Webinar Recap: 6 Major Risks of Homegrown Recognition Programs (and How to Avoid Them)

August 29, 2019 Aaron Kinne

7-minute read


If you’ve been thinking about implementing a homegrown social recognition program – or you already have a “do-it-yourself” (DIY) solution in place – this recent webinar hosted by Workhuman® will change your thinking.

“6 Major Risks of Homegrown Recognition Programs (And How to Avoid Them)” featured Workhuman social recognition experts Madeline Laurano, founder of Aptitude Research, and Lauren Spencer, senior consultant at Workhuman. In an engaging and eye-opening program, they explored what it takes to make a social recognition program successful – while sharing the six common risks of homegrown rewards systems.

6 major risks of a homegrown recognition program: questions to ask yourself

  1. Does it offer the technology you need for program success?

​​Technology is key to the success of an effective social recognition program. As Lauren pointed out, “A recognition program should be easy. If it’s not easy to use, people are not going to use it. It should capture and share the great work that’s happening, and show there’s an emotional connection to the work employees are doing every day.”

She adds that technology should evolve over time, stay modern and fresh, and remain easily accessible to employees. And it should have safeguards to prevent fraud and ensure that recognition doesn’t become a “free-for-all.” Could your current or planned homegrown rewards system do all that?

Madeline adds that only through technology can a social recognition program be truly bi-directional. “When you have a homegrown recognition program that’s not supported by modern technology – or the right technology – it allows you to have only one direction: managers recognizing their employees. When you’re investing in modern technology, recognition can happen in many different ways throughout the organization.”

  1. Will it reflect your organization’s culture with strong branding?

​​A good social recognition program should look and feel like it’s part of your organization. As Lauren pointed out, “It should create a common language for your colleagues and reinforce your brand and core values. It should inspire positivity, action, connection, and celebration.” Can you say that about a homegrown recognition system?

A good social recognition program should look and feel like it's part of your organization.

To illustrate her point, she cited examples from world-class companies LinkedIn. Each company’s execution is very different, but both reinforce what’s important to the organization. As Lauren noted, “An important thing about a recognition brand is to make sure that it’s not just an HR program. It should be part of everyday conversation.”

She adds that each program “reinforces the same global, peer-to-peer recognition nature across the organization.

  1. Will it enable a program design that maximizes impact, broadcasts values, and shows a positive business outcome?

In talking about program design, Lauren pointed out that “these homegrown programs can sometimes be a missed opportunity to change the employee experience. For instance, a program without core values or a reason to recognize someone is like a ship without navigation. It’s going to be aimless and off course.”

She made the point that an effective social recognition program should reinforce a company’s goals and values. After all, that’s what drives the bottom line. A well-designed social recognition program “takes your core values out of the employee handbook, off the wall next to the elevator, and puts it in front of people. It says, ‘This is what’s important to us. This is what you can be recognized for.’”

Madeline echoed this point: “If you really want to see impact in your recognition program, have a strategy around core values – and make sure they’re really driving those recognition moments.” She added that with homegrown programs, the core values aren’t visible and aren’t being communicated.

A well-designed program also makes possible widespread participation – both giving and receiving. Lauren said that by opening up a recognition program and empowering peers to recognize each other, “you’re going to see it become a part of your culture every day. And that really reinforces your bottom line and the business goals you’ve set. And it brings your company values to life.

A well-designed program also makes possible widespread participation – both giving and receiving.

  1. Will it offer meaningful rewards?

Just as recognition moments should be meaningful and memorable, so should the recognition rewards themselves. They should be culturally relevant – no matter where on the globe the recipient lives – and they should be timely.  As Lauren pointed out, merchandise sent from the United States to another country may lose its impact by the time it arrives. The same is true of a cash award given through payroll.

This leads to the important point that, when it comes to meaningful rewards, “cash is not king.” Lauren cited a large survey that found that 27% of those who received cash rewards spent it on bills; 10% actually forgot how they spent the money. Contrast this to a social recognition program that offers a wide range of merchandise or gift cards: “You’re extending the reminder of the [employee’s] achievement, and really having an impact on engagement scores. They don’t feel like it solves just a short-term need.”

When it comes to meaningful rewards, "cash is not king."

There’s another advantage, as well. As Lauren noted, management has better visibility into what people are doing to earn rewards and how employees are using their recognition. Which leads us to the next risk …

  1. Does if offer the built-in analytics and insights that will deliver program trends, growth, and sustainability?

Perhaps one of the biggest risks of homegrown solutions is their lack of, or limited, ability to provide data. With a true social recognition program, data is built into the platform and easily available – and often in formats that anyone on the leadership team can immediately access and use.

And what’s particularly valuable is that you can design a program to deliver the kind of data that’s important to leadership. Turnover? Productivity? Employee engagement? The customer experience?

Madeline pointed out that “the analytics and insights are not something that’s going to be available in a homegrown system because it’s reactionary. It’s happening at just one point in time, and it’s not consistent.”

She cited the profound impact that analytics can have on a company: “They provide a real action plan for individuals, managers, and teams to be able to do their jobs better and work in a more collaborative way.” In her view, analytics aren’t just about addressing the negatives: “To me, it’s viewing analytics and insights as a way to empower that employee experience.”

As Lauren summed it up: “[Analytics] are a great way to see what’s happening and how your recognition values – your organization’s core values – are being lived.”

  1. Can it support program growth and sustainability with ongoing change management?

It’s one thing to put a program in place. It’s quite another to evangelize and drive adoption of that program throughout your organization. That’s where the advantages of teaming up with a world-class partner – such as Workhuman – really come into play. After all, in many companies, instituting a culture of recognition is a major transformation.

“Some managers need to know and need permission to feel like they are able to recognize each other,” noted Lauren. When it comes to recognition, managers need to understand that, “we want you to [recognize others]; we want to have this infused into our culture."

Getting managers and employees to embrace a recognition program takes more than an announcement email. It involves an overall strategy that might include program marketing toolkits, pre-launch and post-launch communications, and a continuing effort to keep the program top-of-mind throughout the company.

Getting managers and employees to embrace a recognition program takes more than an announcement email.

“You have to remember that this idea of recognition is like stretching a new muscle,” observed Lauren. “The most effective recognition programs become a habit, where you have little nudges, ongoing communications, and people championing the program throughout the year.”

Madeline explored the role executive sponsorship plays in the success of a newly introduced program. She pointed to the importance of getting that buy-in early in the process – even when deciding whether to institute a recognition program. If you can get leadership buy-in early, “it usually works to your advantage because you’re able to show what the value will be.”

Madeline pointed to the big payoff when a program is launched effectively: “You start to see results immediately. There are so many different areas of HR technology where you have to wait a few years before you see the impact. Social recognition happens immediately for an organization.”

A homegrown system versus a robust social recognition program

In closing, Madeline pointed to another reason to institute a comprehensive, robust social recognition program: “It really allows your employees to feel that you’ve made an investment. You believe in them, you believe in recognizing them, and you’re committed to doing so.” That’s something that’s difficult – if not impossible – to achieve with a homegrown approach.

View recorded webinar >


Ask the experts: launching a successful social recognition program

6 myths of do-it-yourself (DIY) recognition programs

About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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