Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth
Hollingsworth Consulting

What’s the most effective way to recognize people for their hard work?

Most people say something like, “Praise! Accolades! Celebration for a job well done!”

Do you agree? Until last week, I certainly would’ve.

But last Monday, I asked my friend Eric Owski, CEO of Treehouse, about his thoughts on leadership. He told me a story that shifted how I think about employee recognition.

Let me share it with you.

Exceptional Recognition:

A LinkedIn Story

Before founding Treehouse—a company whose EV chargers are making homes more comfortable, healthy, and sustainable—Eric was Senior Director of Product Marketing at LinkedIn. And at one point in last week’s conversation, he hinted that he had a story to tell about his LinkedIn days.

Eric isn’t one to brag, so I had to work to pull it out of him. After some cajoling, this is the tale he told.

Soon after he began leading product marketing at LinkedIn, Eric’s teams (about sixty people all tolled) took an employee engagement survey. Results showed that the people he led felt exceptionally recognized for the work they did. Much more so, in fact, than before he’d stepped into his new role. And much more so than his peers’ teams—by quite a wide margin.

And it wasn’t a fluke. Quarter after quarter, Eric’s team’s recognition scores were sky-high, especially when compared to other employee groups at LinkedIn.

Eric’s peers wondered and debated. They all assumed he and his leaders must be praising and celebrating his employees nonstop.

But they were wrong. Eric did, of course, praise his teams and celebrate wins. But he did so no more than his peers did with their own teams.

What was he doing differently?

“I Know What You’re Doing,

and I Know Why It’s Hard.”

When I asked Eric what he did that made his teams at LinkedIn feel so deeply recognized, this is what he said:

What Are You Going Through?

The philosopher Simone Weil believed the greatest gift we can give someone is to ask, “What are you going through?” And then, to simply pay attention. Most people who are facing any kind of challenge—work-related or not—feel a deep need to be seen. To know someone realizes, someone gets it.

When Eric made the effort to understand everyone’s unique “boulder,” he was meeting that deep human need for empathic awareness. In so doing, he was helping create a culture where people felt noticed, known, and appreciated. That’s what kept his teams motivated. That’s what fueled their boulder-pushing.

Praise is critical, of course. Eric would agree. But praise isn’t sufficient. Never underestimate the power of understanding what exactly your team is working on, and why exactly it’s hard.

Empathy, not praise, is the real foundation of recognition.

About Andrea

Dr. Andrea Hollingsworth is Founder and CEO of Hollingsworth Consulting, author of the bestselling book The Compassion Advantage (2024), and one of today’s leading global experts on compassionate leadership. Since 2008, she has been studying, speaking, and writing about the science and spirituality of human emotions and relationships. Her articles have been published more than a dozen times in peer-reviewed journals, and she has taught at prestigious institutions like Princeton, Boston University, and Loyola University Chicago. In addition, Dr. Andrea has delivered talks to audiences at some of the top-ranked universities in the world—including Cambridge University in England and Heidelberg University in Germany.

Dr. Andrea spends most of her time inspiring leaders and teams to use The Compassion Advantage to build supercharged organizations through cultures of care— especially in times of challenge and change. Andrea lives with her family in Minnesota where she cheers hard at her son’s soccer games and relishes every opportunity to visit the north shore of Lake Superior.