How Do I Improve Employee Recognition?

Don’t spend another penny on recognition until you read this.

Many organizations are reviewing and refreshing their recognition strategies for 2020. Awesome. Sometimes it’s driven by concerning engagement data, that despite their efforts is still indicating employees aren’t satisfied. For others, recognition is a core pillar of their people strategy yet aren’t sure exactly what that next step to level it up. Still, others who are looking to better integrate their customer and employee experience mandates.

Whether you’re just refreshing an existing strategy or starting from scratch, I have some trends I want to share with you that I think will help. And here’s a spoiler alert: you trying to do it alone is not sustainable.

The most successful organizations that launch and sustain a successful recognition program have shared ownership, often through a small representative group – a “recognition crew” so to speak. It’s a group of motivated, passionate, people-centric and emerging leaders who realize that recognition is the cultural glue that can help their team and organization whether our constant change and demands on employees and leaders.

You know you have the right people in your recognition crew when they volunteer; they already know it’s the right thing to do, live and breathe recognition, and understand it’s the best way to retain their best colleagues. Oftentimes, these are some of the biggest influencers, whether it be with a small group or with a large group and have the ear of a large majority of colleagues.

What it’s not, is one person in charge of all recognition for the organization. This becomes a task rather than a cultural anchor. Besides which, it’s not sustainable, even if initially that person is really committed. What happens if she leaves? What happens if he wants a new challenge? What happens when they are given other responsibilities? So how do you configure your own recognition crew? Here are my top tips from organizations leading the way:

1. Change Agents Wanted

Tell people what you’re doing and invite fellow recognition rockstars to be a part of it. You can even invite or encourage specific people who are true change agents and cheerleaders to jump on board. Now, you may be thinking, “won’t that be seen as favouritism?” Perhaps, although I would have to say if people automatically assume this, the issue is likely bigger than this committee (you may well have favouritism and nepotism happening in your organization). Usually, encouraging volunteers is a commonly accepted practice in change. The key is to get the right people who believe in what you’re doing and can co-create a powerful vision of what a recognition-rich culture can do for the organization.

A local company, Bosch Rexroth, has done this. They put out a call to their middle managers, frontline leaders right through to executives and said, “We would really like to move the needle on recognition. We want it to be a high score on our next engagement survey. We know how we’re going to be able to sustain and retain our top talent. Who shares a similar interest for this and who would like to brainstorm how we can make that happen?” Those who already were the converted put up their hand and said, “I’d like to be a part of that.” You don’t have to convince people now and give them the tools and strategies. They make time for it because they value it. So that’s another way that you can build your recognition tribe is asking for volunteers.

2. Strategically Align

Now you have your crew in place, give them support. Ensure there is a clear link to a key strategic priority. It might be one for this year – such as to launch a Recognition Program – or it could be a project aligned to a KPI – key performance indicator – such as retention. It could also be part of a multi-year strategy to fulfill your core value. For example, Compass Canada has a dynamic guest experience mandate, and they’ve been working hard to align the employee experience to align to that clearly articulated guest experience promise. As such, you will want an Executive Sponsor to ensure your recognition crew had the resources it needs, and barriers eliminated when they arise.

3. Plan and Pivot

Now they’re a clear strategic mandate and the right people around the table, establish what your recognition program currently looks like, what your best hopes for going forward, and then evaluate the gaps (for more on this, check out this resource). Of all of the options of what to stop-start and continue, evaluate the Impact and Effort required (here is a great reference for how to do this); act on the quick wins right away and plan for the longer-term more resource-rich work.

4. Study What’s Working 

Part of your planning, ideally, will include studying who and where recognition is already working well. Why invent something from scratch when success is already present, at least a little? If you’re not sure where success is happening, study business variables correlated with high recognition cultures – low turnover, high continuous improvement, high trust, high satisfaction with leaders. Go speak with and observe what’s different there versus places where there is low satisfaction. How could this be replicated, shared, taught, and fostered?

5. Pilot and Pivot

When you identify your plan – both short and long-term – it’s important to remain curious and keep studying what’s working and what doesn’t. Maybe you uncover the most amazing strategy by Larry the Loving Leader and yet when you try to spread that practice, it just falls flat. Similarly, perhaps in the 9 to 5 work on-site team’s team recognition ritual doesn’t translate to the 24/7 rotating or virtual team. That’s okay to try something and see if it works or could be modified and if it doesn’t, try something else! Sometimes we put rigid project plans in place that take so long to produce we get rigid. Recognition is a human experience and people are not black and white, so it’s expected your program will require some study, trials and adjustments (in the short-term and also adjust it over time).

At this point, you may be thinking, what a lot of work! I don’t have time for this and everyone’s so overworked! Well, that’s exactly why we can’t abandon it. Recognition is the easiest and most cost-effective strategy to fix very expensive and time-consuming problems in organizations; if you want to get out of firefighting mode and spend your time growing and nurturing your culture, get your recognition crew together and get to work. Guaranteed, it will be the most fun you’ll have all week!

Know someone you want on your team or to help you create a recognition movement? Share this with them and tell them, “game on”!

Want to check out more resources about how you can recognize other’s greatness? Check out these articles:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

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