Recognition: “acknowledgment of something or someone’s validity”.
If we learned anything from our experience with the people in our lives, we know that: 1.) Us feeling thankful for what they do for us, and 2.) Them feeling appreciated are almost always two very separate entities. Hence the need for an actual action (a bridge, so you will) to translate our 1.) thoughts into 2.) tangible, meaningful experience for the recipients. This, is Recognition. And when you do it right, it pays.
Wait, do it “right”? It’s not enough to do it, now there are wrong ways to do it?
Unfortunately and fortunately, yes. There is just no easy way to put this. Everyone has different definitions of what constitutes recognition. This is where generic, thoughtless, one-size-hopefully-it-fits-all methods fail. But here’s the silver lining: there are also very effective ways that we all seem to agree on. These are fail-proof recognitions that could instantly make us feel validated. And fortunately for company leaders, these methods have given us a pretty clear guideline on what will definitely work – what makes it right.
Let’s start by agreeing on the circumstance: We are ready to take action to improve Employee Recognition in our company. Yes, we can also all agree that creating a culture where employees feel valued and appreciated at work is much easier said than done. If it was, we wouldn’t have only one in three workers in the U.S. say that they’ve received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days. But, don’t let that discourage you. Why? The reason why so many employee recognition programs fail isn’t because recognition is a wildly impossible thing to tackle, but because these programs just weren’t built to work in the first place.
Turns out, it’s not that complicated – every successful employee recognition approach always boils down to three things: Sincerity, Efficacy, and Fairness.
You have to mean it. Your employees can always tell when it’s ultimately about you and not about them. So put “what can we do to also boost productivity” aside for one minute, and really think about it from an employee’s point of view. In short, don’t do it for the sake of going through the motions. If it stems from the genuine idea of wanting to create a happy company, trust us, you’re already halfway there.
One “good job” isn’t going to cut it. Recognition is most impactful when you’re as specific and descriptive as you can be in your compliments. It shows your employees the extra efforts they put in have not gone unnoticed. This is crucial. Reuven Gorsht, the global vice president of customer strategy at SAP said, “Instead of a generic 'great job,' be specific — for example, 'I really like how you've pulled the discussion back together – You're an exemplary collaborator.'” (from Business News Daily)
If you’re planning on creating a reward/bonus program, don’t make the grave mistake of assuming you know what everyone wants. Whether in the form of surveys or regular face-to-face interactions, ask your employees what motivates them the most, and what type of recognition rewards they prefer. You’ll be surprised it’s not always about money. Even if you’re not creating a reward program just yet, knowing what type of recognitions your employees want will go a long way in fostering future great ideas.
Example: At Hyatt, hotels regularly host “Night Owl Breakfasts” when managers serve meals to night-shift workers, share information and gather feedback. (from Fortune) The gesture of a meal to say thanks never fails.
What makes recognition extra meaningful? When it comes from fellow coworkers who have witnessed firsthand the work you put in. In fact, 90% of workers said values-based, peer-to-peer recognition made them more satisfied with their work. (SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey, 2016).
Another huge factor for why peer recognition works is because it’s going to be effective round the clock, day in, day out. As Chester Elton objectified the situation perfectly in Why The Power Of Peers Is So Important For Building Trust In The Workplace, “how are busy, spread-thin managers expected to see and recognize the achievements of all their people? There is a solution to this common recognition problem: Get your team members involved.”
Example: Soon after launching a peer-to-peer employee appreciation program, more than a third of all employees at Hawaii National Bank started to receive thank you messages from their peers. The company utilizes Thank It Forward, a company-wide peer recognition system by Brighter, to make sending thank you messages to coworkers simple. Employees can choose from different e-cards, use pre-filled messages or customize their own. “Our teams really enjoy using Thank It Forward and it is now a big part of our culture” says VP of HR, Derek Kanehira.
The whole point of recognition is to make your employees feel appreciated and create an environment where they can truly feel trusted for their work and contributions. If you don’t make recognition in your company a well-grounded system that believes in and self supports itself, any recognition program you introduce will quickly fall flat. Reinforce the efficacy of workplace recognition by preserving and strengthening your employees’ confidence in it.
