“Let’s give a big round of applause to Jeff for saving the eXrel project. It looked like a doomed effort until he stepped in and saved it for us - again. This is the third major project Jeff has salvaged in just two years.”
You do need to publicly recognize your team members who go the extra mile, but if your shop relies on heroes repeatedly, you need to step back and evaluate your operations. After all, this describes the chaotic environment that defines a maturity level 1 organization, where success is dependent on spectacular saves, monumental individual efforts, and the performance of key personnel.
Therefore, while you as a manager should recognize and reward your heroes, you should be asking why you are dependent on them and what you can do to sever that dependency. After all, there is a better way. Higher maturity shops operate in a more consistent, more reliable mode. In fact, in higher maturity organizations, there is rarely a need for heroes.
I can hear some readers saying that is because they plan better, and, while that is a true statement (if only because it is a tautology), it is more accurate to say that they can deliver to their plans. That is, they have a delivery capability that is reliably consistent and can be modeled successfully and the model will include the elements necessary for successful delivery. Their plans are realistic models of their actual delivery rather than the optimistic hopes and wishes of the planners dependent on good luck and herculean efforts of team members to bridge the gap between hope and reality.
So for executives as you observe, analyze and review your subordinate directors, divisions, managers, and departments, notice the ones that recognize their heroes. Those are the departments that probably need the most attention, coaching, and guidance to mature their operational processes. They are also the departments where you stand to gain the most from making improvements.