and say I have had good experiences with public callouts.

I think giving genuine thanks does create a positive workplace culture. However if you are currently in a workplace culture where you keep your head down unless the boss comes to yell at you, it could be a bit of a culture shock.

Here are a few examples from my career:

  1. In a small startup we had a weekly ship-it award at Friday drinks where someone who went above and beyond to ship a feature would win a (broken) boat trophy for a week. It was a bit of laugh, so it came across well

  2. A bank with a few thousand employees. They had an internal Facebook. I often called out other people who helped me, called out interesting work in various teams. Project managers also gave thanks to everybody at the end of the project. Seemed to work well

  3. A medium size consultancy company. Had a slack channel where both project managers and individuals frequently give thanks to other people. There is an award thing too but I've never used it. Again this is generally well received

If well executed giving public thanks peer to peer, for a specific task well done or for a finished project brings a bit more positivity to work. I'm all in favour of that

0

"Public, peer-to-peer shoutouts?" I will very candidly say that you will very soon regret that idea.

"Some people legitimately don't like public callouts, even if they are well intentioned."

(obvious comment omitted)

"Stick to business!" Whatever business you are in. Don't focus on "what other team members say they think about ..." Because they are actually, inevitably, talking about each other (or themselves ...), not what they are doing.

"Facebook® on your own time. (If you do. I have never in my entire .. koff koff .. life used "social media," and I never will.)

Once you get to work, whether that be "real" or "virtual," you become a team(!) with just one common purpose. The only official communication should consist of that purpose and how to achieve it.

As I once saw on the back of a T-shirt: "There is no 'I' in the word 'TEAM!'"

DO NOT tell your employees to "clap each other on the back," nor to "chit-chat" with their managers. It is the responsibility of every manager to be aware of what all of their "direct reports" are doing, and to conduct performance evaluations. There is(!) a reason, both legal and practical, why things have been set up this way.

8
  • 3
    Presumably, when the company are doing "public callouts" they are rewarding employees who are doing stuff good for the business, so I don't understand what this answer adds, apart from the reasons the OP mentioned why they may not work. – matt freake Feb 10 at 8:56
  • 3
    Have you ever seen the members of a sports team clap each other on the back or celebrate the accomplishments of an individual team member? That seems to happen more-or-less all the time, notwithstanding the spelling of the word "team." – Zach Lipton Feb 10 at 17:52
  • 1
    @ZachLipton, Yes, but those kinds of claps and hugs happen informally and organically. The coach didn't instruct those players to do them, or how to do them, or where to do them. With that said, it's not that I really agree with Mike Robinson's position either. The anxiety over "legal" trouble is pretty flimsy if you ask me. – Stephan Branczyk Feb 11 at 1:56
  • @StephanBranczyk "The anxiety over "legal" trouble is pretty flimsy if you ask me." Not really. Imagine this scenario: African-American employee is never shouted out. African-American employee gets fired. African-American employee alleges racism, and points to the shout-out logs as proof. What does the company do? – nick012000 Feb 12 at 3:05
  • 1
    @ZachLipton Pretty naïve to assume that the informality of sports players affirming one another's achievements means there's no intervention by the coach, formally structured or otherwise, that influences how often those actions arise in the team culture. Many sporting successes and failures get ascribed to aspects of the team dynamic cultivated by management/coaching, with specific actions judged to have promoted trust and mutual support between players; or toxic relationships instead. I'm not saying they should have a Slack channel for shoutouts but it's a matter of execution, not principle. – Will Feb 12 at 12:12
0

I think a lot of workplaces tend to believe that praising work publicly is a great idea. Ultimately, I feel like places that do this tend to be a bad place to work at. The reason being is that they tend to have high attrition or all time lower morale.

The question I have in reverse is how do you handle employee reviews? Do you give them raises frequently? Do you take them inside your office and tell them they did a good job? And what about bad workers? Are you telling them how they should improve? Where they should improve?

If the answer above is no, then my answer to this is that it's a bad idea and prepare for a lot more people to be leaving. It's a high pressure situation because they're going to start believing that the other guys are getting raises and promotions so they must either get these praises. And when they do, and realize nothing happens, they're going to leave.

I'm basing this on my previous workplace. They were very vocal with shout outs and making sure the public (that's company employees as a whole) know that they're giving you iTunes cards or iPads, etc. It sounds pretty cool but then behind closed doors, it's a completely different place. The reason they were giving the iTunes cards and iPads is because it's a tax break compared to giving you a permanent raise. Your review stinks and you get no raises for years and years. By the time your pay gap is matches that of newer employees, they're forced to raise your pay, or in some cases you can slip under if they believe you're dumb enough not to notice.

0

Public shoutouts at least can be a good idea. My employer does them, and it makes me feel more engaged, connected, and situationally aware.

Here are some implementation details that might make a difference.

  • Our shoutouts don't come from the top down. The people praising each other are rank-and-file peers, or, at least, people nearby each other in the corporate hierarchy. Big bosses don't praise individuals who are far below them.

    Other answers mention risks of favoritism. They also mention biases towards salesy teams and against behind-the-scenes teams. I think those are only problems if shoutouts come from the top down.

    I'm not sure precisely what counts as a "big boss." There's a cutoff somewhere, but it might be fuzzy. We've had directors shout out the department below them as a monolithic unit, and I think that was good and healthy. We've also had team leads shout out individuals in their team, which I think was fine. On the other hand, if our CEO had ever shouted out an individual, certainly that would have been bad.

  • It's not about you.

    If you frame shoutouts as primarily an opportunity for people to be recognized for their work, then, yeah, they might get disappointed when that doesn't happen.

    Instead, try framing it as an opportunity for everyone to recognize other people for their work.

    Without public shoutouts, it's really easy to get caught in a bubble. I've forgotten about entire departments that were doing very heroic things behind the scenes—until they got a shoutout.

    With this attitude, public shoutouts give me more situational awareness, humility, and respectfulness. They remind me that I'm not the only person doing good work.

  • You can do multiple variants of shoutouts, at multiple levels.

    We do company-wide shoutouts in our occasional all-hands meetings. Anonymous peers submit shoutouts before the meeting, and an HR person reads them out. Departmental representation has always felt even to me; maybe our HR team selects the shoutouts specifically to maintain that.

    Separately, my department does internal shoutouts in one of its regular meetings. In these, people just raise their hand and speak up, non-anonymously. This is nice because it lets you recognize feats that would be too technical for a more general audience to appreciate.

  • Company size might matter. When we started doing public shoutouts, we were probably around 100-150 people. We're bigger now, and unrelated shakeups have disrupted our regular meeting structure, so I'm not sure whether we'll keep doing them—or, if we do, whether they'll remain a good thing. Time will tell.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .