Employee recognition: How to do it right
Updated: Feb 5
I spoke (on your behalf) with Donna Gray, a Hall of Fame inductee for the Awards and Recognition Association, about how to develop a platform for ongoing workplace recognition. With more than 40 years experience as an awards and promotions retailer, she now consults with companies wanting to establish long-term recognition programs as part of their H.R. retention program – and more, to boost company-wide productivity.
“This programmatic evaluation is coming more and more often at the request of the CEO who understands that a stable, well constructed recognition program directly impacts the bottom line,” Gray noted. “It is another tool to keep the right people motivated to do the right work for the right results.”
Gray cited the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality award, established by Congress to promote improved quality of goods and services. The award recognizes role models who share their best practices with other organizations. It highlights customer satisfaction, workforce empowerment and increased productivity with its complex criteria for performance excellence spelled out. But what are the Cliff Notes for recognition novices who want to put together a meaningful and continual reminder for staff of our company’s mission and specific needs?
“First of all, ideally everyone in a division or the entire company is eligible to receive the awards,” Gray answered. “And the program has to supply both employer and employee with specific information about what is being recognized and rewarded. Then, whoever performs at the standard stated in the criteria will get recognized.” The more attainable the award is, even though the standards can be set very high, the more motivated staff is to try to reach that level. Also, taking favoritism and bias out of the equation legitimizes the process, the award, and the recipient(s) achievements.
Timing, too is important: “Recognition programs should be scheduled as close to the time period being judged as possible, so the awards program itself reinforces the program’s criteria.”
What are good criteria for awards programs? It depends on the vision, values or goals the company embraces. Here are Gray’s recommendations, with the company goal or value reinforced.
Length of service: reinforces H.R. retention goals, particularly when tied to a prize, bonus or stock option for reaching the set goals.
Above and beyond performance, exceptional work: reinforces innovation or productivity
Sales results: reinforces customer service, new business, company profitability (think “President’s Club” for sales, etc. for reaching 120% of goal! Everybody wins!)
Safety performance (or) attendance: reinforces policy adherence and workplace culture
Employee Suggestions/Ideas that were implemented: reinforces innovation and big-picture thinking, and thinking across divisions for the betterment of the company
Employee of the month/quarter/year – this could be one award for which all employees are eligible and all employees vote.
When you think of what behavior the company values, Gray noted, some unique awards might evolve, such as “support services” – who on the team routinely helps others succeed at their jobs? By identifying the importance of that function, and rewarding it, you set the standard that others might achieve, and make every role important at your company – which is a key to reducing turnover.
“It is proven, over and over, that people who feel recognized and appreciated produce more and better work,” Gray said. “Think of a recognition that reflects for your employee and your customer what you value and understand that the trophy or plaque isn’t the reward – the recognition of being handed the trophy is the reward.”
And think beyond traditional plaques. “Today, we’re installing more and more recognition walls, which are immediately visible to customers and which broadcast, every day, what the company stands for and the behaviors of staff that the company rewards. Imagine a giving tree, for example, which recognizes employee involvement in the community, if that’s a company value. Everyone on staff could win that award, if the hours of service are clearly spelled out. Each one could imagine their name inscribed on the metal leaves, with their charity also engraved on it when they hit x number of volunteer hours.
That is a huge motivator to get involved in charitable works outside the business day. Likewise, there are other behaviors a CEO wants reinforced. That’s what a visionary and strategic recognition program, versus a single awards event, can do.”