Jazzing Up Employee Recognition: Six Lessons from the Legends

June 4, 2015

Jazz is defined (by the foremost authority: the Urban Dictionary) as “The only truth left in music.” As a fan of many of its sub-genres, I can appreciate this description, while also acknowledging the utter indulgence of the person who penned it. As I was thinking about what it means to jazz something up, I realized that there is a good reason this music style is associated with reviving and renewing. Are you thinking it’s time to bring some new energy to your recognition program? Take these cues from some of the most renowned jazz musicians!  
Kenny G. If you happen to be a jazz purist, you’re probably already composing a piece of hate mail to me in your head. But wait; hear me out. If Kenny G is known for anything, it’s for two words: adult and contemporary. Those are the same words that should describe the employee recognition tools you use and how you deliver your appreciation, congratulations, and high fives. Because…workers of all ages desire to be acknowledged with words and rewards that convey maturity and respect (adult) that are also from this century (contemporary). It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?
Miles Davis. If you’re still trying to shake the sound of smooth saxophone from your ears, a little wisdom from one of the most iconic figures in jazz should help.Miles Davis was notorious for his improvisational style and for famously saying, "Play what you know & then play above that." The most genuine forms of recognition are those that aren’t heavily scripted. It’s not only OK to be spontaneous and unrehearsed, but often some of the best moments come when you make it up as you go. Just be sure you’re prepared with day-to-day notes  when the inspiration hits!
Herbie Hancock. I had a friend who once laughed at me because of my professed love of Herbie Hancock. All this friend knew was the Top 40 hit “Rock It,” which he felt had a place in its era, but was not worthy of timeless adoration. What he didn’t know is that Mr. H. had been playing jazz for 30 years before that electronic anthem hit the airwaves. And, that he had earned the nickname “The Chameleon” by continually transforming his sound with the times. From standards in the 60s to funky fusion in the 70s to the song that was on everyone’s Walkman in the 80s. The moral? Keep changing and evolving your employee recognition programs and your efforts will be relevant no matter the decade.
Billie Holiday. With a voice that is still inimitable today, Billie Holiday could be credited with uniqueness alone as her most notable quality. But, what really sets her apart is the personal touch, the emotion, and the dramatic delivery she infused in each piece she sang. What kind of impression could your recognition have if you took a page from Billie Holiday’s songbook? What if you expressed your appreciation with the same sincerity and heart? Belt it out and see what happens!
Dave Brubeck. I grew up on “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” so what sounded experimental to many in the music industry wasn’t so unusual to me. I later learned that Brubeck’s exploration into different time signatures and contrasting rhythms was groundbreaking for the times. Cacophony to some; musical genius to others. Don’t be afraid to try something unconventional with your recognition program. And, who knows? Some day your innovation might be so influential that you’ll also have an asteroid named after you!
Ahmad Jamal. I can’t speak with much authority about this acclaimed master because I only knew his name, not his music, until a couple of weeks ago. After a recommendation from a coworker and friend, I queued him up on Spotify and listened to everything I could find for several days straight. I know what you’re thinking: this is not really a learning from Ahmad Jamal himself. You’re right. More, it is that whatever we think we know, there is always more to know. Even if you’re satisfied with what you’re doing right now, don’t stop seeking out what’s next. What you discover may open possibilities you didn’t know existed.
Who knew that so many insights could come from one form of music? It’s these concepts and qualities that make jazz a unique, American treasure. Try applying them to your recognition program and see what kind of masterpiece you can create!


Allison is currently living out the elaborate fantasy she described to her now-former staff and colleagues in early 2001. With a hearty dose of courage and absolutely no plan of action, she abruptly left her middle-management job to become a writer—and today she is doing just that in her role as Baudville's Senior Content Writer. She's here to tell you everything she's learned in her 20-years+ professional life, plus a lot more. She's wordy like that!

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