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Give more than you take: what redistribution of credit means for corporate culture

Are you ready to hear about a corporate culture no-brainer that transforms team dynamics?

The number one reason employees leave their jobs is due to dissatisfaction with their bosses. And the number one reason employees are dissatisfied with their bosses is due to lack of recognition. Last but not least, the number one reason employees feel a lack of recognition is due to their bosses getting the credit for their own contributions.

It stands to reason then, that we could plug some massive holes in employee retention and satisfaction by simply giving credit where credit’s due. Pleasant as that sounds, it’s an extremely subjective and nearly unenforceable policy. No, we need something fairer, more contagious, and easier to document.

It’s called Redistribution of Credit, and it’s fueled by a simple principle that reminds all employees to give more than they take.

One of society’s great problems and not just in business is the tendency towards hero worship. We gravitate toward the idea that one person must be the focal point of any success, especially if that person is already seen as successful. These people accumulate the wealth of credit, and in doing so, gain outsized influence over the organization and its priorities.

To put it another way: your boss may not be actively stealing credit… we just tend to foist it upon them and let it pile up. The flipside, though, is just as counterproductive: the reason we find ourselves rummaging through piles of resumes to find those junior and mid-level unicorns is that they don’t get credit (in media), or are afraid to take credit (in resumes) for their achievements. Across the board, it’s a misalignment of influence vs. value.

How redistribution of credit works

Redistribution of credit is a habit we develop. 

This is what it looks like: when you’re being credited for any performance or achievement, redirect that praise by publicly crediting the most-deserving teammate you can think of who isn’t you. When that person has the credit bestowed on them, they must seek out another deserving teammate.

The RoC process goes on like this until the recognition subsides, or the last teammate to receive praise sees no reason to pass it on. The rub here is that being the one holding onto the credit in a “give more than you take” culture is actually a bit embarrassing and unbecoming because everyone else expects that any significant amount of credit will keep moving down through all of its contributors.

What redistribution of credit does for culture

Besides reducing turnover and burnout, Redistribution Of Credit typically delivers a few other desirable outcomes many of which are absolutely in the boss’ best interest:

  1. Reduces the silo syndrome. As more employees take on cross-functional responsibilities, it only makes sense to have a model for recognition that ensures efficiency and harmony.
  2. Improves internal motivation. Praise nurtures pride in ownership, which in turn fuels an employee’s internal sense of accountability. Arguably, the mental model here is to give your people so much credit that they feel guilty about it
  3. Raises the bar for competitors. Employees who rarely get their due credit are more readily influenced by external praise; this could be something as simple as hearing from a client or vendor that “we could really use someone with your skills.” The best way to protect your people from being poached is to make sure they know where they’re valued.
  4. Exposes underdeveloped leadership. When someone isn’t passing along credit in a “give more than you take” culture, it shows and it’s not pretty. What makes it even more blatant is the ease with which documentation culture can enable other employees to circumvent a selfish manager in order to properly praise the subordinates. When paired with 360° reviews, unfit supervisors are quickly exposed here.
  5. Makes management more accessible. Hero managers are increasingly passé, thankfully. Part of being a great facilitating leader comes in breaking down the glass ceilings in hierarchical organizations, and RoC embodies this discipline by letting positive messages mingle among teammates of all seniority levels.

Unsurprisingly, what makes Redistribution of Credit relevant now more than ever is the shift towards digital working environments and work hubs. Spontaneous one-on-one praise, or credit redirected within a closed meeting, is noble in its intent but limited in its amplitude. To form cultural habits, you need RoC to resonate throughout the org. You need others to have an opportunity to pile on and participate. You need the breadcrumbs of credit to live on for posterity. Redistribution of Credit has been a best practice for decades, but the modern distributed workforce is where it flourishes.

Mitch addresses the technological convergence of skillsets and behaviors across myriad industries; typically doing so from the comfort of his van. Occasionally he can be found conducting social experiments in remote work, or hosting the Telekinetic podcast. Named one of 2021's Top 75 Minds In Remote Work.
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