I find as HR Professionals, we tend to overthink the whole concept of employee recognition. We tend to create complicated programs, rewards systems, qualifying criteria/methods and ceremonies in order to recognize employees. This further bogs managers down as they try to make sense of the programs that have been created and they get frustrated with any administration required around the execution of these recognition programs. Ultimately, they throw their hands up in the air and want nothing to do these programs. It becomes easier for them to simply NOT recognize their employees and just focus on the work at hand. Of course, we know that this isn’t a desired outcome either. So what should we do?
Let me be clear about one thing first, I am not adverse to formal recognition programs per se. I have worked in organizations that had some great formal programs and for the most part, they achieved the desired effect of recognizing good performance, discretionary effort, support of company values, etc. However, I am more of an advocate of having managers “own” the recognition of their staff while also allowing peers to have a vehicle for recognizing each other.
Whether, as an organization, you go the route of developing a formal recognition program or have managers manage this within the context of their own department, there are 6 simple secrets to ensure that it takes hold within your organizational DNA. This then will allow your organization to achieve some key outcomes like improving employee engagement, reducing turnover and reinforcing your organizational values. I also believe that recognition should also have a reward element outcome. That is, when an employee is “recognized” it positively reinforces the behaviour, effort, etc. that led to the recognition. Therefore, the employee will want to repeat said behaviour. The recognition instills a sense of pride, self-worth and achievement within the employee and it adds an element of mutual respect in the employer/employee relationship.
With any type of recognition, here are 6 simple secrets to making it work:
1. Clarity – as an organization, and as leaders, you need to make it clear to your managers and staff what is important to you as an organization (values, client service, performance, etc.) and what you will be recognizing your employees for.
2. Ease of use – for managers to recognize staff. They should have their own budget that can be used for recognition. Managers, at their discretion, can use these funds to recognize individuals and/or groups. This could be done in the form of a thank you card, a gift certificate to a restaurant, a project team lunch, etc. Either way, the manager does not need to seek “approval” to do this because they have their own budget and it is clear (see point #1) on what the organization wants recognized. The element here is the timeliness of the recognition – if it occurs months after the behaviour/outcome, than forget it…..it is too late. (bureaucratic approval processes will instantly stifle any type of recognition effort).
3. Allow peer recognition – employees should be encouraged and enabled to recognize their peers. There is nothing quite as powerful as sincere peer recognition. You need to establish an environment where staff feel comfortable going to their manager (or their peer’s manager) and identifying what their peer did and why they should be recognized. Again, this can be as simple as the peer and/or manager thanking the employee for what they did or presenting some token gift as a thank you. Either way, peers are enabled to recognize each other and that makes the recognition very powerful.
4. Coach – managers on how to identify behaviours that should be recognized, how to individualize recognition efforts and coach on why recognition results in important business outcomes. Managers need to understand the importance and power of employee recognition and why they have a critical role to play, via proper recognition, in reducing turnover, increasing engagement, etc.
5. Individualize and make it specific – when a(n) employee(s) is (are) being recognized, they need to know what they did and why they are being recognized. Whatever you do, do not dilute your recognition efforts. In other words, if 5 staff members were directly responsible for a critical client deliverable, than you recognize those 5 for their efforts and only those 5. You don’t provide general recognition to the entire department because you “don’t want to single someone out” or because at some point in time everyone in the department played a bit role in the deliverable (i.e. answered a phone call). It is ok to single out the key players that made it happen and recognize them (and be specific about what they did and why they are being recognized).
6. Accountability – make managers accountable, in terms of the job competencies and performance outcomes, for delivering on their recognition efforts. As an organization, you need to make the link between managerial outcomes and desired recognition efforts. Recognition efforts need to be a managerial competency and/or a performance objective that is captured formally somewhere (annual goals, performance review, etc.). What gets measured gets done, and if recognition is being measured and managers are accountable, than you will have a greater deal of success with your organizational recognition efforts. The reason this one is last, is because the previous 5 all need to be in place first, especially the coaching support that is required to make this happen.
Next time you are trying to kick off recognition efforts in your company and/or are trying to change your organizational DNA, try following these 6 simple tricks. Best of luck in your efforts!
Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net