6 Steps to Creating an Employee Recognition Program

Employee recognition can lead to increased feelings of satisfaction and loyalty. Everyone likes a nice pat on the back,…
March 30, 2011

Employee recognition can lead to increased feelings of satisfaction and loyalty. Everyone likes a nice pat on the back, especially at work. And there's nothing better than a boss giving you a high five or lobbing a "great job" over your cubicle. But while employee recognition programs can inspire teams, small business owners often bypass them altogether in favor of focusing on the day-to-day operations.

“Many small business owners don’t think they have the money or time to implement a recognition program,” says Roy Saunderson, 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.”

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:

Employee Recognition Program Step 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, president of Vivid Epiphany, a business coaching consultancy based in Plano, Texas.

Employee Recognition Program Step 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.

A few popular survey tools include SurveyMonkey, FluidSurveys and Zoomerang.

Employee Recognition Program Step 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.

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.

Employee Recognition Program Step 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.”

Employee Recognition Program Step 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.”

Employee Recognition Program Step 6: Practice

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.”