Here's the scoop on strong employee recognition!

Everybody wins with effective employee recognition. Photo via Lisa Risager, Flickr.

Employee recognition is essential—but you already knew that, didn’t you? As WorkStride CEO Jim Hemmer writes in “2016 Predictions for Employee Engagement and Recognition,”

“2015 saw the terms ‘employee engagement’ and ‘company culture’ elevated from HR industry jargon to everyday business vernacular.”

There are many ways to recognize and engage your workforce, but effective employee recognition programs—those that make your workforce feel genuinely valued—share certain characteristics.

Read on for the eight must-haves for your employee recognition program to excel!

8 Must-Haves for Effective Employee Recognition

1. Ensure Meaningful Recognition

Everyone’s different, so survey your employees to find out what gestures of appreciation motivate them.  After all, as Kim Harrison, author of e-book Creative ideas for employee recognition and principal of CuttingEdgePR warns in “Key principles for effective employee recognition activities:“ … recognition needs to relate to an employee’s own wants or desires or it is a waste of time, not much better than no recognition at all.”

33 Amazing Employee Recognition Ideas You Need to Be Using,” on Snack Nation’s website, cites Intrepid Travel‘s marketing director for North America, Leigh Barnes. She suggests getting to know your employees so you understand what resonates with them. If your workforce is large, ask immediate supervisors what’s important to their teams. She says:

“Make recognition fun and personable. Go out of your way to find out what their interests are and recognize with a personalized message. A note, a craft beer … know your staff personally and you will know the little things that truly will motivate them.”

2. Reward Right Behaviors

Recognition programs should reinforce behaviors that build good business. Plan your recognition to reward behaviors strategically important to the success of your business and those that support your company values.

Business-management software firm MINDBODY‘s goal, to “leverage technology to improve the wellness of the world,”  directs how they treat clients–and how they structure employee recognition. Jeff Harper, senior vice president of people and culture, notes that one of the most important things to remember in developing a recognition program is to be true to who you are:

“Our culture is core to everything we do, so we build our recognition programs to align with our company values. This approach helps connect employees’ behaviors to what we believe, while strengthening our brand. … [We’re] a purpose-driven organization focused on improving the wellness of the world.”

The company’s recognition program features fitness and wellness opportunities that encourage employees to live the MINDBODY brand.

3. Recognize Employees Immediately and Often

Effective employee recognition is most powerful when used in the moment. Be prepared to share your appreciation in the moment – when employees handle a difficult customer well, put in long-hours to complete a high profile project, or pitch-in to help a coworker.  Your company-wide “attitude of gratitude” will spread throughout the workplace when management expresses gratitude frequently and consistently.
Joy Adan of recognition software company Redii, advises Snack Nation:

“Create a culture of appreciation by building recognition into your company’s everyday language. Instead of waiting until the end of the year or someone’s work anniversary to celebrate the contribution they’re making to your business every day, recognize them in that moment. Make them and others know that the little things count and create your success. Specific, timely and social recognition can amplify the achievements of anyone in your organization, no matter their job title or tenure, and it also motivates them to do that same awesome thing again.”

4. Involve Senior Leadership

Your executives already know that employee recognition is valuable—and it’s critical they show it! Senior leadership should be front and center in showing appreciation to workers, giving public thanks, sending personal notes, and handing out thoughtful small gifts of appreciation. It’s up to them to model and reinforce the behavior they expect from middle managers.

Management at mid-sized and rapidly growing software company Atlassian still makes time to personalize recognition according to Scott Thompson, in “Going Above and Beyond for Your Employees“. Atlassian co-CEO’s, Scott Farquhar and Mike Cannon-Brookes are the drivers behind a passion for personalized recognition.

” Atlassian knows that every person is different, so mass production of all people processes just won’t work. When it comes to its people, the company deliberately does things that don’t scale.
For Atlassians who have reached a service milestone, managers customize the gift basket to be given to the recipient and write a handwritten congratulatory note. Atlassian tailors total rewards packages to fit the needs of individuals and sends personalized gift boxes to candidates who accept an offer, with all of these communications tying back to the company’s core values.”

