Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

It Matters Who Gets The Credit

There is a reason for First Place and Gold MedalsYou may have heard the thought that there is no end to what we could accomplish if we didn’t care who got the credit. (Ironically, that has been credited to President Ronald Reagan, Walt Disney, writer Laing Burns, Jr. and several others.) It is sometimes stated with a slightly corrective tone when an employee is frustrated over not receiving recognition for work or when someone else incorrectly receives recognition for it.  Then, we wonder why good people lose enthusiasm!

Giving credit or acknowledgement is a form of praise and it should be done correctly. If–as is often the case–raises, bonuses, promotions and perks are given on the basis of contribution, it is critical that credit is given to the right people and in the right way.

Giving credit where credit is due.

* If everyone in a group contributed close to equally on a project, don’t single out individuals for public praise.  Supervisors and managers should express appreciation to individuals privately and refer to each person’s contributions when preparing formal commendations and performance evaluations. However, if everyone did their jobs effectively, keep the credit focused on the group and on the value of working together. (Also remember that a manager’s job is to monitor work–including work of ad hoc groups–to see to it that everyone does contribute effectively. )

*If individuals are given credit in public or private for specific work on a group project, make sure it is well-deserved.  Especially make sure someone else who rightfully deserves the credit isn’t overlooked.  It’s extremely demotivating for the wrong person to get credit for work. What makes it worse is that most good employees don’t want to sound as though they are looking for praise or taking credit, so they’ll keep quiet about it but feel deeply wounded.This is why it is so crucial that supervisors and managers are aware of the quality and quantity of work being done on a daily basis by each employee, as well as what they are contributing to group work.

*Do not give special praise just because someone is perpetually needy or is a squeaky wheel. Especially do not do so at the expense of the real contributors who quietly but effectively do the bulk of the work or who repeatedly save the day in a crisis.  All employees have a strong sense of what is fair and what is not.  Even those who are not involved can become demotivated over unfairness.

*A group coordinator may not deserve accolades for work the team has done.  Often the person put in charge of a project receives most of the credit,  whether or not they displayed leadership, made assignments and guided work, or even participated at all.  Managers should praise the team as a whole or recognize each person for specific contributions, rather than automatically giving most of the credit to the person who was “in charge”, unless that person clearly was the guiding light for the work.

*The fact that someone says they are outstanding doesn’t make it so.  It’s amazing how many otherwise savvy supervisors, managers and executives believe the self-aggrandizing stories of some employees–especially when the employees downplay the work of others who may not habitually seek bragging time with the boss.  The next thing you know, the stories are repeated as truth and a positive reputation is built on nothing but self-reporting.

*Letting higher level managers know about the good work of individuals is a way to show loyalty to employees.  If an employee works faithfully to make a group, section or project successful, the least the supervisor or manager can do is make sure higher level people know how dependable that person is–and how dependable they are in comparison to others.  Otherwise, when it’s time for personnel decisions, the wrong choices are made and injustices are done. This is especially true when the manager with the knowledge is no longer there to report the facts. Documentation in a performance evaluation is good (and necessary), but nothing is as effective as using an employee’s name positively in a discussion about a project. Never make the mistake of thinking an employee doesn’t care who gets the credit–they almost always do!

*Giving credit when it is not deserved encourages mediocrity.  Why should someone who is not being effective change their performance or behavior if they get as much or more credit as everyone else? Why should someone give 150% when the person who gave 50% receives the credit for the work?

*Internal motivators have to be nurtured.  Much is said in management books about internal motivators being more compelling than external motivators.  However, like the thought about not caring who gets credit, it doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny in real life. 

External motivators (job titles, increased authority and responsibility, perks, bonuses, pay for performance, commendations, public  praise and receiving credit) are important to almost everyone who works. Those are the things that nurture internal motivators in-between the praising. When someone deserves credit for work but they don’t receive it, or someone else receives it instead, internal motivators start drying up.

The bottom line:  No doubt about it, if we didn’t care who got credit for our work, we’d probably approach it differently.  Roll credits! wouldn’t matter to actors; politicians wouldn’t care whose name was on the legislation; athletes wouldn’t care who got credited with the game-saving play;  writers wouldn’t care whose name was on the byline; researchers wouldn’t care who was credited with the lab or library work.  As long as something good was being done for society, the team or the organization, it wouldn’t matter.

Life isn’t like that.

Give credit where credit is due and only where it is due.

January 13th, 2010 Posted by | Life and Work, Supervision and Management | 24 comments


  1. You should be hearing me applaud right about now. We have laid off people who were working hard and kept people who weren’t because the higher-ups had the wrong idea about who was responsible for the good work that was being done.

    I corrected a manager who said someone did good work, and told him the truth. He said almost exactly what you quoted and told me credit wasn’t the important thing. I told him if it didn’t matter, then why did he give one person credit over someone else. No answer to that of course.

    You would have hated being here for the last couple of weeks. 15 below zero and high winds! It will be OK by April though.

