Appreciation and recognition: The dos and the don’ts

Not all employee recognition programs are created equal. So when you’re trying to develop the most effective program for your company, here are some important things to consider:

1. Be inclusive. Too often employee recognition is geared toward the direct revenue producers within the organization, often the top sales executives. But what about the sales support staff that is helping those sales executives achieve their goals? The quickest way see morale plummet is to let an entire division within the company go unnoticed. Everyone needs to feel appreciated.

2. Put your money where your mouth is. Employee recognition programs don’t have to break the bank. A small outlay of cash to show appreciation should certainly be considered. A 2012 survey by SHRM found that, “When companies spend 1 percent or more of payroll on recognition, 85 percent see a positive impact on engagement.”

3. Focus on peer-to-peer recognition. The problem with recognition programs where the winners are determined by management is that management is often accused of favoritism. What better way to eliminate that risk than putting the onus directly on the employees to determine which of their peers deserve recognition? Caveat: The actual recognition should come from the manager!

4. Make it random. The problem with establishing a regularly scheduled thank-you, such as a Wednesday lunch, is that over time it just becomes expected and is no longer viewed as a reward at all. Establish an element of surprise and excitement when giving out recognition.

5. Be timely. Quarterly, or even monthly recognition is not sufficient. People like to be recognized for their good deeds quickly, so make it a habit to acknowledge them as soon as possible.

6. Just do it. The Dale Carnegie Global Leadership Study 2016 revealed that, “Employees in the U.S. and Canada were more likely to be inspired by leaders who ‘praise me for any performance improvement’ (71 percent).” Isn’t that the ultimate goal — inspired employees? So, regardless of the type of recognition program that you establish, just do it. It’s one of the most important things you can do for your employees.

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It is also important to recognize the three types of recognition:

1. Formal: Here there is a planned system in place. It has stated objectives and conditions that must be met in order for the recognition to occur. Included are awards for sales/productivity, length of service, plaques, trips, pins, employee of the month perks, etc. The upside of this type of recognition is the formality of it all. Individuals/teams are publicly recognized for a job well done. On the other hand, it can become a boring routine or worse, forgotten about. My guess is that many of you have been in an establishment that lists the employees of the month and the last one to be recognized was three years prior.

2. Informal: Spontaneous recognition can be a powerful motivator. Everything from the impromptu lunch, movie tickets, balloon/flowers, time off, etc. The spontaneity of this type of recognition is what makes it work.

3. Daily: This is recognition that identifies a specific task or job that is being worked on or has been done well. In the book, The One Minute Manager, one of the main mantras was “Catch people doing things right.” Not only catch them, but let them know with a pat on the back, verbal thank you or a quick note or email. My guess is that some of you may have received a note or email like this from a mentor or boss. These “documented” notes can be powerful motivators!

The challenge in all of the above is to not fall into a trap of doing it because we have to do it, or doing it because we have always done it. To end, one of my favorite insights into effective appreciation and recognition comes from Bob Kerrey, former senator from Nebraska: “Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.”

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