Are you recognizing like YMCA? Let me tell you the “Story of the Black Bead.”

And I challenge you to create your own simple and effective recognition program at your work!

Caring, honestly, respect, responsibility—these are the 4 core values of the YMCA and this organization does a terrific job focusing their program and participants on cultivating this values.

My kids and niece attend a YMCA day camp this summer. Every day, there is a “bead ceremony” where the counselors stand up in front of all the campers and publicly recognize a few who exemplified one of the values, and the camper receives a colored bead (each value has its own color—see below for the list).

Now imagine how a 6-year-old feels when they receive a green bead for showing responsibility today. They feel proud, tell their mom, and do more of the recognized behaviors (pick up toys, stay with their buddy on the field trip) the next day. And then the other campers learn, “hey, if I pick up my toys, maybe I will get a bead, too!” And the culture is built one kid and one day at a time.

What about the black bead?

Last week I picked up my son and he runs over to proudly give me this handmade card (see photo below.)

It reads “to earn the black bead, a camper must display an extreme amount of courage and bravery. Plus they must have a spectacular day. Today, Lindy expresses these qualities while going to battle that he would later to be found as the victor. He battled a bee that was terrorizing the camper lunch.  Not giving any thought to his own well-being, he shooed the bee away and saved the lunch. He is forever a hero” AND there was a small dinosaur toy taped to the card.

The story continues that the one and only black bead for the summer has been sitting in the bead jar waiting for just such a brave and courageous camper.

All I can say is “WOW!”

Yes, I am proud that my son was recognized for his heroism but I am also blown away by the creativity of counselor Dominic who took the effort to make up such an award.

Can you imagine the impact if your office had a “bead” ceremony once a month? And what if someone came up with a new (creative, silly) “award” once in a while? Would everyone be tripping over themselves to get those bead by doing the 4 things your organization needs? Just because we are adults, we LIKE recognition too!

Ready to get started, for some ideas, read my blog article “Quick recognition template

black bead

4 Core Values of YMCA:

  • Caring (Red): to demonstrate a sincere concern for others, for their needs and well-being. Related values: compassion, forgiveness, generosity, and kindness.
  • Honesty (Blue): to tell the truth, to demonstrate reliability and trustworthiness through actions that are in keeping with my stated positions and beliefs. Related values: integrity and fairness.
  • Respect (Yellow): to treat others as I would want them to treat me, to value the worth of every person, including myself. Related values: acceptance, empathy, self-respect and tolerance.
  • Responsibility (Green): to do what is right–what I ought to do, to be accountable for my choices of behavior and actions and my promises. Related values: commitment, courage, good health, service and citizenship.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at