Recognition Help Desk: 5 Tactics for Achieving a Highly Effective Recognition Program

April 8, 2021 Aaron Kinne

6-minute read

sticky note with light bulbOkay, you’re sold on the benefits of implementing an employee recognition program in your organization. You know how it can engage your employees, inspiring them to do the best work of their lives – while taking your company to new levels of success. 

But what are some of the real-world tactics you should employ as you  structure your program? What are the key strategies that will make your program the most effective it can be? 

True recognition drives engagement, productivity, and retention. 

A comprehensive employee recognition program allows colleagues from across the organization to recognize one another for a job well done. This community of recognition makes the  workplace feel more inclusive and human. It enables each employee to understand, reinforce, and evangelize the values your organization cherishes. And it’s one of the most important factors in driving workplace engagement, productivity, and employee retention. 

With that as a backdrop, let’s take a look at five tactics that you should employ as you design and implement you employee recognition program. Full disclosure … for many of these insights, I’ve drawn from “Making Work Human,” the breakthrough book by Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine. In it, they lay out the tactics that can make your recognition program the uplifting, transformative force it can be. 

Use these five tactics to make your employee recognition program highly efficient and effective: 

  1. Tap into the power of peer-to-peer interaction to build community. 

An effective recognition program should make it easy for everyone throughout the organization to participate in the culture of recognition. In that way, it promotes a sense of inclusivity, belonging, and cohesion, where employees understand and embrace what good work looks like. 

“Community flourishes when people recognize others with whom they work and spend their time,” note Eric and Derek. “It creates trust and builds a ‘community story’ of how people accomplish common goals by working together.”  

For the greatest impact and success – and to build community – base your employee recognition program on a peer-to-peer model. 

“We see peer-to-peer recognition as an opportunity to continue to drive a vibrant, employee-focused culture. In the age of crowdsourcing, employee empowerment, and low bureaucracy, it just felt right to let our employees recognize each other and take a shared accountability in driving our culture forward. The fact that we have made it a peer-to-peer program is mainly why it is so successful. It’s less about approvals and more about people feeling empowered to  recognize colleagues for a great job!” 

- Rahim Bhayani, former vice president, total rewards and HR shared services, OMERS 

  1. Tie the value of the award to the impact of the recognized action. 

There’s a broad spectrum of efforts and results that deserved to be recognized within your organization. And while all of them are important – and all of them are positive – they clearly have varying degrees of impact on your company. Be sure your program has recognition levels that reflect these different levels of benefits.   

Award Advisor, a key feature of First Tech FCU’s recognition program, ensures givers of recognition are assigning appropriate award levels, and has also helped to create equity and consistency across the organization. “Prior programs didn’t give as much clarity,” explains Chary Krout, formerly senior vice president, human resources, at First Tech. “This is a built-in tool to help our employees make award decisions based on output and impact.” 

  1. Make it easy for your employees to showcase recognition moments with a personal, written record of the effort. 

What’s the difference between a perfunctory “Nice job,” and a written note that explains what makes the action – and the recipient – special? A written note is more personal, and has a longer and deeper impact. It reverberates for both the giver and receiver, and brings the relationship closer. 

A recognition platform makes it easy for givers to write a nominating letter that delineates the employee’s effort and its results. And it’s there for all to see, expanding its impact on overall company culture. You’ll want your recognition program to have this important feature. 

“When I ran into laptop connectivity issues, I reached out to you and you responded within 10 minutes. What made your response special is that it was Saturday morning of Labor Day weekend. You patiently talked me through some troubleshooting steps, and I was able to get up and running. While we were talking during the reboot, I asked if you were working. You told me it was your day off.” 

- Excerpted from an actual recognition online nominating essay  

  1. Align the recipient’s action to the company’s purpose and values. 

A vibrant, comprehensive recognition program plays a pivotal role in aligning the entire organization to a shared purpose and vision. It reinforces company values and puts the power of gratitude to work, aligning your people to your culture’s core values.  

Because a values-based employee recognition program is designed with rewards that map to each company value, it integrates those ideals into employees’ everyday thoughts and actions. This is an important tactic you’ll want to integrate into your program. 

“With safety as one of our core values, [our program] allows our employees to recognize each other for their contribution to safe operations. We can use this to reinforce these great behaviors.”

-  Susan Snelling, head of reward for EMEA at bp

  1. Celebrate the recipient with a tangible award of real value. 

It’s always a good thing to say “thank you.” But in the context of an effective recognition program, an award that comes with real value and meaning to the recipient has a far greater, longer-lasting impact. It is – in the words of Eric and Derek – a “business practice” that demonstrates your company is truly invested in employees, and empowers all workers to make a real difference in the lives of their peers. “The reward empowers peers to make a material difference in the lives of their colleagues.” 

Be sure your program offers awards that have real value and meaning to the recipient. 

Data from Connected Recognition, Cisco’s employee recognition program, reveals that awards valued at $25, given by peers and redeemable in Workhuman’s robust reward network, are much more powerful drivers of engagement than larger cash awards. When a Cisco employee receives an award, they’re much more likely to agree with the following two statements on Cisco’s engagement survey: (1.) “I have a chance to use my strengths every day at work.” And (2.) “I know I will be recognized for excellent work.”  

What great looks like 

In the end, a great social recognition program should look and feel like it’s part of your organization, according to Workhuman senior consultant Lauren Spencer. As she sees it, an effective recognition program “should create a common language for your colleagues and reinforce your brand and core values. It should inspire positivity, action, connection, and celebration.”  

As you think about implementing an inclusive, comprehensive, employee recognition program at your organization, think about the five tactics we’ve discussed above. When you do, “you’re going to see recognition 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.” 


Employee Recognition: Basics, Best Practices, and ROI

About the Author

Aaron Kinne

Aaron Kinne is a senior writer at Workhuman.

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