    Comment by wiseacre | January 13, 2010

  2. Anyone who thinks people shouldn’t care who gets the credit hasn’t ever had to deal with having someone else get credit for what they have done. It has happened here in the past, to the point that some people were keeping a log so they could prove what they did and what someone else didn’t do. That’s not a good way to work, but it was self-preservation. Thanks for writing about this.

    Comment by Mike | January 13, 2010

  3. This must be a problem all over. I have the sergeants do an after-action report but with the addition of listing the names of all involved and what their contributions were. Unless there were problems, everyone gets a written commendation, but this way I can have something meaningful to say to each officer and I don’t credit one with the actions of someone else.

    Comment by W.F. | January 13, 2010

  4. Tina, I’m not disagreeing with what you’re saying about making sure people who get credit deserve it. But, I get sick of the whining and moaning over who got credit and who shouldn’t have etc. etc. etc. No matter what I do, someone gets offended or hurt. But let there be a problem and all of sudden everyone claims someone else did all the work on it. You know where I work so you know what I’m talking about. R.

    Comment by R.B. | January 13, 2010

  5. Tina says: Thank you all for the comments. I’ve sent emails to all of you.

    R.B., I wrote more about this to you personally, but I wanted to mention this for the benefit of readers: Certainly some people will complain when credit is given accurately. That is the ideal time to discuss with them what they need to do next time to ensure they are praised to the extent they desire.

    The problem is that many supervisors tolerate poor performance and disruptive behavior day after day. Then, when they are honest it shocks the person who was living in a fool’s paradise, thinking they were doing fine.

    It shouldn’t be a surprise to an employee when they are not commended for their work in a group or any other time. The supervisor should have been communicating about problems and positive things all along. The goal is to improve the performance while the work is being done so the employee CAN be commended. T.

    Comment by TLR | January 13, 2010

  6. Great reminders about being sure to mention good employees to higher level managers. I’ve made a note to do that in our next meeting. Thanks! P.

    Comment by P.A.H. | January 14, 2010

  7. When I first read this I wasn’t sure I agreed because I really do believe that a group works better when people aren’t trying to grab credit all the time. But now I see you’re saying that credit shouldn’t be given incorrectly and that it’s important for good work to be recognized rather than congratulating everyone the same, if not all have done good work. So, now I agree…aren’t you happy to know that? 🙂

    I found your site while looking for information about Assessment Centers. I have your book and want you to know it’s been a Godsend to me. So, thanks for that. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by K.A. | January 16, 2010

  8. I just now sent a comment that sounded different than I meant it. I really liked the article about giving credit and it applies to the unit I work in a lot of the time. Some people always contribute more than others and some people are almost useless. They make mistakes, are nowhere around when we need them and call in sick when they don’t want to do something. But, our commander says we work as a team and no one gets more credit than anyone else. If we do good we do good as a team and if we screw up the team should have been looking out for the problems. Well, we’re not sergeants and short of kicking someone’s a** there’s nothing we can do about some of the problems!

    Some very poor officers have been given great assignments based solely on being part of a team that carried them for years. And since our commander never told them they weren’t doing good, they talk about their time on our team as though they were stars.

    You can delete the first comment and use this one or not use either of them. Now you see why I have trouble with testing!

    Comment by K.A. | January 16, 2010

  9. Tina says: K.A., after contacting you by email I’ve used both comments. You wrote them very well!

    You mention a supervisory and management tendency that I find troublesome–putting employees in the role of supervising each other. It’s great for coworkers to encourage and commend, but rarely is serious critique accepted by a peer or someone who is higher in tenure. Can you imagine someone with five years on the job even gently telling someone with twenty years on the job that they need to be doing their work differently? Almost never would that go over well.

    I’m going to be doing an article about that soon–inspired by your comments. Please keep in touch and comment often. It’s good writing practice!

    Comment by TLR | January 17, 2010

  10. I may be too late to comment on this, but I wanted to say that I agree with it. A few months ago someone I work with was allowed to start flextime and to work from home twice a week. He is the most undependable person in our office and we were shocked!

    Turned out our boss took his word for it that he was responsible for most of the work on a big job we did, and this was a reward. You’d think our boss would have known different, but noooooo. At the time, I thought that might be happening so I made a point of mentioning the people who did more than the guy who was talking about it all the time. MY BOSS SAID JUST WHAT YOU WROTE ABOUT HOW MUCH MORE WE COULD ACCOMPLISH IF WE DIDN’T CARE WHO GOT THE CREDIT!! I could tell he was upset with me for bringing up who ought to get credit for all the work and who definitely shouldn’t. (Then a month later he gives this lazy guy perks no one else has. And he tries to tell me I shouldn’t care who gets the credit??????? Yeah, sure.)

    Now there’s a big problem because the boss feels like he can’t take back the work change he gave my coworker and he can’t admit he was so wrong. In the meantime the one person who had to practically babysit the coworker to help him even with his little part of the work feels messed over big time.

    So, yes, it DOES matter who gets credit. I think it’s important to not lie about what you did or exaggerate it, but I think every employee had better make sure the work they do is documented and known. I’m glad to read someone who tells it like it is. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!

    Comment by C.M. | January 22, 2010

  11. Just discovered your website by looking up Reagan’s use of that famous (infamous?) line. I write about leadership too, for pastors and others congregational officers. Great stuff. I’ll be visiting you often!