We aren’t discrediting monthly or yearly recognitions, but for them to be as impactful as they can be, recognitions should be given and received as soon as possible. Why? Recognitions are less genuine when they seem to be an afterthought. Imagine how you’d feel if you had put in extra hours, dedicated your entire focus to the success of a project, achieved something extraordinary, but all you get in return is silence…till a month later. Abby Whitaker at Fast Company succinctly summed up the significance of timely feedback: “If you wait until that all-hands meeting to congratulate the past quarter’s top performers, good luck generating any real or lasting motivation.”
Example: At Bonusly, to make sure employees at different locations is always aware of the great work everyone is doing, a dashboard is projected at every office displaying all the recognition going on throughout the day.
The main goal of employee recognition is to foster a strong appreciation culture that self-sustains and reinforces itself. To do this, you must empower your employees to lead the company in this appreciation movement by giving them the ability to recognize and encourage great performance. Trust in their judgment, give them the tools they need, and watch your employees take ownership in employee recognition.
Example: Zappos put recognition in the hands of the employees themselves. The Coworker Bonus Program allows employees to award $50 to a coworker who went above and beyond for them or their team each month.
If you’re looking to increase positivity solely in one part of your business, by all means, limit employee recognition to that department. But if your goal is to create a healthy, creative, and productive environment in your company that will increase overall job satisfaction and retention, do not leave anybody out. If you do, your entire plan will backfire swiftly as employees see the difference in treatment. Remember, the whole point is to make your employees feel more important, not less.
All, or nothing at all. Unless the programs are department-specific (say Most Productive Sales Person), everyone in your company, regardless of desk or non-desk workers, or their seniority, should feel like it’s a fair game. That means in your rewards programs, your criteria should not exclude employees who don’t have equal opportunities to prove themselves. For example, you can’t create an MVP of the Month program without making some employees whose job duties are mostly unvarying feel like they never stood a chance in the first place. To avoid this, make use of peer recognitions, or create value-based recognitions.
Example: At Groupon, all work anniversaries (Grouponniversary) are celebrated. Employees are given a top-of-the-line, bright green Adidas track jacket that can be personalized with unique nicknames and star patches for each additional year at the company.
A smart recognition program avoids pitting employees against each other. Whilst a little competition here and there promotes creativity and fun, competition based programs could create a low-morale, anxiety-filled office where non-winners feel uncredited for the efforts they put in. Manager-picked recognitions likewise can threaten the mood in your company. “You don't want to design a process in which managers select the people to receive recognition. Employees will see this type of process forever as managerial favoritism,” says Susan M. Heathfield, an HR expert. Avoid the tragedy of gaining one happy winner whilst losing everybody else to dejection - make rewards performance or value based (not about winning).
Example: At NetApp any employee who sees others doing extraordinary things simply has to reach out to CEO, who will personally call that employee to thank them. In addition, “Living Our Values Awards,” NetApp’s largest employee recognition program, colleagues nominate one another around the world — the employee in each region with the most votes is called out by the CEO at an all-hands meeting and gets face-time in a video.
Your company is built upon the countless hours your employees put in. It’s not just about the accomplishments but mostly the many ideas, small steps and even failures it took to get here. When you recognize your employees, make sure it’s not only the victories that you’re celebrating. Don’t neglect the loyal employees who put in just as much work even if the work is routine, or the brave ones that voiced their ideas even if they weren’t embraced by the majority, or the team member who took the initiative to handle a customer complaint even if the insistent customer could not be appeased. At the end of the day, your employees need to be assured that you appreciate their work while they’re working on it, and not only after achieving the results you wanted
Are you ready to start a successful Employee Recognition program in your company? Take this checklist based on the above and use it as a model in your approach. Match it up to your plans and see if you’ve met all the guidelines.
The Essential Employee Recognition Checklist:
Make It Personal
As Quick As Possible
Not a Competition
Focus on Process, Not Just Outcome
Remember that recognition is after all, an ongoing process. Companies that take shortcuts thinking they can “attain” a culture of appreciation at work through a hasty program that hasn’t considered and acknowledged the concomitant human factors can expect to get out of it just as much as they put in. If you want to create a company of happy workers who feel appreciated, don’t focus on the outcome. Focus on the process – the people and what they want.