It only takes a moment (less than 60 seconds) to recognize the efforts of a co-worker. Example: "Thanks for getting that study out to the staff so quickly. Now they will have time to read it before the meeting..."(15 sec.)
Noticing when people are doing the right thing increases the probability they will repeat it. Example: "I saw how smoothly you let that student know what they could do to avoid a delay. Thanks for doing that level of customer service..."
People who feel appreciated give more to the job than what is merely required. They are ready to give the "discretionary effort" necessary to a healthy organization.
Reward the right things
You get what you pay attention to. If you positively comment on how an effort helps maintain our core values, or facilitates customer service, or helps new staff orient, or cross-trains staff, or builds teamwork, etc. staff will know what is important around here.
One size does not fit all. Staff are individuals and respond differently to the same strategy. Ask staff how they want to be recognized.
There should be opportunity for all staff to receive recognition--whether for improving performance, for extra effort, for creativity, or for reliably doing their job each day.
Keep it Positive
To have the greatest impact, the recognition message needs to be completely positive (coach later!), specific, sincere, and given soon after the effort.
Have fun with recognition. Celebrate individual and unit accomplishments - planned or spontaneously!
Give recognition to staff that support a "recognition culture" with their actions and words by publicly noting their contribution, including it in their performance appraisal, inviting them to recognition celebrations, etc.
When the relationship among co-workers is good, recognition enhances work performance.