Why You Should Strategize Your Recognition Practices First!

Whenever leaders and owners of organizational recognition programs think about creating a recognition strategy they tend to think solely on their programs. However, for your recognition programs to be most effective, you need to focus first on getting recognition practices right.

Why should you strategize your recognition practices first and not your programs? How does this approach benefit your recognition programs? What are the short-term and long-term outcomes by taking this route?

Let’s take a look at recognition practices more closely and I will answer these questions and give my rationale for going in this direction.

What are recognition practices?

Recognition practices are the frequent (often daily or weekly), personal, and habitual behaviors people do to express appreciation to others as well as the cultural and customary ways an organization has of showing people that they and their contributions are valued.

On the personal level, these will be the face-to-face acknowledgments, courtesy acknowledgments in emails, fist bumps and high fives in a team meeting, tokens of appreciation for work done or help given, and personal gestures to show you care.

From an organizational perspective, recognition practices can include a thank you letter sent to a potential job candidate following an interview, a welcome gift and letter from the CEO given during onboarding, personal acknowledgment by an immediate supervisor or manager on your anniversary, and events like pancake breakfasts or summer barbeques to show appreciation to employees.

The cue here for you is that recognition practices happen independently and before any recognition programs ever come into play.

Now for Recognition Programs

Recognition programs are regular but less frequent in occurrence than recognition practices (typically weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually). They can be both informal or formal, and they can be organizational procedures or online administered programs, for providing scheduled individual, or team, acknowledgment, awards, incentives or rewards, for achieving various strategic, behavioral or performance-based criteria.

I like to think of recognition programs as a tool to help managers and employees practice recognition giving. There is an Abraham Maslow quote that I always share with people when discussing recognition programs: “If the only tool you have is a hammer you treat everything as if it were a nail.”

 Similarly, if you treat the lack of recognition of employees only by using a recognition program, you will miss out on the most meaningful recognition opportunities, which come through face-to-face, person-to-person interaction.

Why Strategize Recognition Practices First and Not Programs?

 When I conduct estimation analyses of the impact of recognition practices versus recognition programs have with employees, I consistently obtain similar results.

How much impact do recognition practices have on organizational pain points like, employee engagement or retention? And, what about with recognition programs?

When employee focus groups were asked how much impact employee recognition programs had on employee engagement, the range of impact was reported from 13% to 20%, with an average of 16.8%.

In contrast, looking at recognition practices, the employees indicated that practices affected employee engagement anywhere from 48% to 68%, with an average of 56%. That’s three times greater impact gained from recognition practices over recognition programs.

Now, it is acknowledged that this analysis does not take into account how well managers and employees practiced recognition giving. Nor does it indicate how well the programs were being utilized. However, these numbers tend to correlate across different organizations where quality is known to be good or bad.

Please note that recognition programs do make an impact – it’s just that recognition practices have a greater influence. This is why I advocate you create a holistic strategy around recognition that includes both practices and programs.

How Does this Approach Benefit Your Recognition Programs?

Examining recognition practices in your organization and how well managers and employees are doing, will enable you to concentrate on improving recognition awareness, knowledge, and understanding. You can provide education and training on how to effectively give meaningful recognition behaviors. And, it’s a chance for you to update the recognition resources, communication messaging, and the tools needed by management and employees alike.

With a better understanding of what recognition is and how to give it properly, you have automatically upgraded everyone to be better recognizers of each other. Then they can use your recognition programs to do the things that can’t be done other than in person.

The quality of the recognition expressions given in social recognition newsfeeds or with eCards will be improved because of greater competency from the practices. There will be greater respect in understanding a person’s recognition preferences, likes and dislikes, and whether the display of recognition messages should be public or not.

Giving awards with a monetary or non-monetary reward component will be more transformational because they will be accompanied by fitting words of acknowledgment instead of a transactional activity.

Short- and Long-Term Outcomes of Practices First

By concentrating on recognition practices first, you will guarantee to move the dial on any and all recognition related questions on your next employee engagement survey. Too often companies think that better programs will fix low recognition scores on an engagement survey.

I can assure you in over twenty years of consulting companies around the world on employee recognition, whenever recognition themed questions have scored poorly on engagement surveys, I know that everyday recognition practices are not occurring well, or at all.

So, if you want to boost your engagement results on recognition scores, put a strong emphasis on communicating expectations for recognition giving, and provide recognition education and training to managers and employees.

The long-term benefits of working on recognition practices are an improved organizational culture and greater empathy for people. Your recognition programs will also be much easier to introduce and launch because they will be aids in recognizing people much easier.  This will be especially the case for employees on teams, those that work remotely, for employees you couldn’t reach during the day, or for situations where outstanding performance is available to you through online dashboards or emails, versus in-person observation.

Always keep in mind that practices come first and programs come second with employee recognition.

Recognition Reflection: Are recognition practices more impactful than recognition programs in your organization?

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