5. Include Everyone!

While effective employee recognition starts at the top, it’s also important to encourage company-wide recognition! Earning the respect of peers is a major motivator in today’s workplace. Peer-to-peer recognition harnesses the intimate knowledge workers have of your day-to-day operations. Implement easy ways for all employees to participate in acknowledging great work and effort by their peers and even their managers.
Not sure where to start? Check out Empower Employee Recognition with Peer-to-Peer Recognition.
Another great starting resource, “Top Employee Recognition Software Products” by Capterra shares this story regarding popular software tool YouEarnedIt:

“After learning that its employees felt limited by a “management-only” system of employee recognition, Motley Fool got the app to let employees give their coworkers gaming “gold” for jobs well done. Down the road, recipients can cash in their game gold for real-life prizes. Workers love the prizes–and giving and getting peer recognition.”

6. Educate Frontline Managers

After all, frontline mangers are the ones who know their team members best. Provide training in employee recognition so they realize its importance in motivating and engaging workers—it makes their jobs easier, too!
Roy Saunderson, President and founder of Rideau Recognition Solutions’ Recognition Management Institute, explains the importance in helping managers to understand investing in making employees feel valued is different from compensation in his article, “Training Managers to Give Employee Recognition”:

“The contractual work agreement is not the sole reward; there is a psychological, emotional and purposeful recognition-based piece that many of us long for.”

Understanding the importance of providing recognition–and how to do so–may not come naturally, especially for supervisors or managers promoted from within because of their technical skills and potential rather than their management experience.
It’s up to leaders to help managers make recognition-giving become a way of life—a part of the culture—and not just another program-of-the-month scenario, Saunderson emphasizes.
Leaders who understand the power of recognition walk the talk by thanking managers publicly in meetings for a job well done or a team going above and beyond, as well as sending personal handwritten thank you notes when deserved.  It’s a lot easier for managers to share recognition with reports when they benefit themselves and understand the value of it.

7. Measure Effectiveness

Tools such as TinyPulse help you measure your employee recognition efforts according to the goals you’ve set, from worker satisfaction and retention to workplace accountability.
As TinyPulse’s website observes, You Can’t Improve What You Don’t Measure. The company uses “pulsing” employee engagement surveys for its own employees, with simple, straightforward questions that make it easy to create and send surveys and for workers to respond. Go-to employee recognition questions include:

On a scale of 1 to 10, how well are you recognized when you do great work?

“Has a supervisor given you any recognition in the past two weeks?”

“On a scale of 1 to 10, how valued do you feel at work?”

Very often, you don’t know you have an employee recognition issue until you start asking about it and measuring the feedback, the website cautions.

8. Change It Up!

Use your new understanding of employee recognition effectiveness to improve your programs! Make them more meaningful, immediate, and use a variety of activities and rewards to keep things fresh.
As People Metrics blogger Monica explains, in “Five Effective Real-World Approaches to Employee Recognition“:

“No matter how tailored and specific it is, over time, your recognition program will become stagnant. Keep employees on their toes by creating and adapting new methods of reward and recognition.”

Even large organizations can tackle keeping recognition fresh. In one of Monica’s examples, former director of performance management for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Doris Hausser was tasked with guiding and inspiring 1.8 million federal employees in dozens of different departments. Hausser empowered departments and individual employees to be creative in coming up with new recognition programs. In response, one agency started a “Giraffe Award” to recognize people who “stuck their necks out,” to reward risk taking. Hausser found people loved the new approach, and it motivated them to take greater risks.
Remember that your relationship with employees is a partnership. They want interesting jobs—with competitive wages and benefits—where their contributions are appreciated. You can’t do business without them. WorkStride CEO Hemmer sums it up:

“It’s clear that in 2016 employees will continue to shape the world of work as they strive to create meaningful and fulfilling careers. The companies who successfully cater to their personal goals will reap dividends with more engaged employees who stay longer and work hard.”

Everybody wins with effective employee recognition programs, so follow these eight steps to success!

Want more practical tips to build your everyday culture of appreciation?
Download gThankYou’s FREE Day-to-Day Celebration Calendar for tips on how to plan daily recognition and organize regular celebrations throughout the year.
This one-of-a-kind eBook will help you to build an everyday culture of appreciation with month-by-month guides, case studies, research highlights, how-to recognition advice and celebration ideas for specific holidays and anytime.
Click the image below to download your free copy now!

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