    Comment by Joe | March 9, 2010

  12. Tina says: C.M., I wrote to you about your comment, and believe me I feel for you! Best wishes and I hope you are able to find the inner strength to just keep your focus on your own good work and the work of other good employees, until things change.

    Joe: Thank you very much for your comment. I’ve gone to your site http://www.joemckeever.com and enjoyed it very much. I’ll be sure to visit it often!

    Comment by TLR | March 9, 2010

  13. I saw your comment on Bnet and think you should be writing for them instead of some of the writers they have. This makes good sense and shows that credit is important in a lot of cases. Good site too.

    Comment by Graham McDonald | March 19, 2010

  14. Came here from BNET. Penelope’s post was typical for her, which is that it is too extreme. I agree with your comment that if she doesn’t think credit matters, try taking away her byline!

    Comment by BNET Reader | March 19, 2010

  15. Your advice about letting executives know about the good work of employees is excellent, as is the rest of this very worthwhile post. Giving credit and getting credit is a key component of effective career development.

    Check out http://www.ncda.org. You might be interested in joining and contributing there.

    Comment by Sandra D. | March 19, 2010

  16. Of course we should give praise. It is one of the greatest rewards anyone can receive. But the phrase is to be looked at from the other perspective. Presidential speechwriter Peter Robinson traveled to West Germany to inspect potential speech venues, and gained an overall sense that the majority of West Berliners opposed the wall. Despite getting little support for suggesting Reagan demand the wall’s removal, Robinson included the phrase in the speech text. I can hear Robinson on May 18, 1987 just before we all heard, “Tear down this wall!” Mr. President, don’t forget to mention my name.

    Comment by Todd | March 19, 2010

  17. Tina says: Thanks to BNET readers for their comments! I also received some email with thoughts from a variety of perspectives.

    Todd, I’ll add a thought to yours, about Peter Robinson. The difference between him and others who should be receiving credit is that he was a paid speechwriter whose ideas were intended to be used by others without him receiving public credit.

    Nevertheless, he has written about how he wrote it, been interviewed about it, credited with it in many publications, and is justifiably proud of a succinct and powerful phrase.

    What if one of the other speech writers for President Reagan wrote a book claiming HE authored that phrase? I’ll bet Mr. Robinson would be quick to say it was a lie!

    I understand what you are wanting to point out though, and I would be the first to say that some things are done for the cause of the team or the organization.

    However, when being correctly credited with work can lead to keeping a job, getting a raise or being considered a valuable employee, it’s crucial that credit be given and given correctly.

    I think we’re in agreement about that–we just have a different way of viewing the rest of it! 🙂 That’s fine too! Best wishes! TR

    Comment by TLR | March 19, 2010

  18. The comment made by Todd about a presidential speechwriter is absurd as a rebuttal of what you wrote about or what people have commented about on BNET. I get what you are saying and agree.

    Comment by Paul Silverstein | March 19, 2010

  19. I like what you said on the other site and here. Your example of a researcher and lab work is pertinent. I’ve thought about changing my last name to Abbott or something similar, since most of my work is credited to a team, listed in alphabetical order. I am one of the et al in Akers, et al, and am heartily tired of it!

    Comment by Rae T. | March 19, 2010

  20. This makes more sense in the real world of work than the Crunk article (I don’t think there really is a “Penelope Crunk”!)The little, day to day ideas can be shared and synergized; larger contributions should be credited to the right person. Your point was well made.

    Comment by Karla J. | March 20, 2010

  21. This is obviously a polarizing topic, with your view on one side and Penelope’s on the other. I give you the win for logic, balance and career savvy.

    I would love to read the story that is surely behind your brief bio. Congratulations on your trailblazing work!

    Comment by Careerist | March 20, 2010

  22. Hi Tina, I followed your link from BNET and must say your post is refreshingly realistic and right on point. Your post reflects the reality of my past 28 years in business.

    I would like to think that Penelope may not believe what she wrote but rather wants to inject emotion into the debate to see where people really stand.

    As the General Manager of our company, I take full responsibility for failures and defer the glory of success to the team (and individuals) that helped to create it.

    Those who reward mediocrity should expect more of it. People recognize real contributions and aspire to do the same.

    Thank you and yes, I find the timing of the post to be interesting.

    Comment by Redge | March 21, 2010

  23. Tina says: Thanks again to BNET readers. I’ve written notes to all of you.

    Comment by TLR | March 21, 2010

  24. Dear Ms. Rowe,
    I had an idea to change our way of billing and I told my coworker who at first argued against it. Then, quickly before I could send my email, he told a manager who liked the idea and gave my coworker a cash award. I went to my manager and told him the idea was mine and he said ideas float around and more than one person could have the same idea. But my coworker didn’t think of it until I did. So, I asked my coworker to say whose idea it was and he said he didn’t remember and that it was synergy.

    I lost out on a lot of money because someone used my idea. Now I know not to ever mention anything to someone else.

    Your post was true and the one the other person wrote on the other site was not.

    Comment by Borden R. | May 24, 2010

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