Credit where credit’s due: is there a gap in the credit you give?

When you’re a leader of people, it can be tough to make sure that you know what everyone’s up to at any given moment. If we consider the sheer number of projects, schemes, strategies and programs that may be underway on any given day, well, we can forgive you for not being entirely all over everything. And in a lot of cases, that’s absolutely ok.

To get the best out of people you need to let them grab an idea with both hands and turn it into something that’s real. They’ll be inspired by your trust, and you, in turn, should feel inspired by the energy, determination and intrinsic motivation they have to do great work. After all, you don’t want to be one of those micromanager-types who can’t put their whole-hearted trust into their team.

But there’s at least one area where you really should get stuck in and work out the finer details of what went down during a project – the part where you’re giving credit to those involved. We will never reach the peak of our potential as people, organizations or societies if we don’t start tackling discrimination in any and all of its forms. As business leaders we have to do better – and that means giving recognition where it’s due, in 100 different ways.


Mind the credit gap

It’s worth noting that, in researching this blog post, the Google results for searching ‘give credit at work’ were almost exclusively articles on the theme of what to do when your colleague or boss steals credit for something you delivered. So there’s a big gap here for us to address as leaders. Routinely, people aren’t feeling properly recognized for their work, and the net result for those in our teams  can only be disillusion, disaffection and secret calls with recruiters from the bathroom.

So if you want to keep your best people, you need to find ways to close the credit gap that probably exists, whether you know it or not. There are many ways in which people can find themselves discredited –sexism, racism, prejudice against those with disabilities, to name just a few. Most of these are covered by some sort of legislation or maybe policy in your own workplace.

But there are other, let’s say, more personal ways that we might find ourselves giving out recognition unfairly. It’s possible that those who garner the most recognition are the Extraverts in your team, who are only too happy to talk about their latest exploits. Or the people who, for whatever reason, are already on the radar of those right at the top of the organisation and so whose accomplishments come to seem like business as usual.  Perhaps you instinctively prefer working with people whose style is akin to yours, so you are not giving equality of opportunity to those around you. Or it could be ageism (“there’s no way someone so young can manage a project this important”).

Some studies, using academia as an example, have shown that women who co-author papers with men are less likely to be promoted or tenured than men who co-author. There seems to be a perception bias at play, where it’s often assumed that, when a paper is co-authored, women are the supporting partners of the men as principal contributors.

If we think about the findings of the academia study – where promotion and success are directly linked to credit given - then giving the right level of approval to people starts to seem like a very big deal indeed. This is about far more than recognizing people for a job well done or boosting their morale. Giving appropriate acknowledgement of the contributions people make goes right to the heart of your organization – it informs who leaves and takes their knowledge and passion with them, who sticks around for years to mold the culture as it grows, and who rises right to the very top where all the big decisions are made.

As a leader you should consciously commit to the credit you give; don’t rely on what’s happened historically, let those who shout the loudest claim the glory, or let your own biases color the reality of what took place. Because how you show your approval today will help you build the organization of tomorrow.