Employee recognition can lead to increased feelings of satisfaction and loyalty. Everyone likes a nice pat on the back, especially at work. But despite overwhelming evidence that employee recognition programs can inspire performance, formal shows of appreciation can often go by the wayside.
“Many small-business owners don’t think they have the money or time to implement a recognition program,” says Roy Saunderson, former president of Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training company in Montreal, Quebec. “Instead, they are trying to get their business going and are focused on the sales side of a company.”
Employee recognition programs don’t need to cost companies a dime – partly because they are different from reward or incentive programs. “Reward programs are very transactional,” Saunderson says. “They follow a very distinct path: you do this, you get that. Recognition programs are designed to show appreciation for who the employee is and what they do – it is about taking time out to connect and say thank you in a meaningful way.”
How do you start a recognition program? Here are a few simple steps to help.
1. Clarify Your Vision
Make sure to document reasons why you want to start a program. Do you want to inspire and motivate your employees? Increase sales? If you answered the latter, you may want to rethink your motive.
“There definitely needs to be a higher purpose for these types of programs; if there isn’t, people will see right though them as self-serving,” says Carolann Jacobs, who was president of Vivid Epiphany, a business coaching consultancy based in Plano, Texas for eleven years.
2. Talk to Employees
Employee temperaments can be as different as night and day. Some may find it inspiring when they are recognized publicly, while others may prefer a more private pat on the back.
“Sit down with employees individually to find out what they prefer; ask them how they’d like to be recognized,” suggests Saunderson.
This doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. If you don’t have time to interview each employee, Jacobs suggests sending out a quick survey with open questions for elaboration.
3. Form a Committee
Regardless of your business’s size, appoint a few people to manage your recognition program. Try starting with a small committee and as people get recognized, add them to the group.
“Make it a privilege to serve on the recognition committee and market it well in the company,” says Jacobs.
Once formed, the committee can be tasked with creating methods of recognition based on survey responses. If an employee would like to be recognized by learning a new skill, consider offering professional development seminars.
The key to a recognition program is to have meaningful criteria for recognition – it shouldn’t be arbitrary picking or favoritism.
—Carolann Jacobs, president, Vivid Epiphany
If another would like to receive recognition from immediate colleagues, consider implementing peer-to-peer awards, which can be in the form of simple certificates or even thank you lunches, suggests Jacobs.
Once the committee is formed, she advises automating systems for keeping track of employee milestones such as anniversaries and promotions – all excellent opportunities to be recognized.
4. Develop Criteria
“The key to a recognition program is to have meaningful criteria for recognition – it shouldn’t be arbitrary picking or favoritism,” Jacobs says. “Recognition should be something special and attainable, not just by front office staff, but everyone in the company.”
5. Involve Managers
While nice words are welcome from anyone, workplace recognition matters most when it comes from a direct supervisor.
“Don’t outsource your recognition notes or awards to human resources,” Jacobs says. “People want to be recognized by the people they work with. Make sure to involve supervisors in the recognition and reward process. It needs to be well thought out.”
Even with a committee focused solely on recognition activities, it can be difficult for small-business owners to dole out positive words – but practice can make perfect.
“Note how you feel when giving recognition,” suggests Saunderson. “It is easier than you think and doesn’t take up a lot of time. I’ve had a lot of managers tell me that acknowledging others is the most meaningful part of their workday. Make sure the recognition is relationship based; there should be real emotions behind it.”
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is an employee recognition program?
An employee recognition program is a way for a company to recognize and reward its employees for their work, usually with the goal of improving employee performance and staff retention.
2. What are the benefits of an employee recognition program?
An employee recognition program can benefit the company by improving employee productivity. It also helps with staff retention and can even help to attract new employees.
3. How often should a company recognize employees?
Ideally, a company should have programs in place that spotlight group projects or large milestone achievements on a monthly or at least quarterly basis.
A version of this article was originally published on March 30, 2011.
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