A great team leader knows it's important to recognize those employees who have done an outstanding job. However, no matter how much a team member deserves the praise, it's also important to be aware of how other employees might feel about their fellow co-worker's public accolades.

The best leaders are able to dole out compliments without making anyone else feel slighted or resentful. To help you do this, we asked a group of leaders how to effectively showcase an employee's good work, while avoiding feelings of favoritism within the team. Read on for their advice on how to eliminate any potential drama or tension the next time you're congratulating a team member on a job well done.

Frame the achievement as a benefit to the company.

Making public recognition all about the individual employee can be a recipe for jealousy. That's why Serenity Gibbons, local unit lead for NAACP, focuses on the overall benefit of someone's work to the entire organization.

"We frame all recognition around how these individual efforts benefitted all of us in the company, our audience and our own individual roles," says Gibbons.

Recognize positive behaviors and actions, not just end results.

Instead of simply praising an employee for their work, Mario Peshev, CEO of DevriX, recommends emphasizing the qualities or traits that led to the recognition.

"Was it the necessary overtime over the weekend? Or jumping in during an important business call?" Peshev says. "When you focus on the actual activity, this sets the tone -- and serves as an example -- to everyone involved, and turns the narrative to an achievable goal."

Let employees recognize each other.

Katie Wagner, president of KWSM, says her agency has an anonymous Google form that can be accessed by any team member to highlight each other's achievements. This peer-to-peer recognition can be just as powerful and impactful as direct manager praise.

"When you see someone living the agency's core values, going above and beyond for a client or producing an outstanding result, you fill out a 'Caught in the Act' form," Wagner explains. "At the weekly team meeting, I read all the submissions and everyone claps."

Choose your language carefully.

According to James Guldan, CEO of Vision Tech Team, the language you use to praise employees can make a big difference in how it's perceived by the rest of the team.

"The fine-tuning of verbal affirmation in a group setting is an art," says Guldan. "Making sure to not include exclusionary words like 'the best' or 'the only' is a good start. But a good rule of thumb is to always think about what you're going to say from the third-party perspective."

Make public recognition an equal opportunity.

The impression of favoritism will easily come about if the company continues pointing out one person, says Stephanie Wells, founder of Formidable Forms. Therefore, it's important to pay equal attention to all employees.

"As long as it's equal and fair, there shouldn't be issues about favoritism that come up," Wells says. "After all, there can't be only one person who's bringing the company to new heights and reaching success."

Be consistent about recognizing employees.

Team achievements should be celebrated on a consistent basis to boost morale, says Thomas Smale, founder of FE International.

"By showcasing outstanding work regularly and focusing on how the work brought value, as well as how the success can be replicated, you shift the focus on to celebrating how this is a win for the whole team," Smale adds. "Give special mention and praise to the person responsible, but also focus on how the whole team can benefit."

Praise multiple employees at once.

Nicole Munoz, founder and CEO of Nicole Munoz Consulting, Inc., notes that if you've built a good team, then there should be more than enough praise to go around.

"Try to make sure that you don't just single out a person, but actually demonstrate this kind of praise with a few team members at a time," Munoz says. 

Set clear goals and expectations.

To avoid feelings of resentment among team members when you give public praise, it helps to have widely acknowledged and detailed expectations for teams and individuals in your organization, says Blair Williams, CEO of MemberPress.

"When you set clear goals and expectations, people will know what they need to do to be recognized," Williams says. "They'll also find it fair when someone performs well since they'll know why they are being recognized."

Published on: Jan 14, 2020
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.