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Ingredients in an effective Employee Recognition Program

Updated: Mar 5

Are employees under-appreciated?

Recently there has been a significant amount of news regarding some friction in the labor market. This prompted some surveys that yielded a consensus view as follows:

  1. Employees feel that they are under-recognized at work.

  2. Recognized employees are more engaged.

  3. Engaged employees improve productivity.

Few would argue the benefits of recognizing and rewarding the exemplary actions of our colleagues, and fellow humans in general. Whether you are recognizing a friend at a wedding or trying to land a table at the trending food hot spot on a Saturday night, the appropriate amount of recognition is required. If we recognize and reward others that help and support us, we activate a highly desirable effect. The effect is a domino-effect of recognition. There is currently abundant literature by Gallup and Gartner that show both the need for, and positive effects of, recognition in the workplace. Rather than discuss this desirable positive effect of recognition, we will simply acknowledge/agree its existence, and explore some of the mechanisms and nuances associated with giving and receiving recognition.

Recognition vs Tipping

In many ways recognition is similar to tipping. In the US, it is customary to tip in-person service persons. This can help both parties. An appropriately placed 20 can sometimes be what it takes to get that VIP service. How much should you tip? This is the age-old conundrum and there is no handbook. Executed poorly, an attempted recognition event can be counterproductive. The event can be awkward or perceived as inappropriate by one party or another. The important thing is that both parties should feel good about the exchange.

Now think about recognition in the workplace. In some ways, this is a similar scenario to tipping. You want to recognize and reward someone for going above-and-beyond. Often in the real world in order to avoid an awkward "thank you" we are unable to deliver the recognition that we wish. Recognizable moments are lost. Comradery is weakened. Consider the distributed and virtual work-forces of today, and you will clearly see the need to provide enhanced team cohesion and collaboration. This can be achieved through a variety of incentives, including tipping.

Tipping Tips

Tipping can lead to superior outcomes. Human behavior shows this to be true. This applies in both personal and professional settings. The art of recognition is the power that unleashes the value in tipping. The receiver should feel good about the amount they received and the giver should feel the same about the assistance provided to them.

For optimal recognition effectiveness, two requirements stand out: 1) The amount of the Reward should be appropriate to the event. 2) The Award itself is something that is valued by the receiver.

By establishing a recognition framework, your program will align the incentives (rewards) with the desired activities and objectives. Your recognition framework is the first, and foundational, component of your recognition system. The framework will define the point award amount for the recognition event. The framework will provide the recognition event that is specifically being awarded. The framework will define whether your program will allow both peer-to-peer and company point awards.

The next critical item is the redemption menu for the award that has been given. Specifically, you would like to maximize the value that can be received by the employee redeeming the award? By providing a wide-array of options, the redeemer will be very likely to place a higher value on the award they have received. It is all-too-easy to give someone a gift that they don't value, and have it end up on the bottom of a desk drawer somewhere. By providing a points-based redemption system with flexible options you can minimize wasted rewards.

Recognition Action Plan

People perform for pay. It might really be that simple, but lets pretend it is more complex. Never mind. It isn't complex. Humans are coin-operated creatures. Especially the high-functioning humans that you love to have as part of your team. If you need your high-functioning humans to collaborate better, then you just need to incentivize them for collaboration activities. Repeat with emphasis: You just need to incentivize them for collaboration activities and the newest generation of coin-operated humans will shift gears and collaborate. The median company spends between 1-2% of employee annual compensation on recognition. Make sure that these funds recognize and reward based on your company preferences and priorities. Your recognition program can integrate to your HRIS to leverage the standardized corporate priorities and objectives, to align the rewards around those objectives. Here are a few guidelines:

1. Repetition breeds muscle-memory. We want helpfulness and recognition to be our reflex response in all situations. Frequent company and peer-to-peer recognition opportunities are additive.

2. Flow-of-work recognition is optimal. An effective platform should integrate with the tools employees live and breathe every day, such as the HRIS, Teams and Slack

3. Operate your system and collect feedback regularly. A recognition platform isn’t “set and forget”. You should fine-tune and adjust your program based on your employee feedback.

4. Tune the goals for your Recognition Program. An effective platform should measurably improve your metrics for employee engagement and other measures of effectiveness. Using your Recognition Program to focus properly should lead to improvement in critical employment KPI like employee attrition, absenteeism, productivity etc. If these metrics are not improving or are not being measured it might be time to tune-up your program.

Sticky-note to self: Get rid of that unwanted plaque buildup...

The other quiet fact is that employees don't often sit in corporate-assigned workspace as much as before. Therefore, the physical recognition artifacts like trophies and plaques are less valuable. Perhaps a Verifiable Credential that can be certified and published is a better option for a mobile workforce. Keeping with the theme of giving something of real value back to the team. These VC are able to provide something of value to your employees at a fraction of the cost of physical awards like a plaque or trophy. Moreover, they can publish their verifiable awards to LinkedIn, and other interested parties.

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