How to Solve the Recognition Famine at Work

It seems there is a massive absence of recognition in the workplace.

In fact, you can call this absence a recognition famine because there is an extreme scarcity of people acknowledging, praising, and appreciating one another.

Gallup Organization has long stated that 67% of employees report not being recognized for doing good work in the last seven days.

In one healthcare organization I was consulting for I broke the frequency of recognition down in finer detail.

How often we receive recognition can be as important as how and who gives the recognition. I asked these healthcare employees how often they received recognition or praise from their immediate supervisor or manager for the work they do. The statement ended with “at least” and then the time frame statements of daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or not at all.

Only 11% of these healthcare employees stated they received recognition on a weekly basis, so well below the Gallup average of 33%. Another 33% indicated managers had recognized them within a month. But there was nearly another third of the employees who said managers never recognized them at all.

This is a crime.

Let me give you some ideas for stemming the recognition famine that might happen where you work.

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How To Craft a Clear Purpose for Recognition

I love reading the latest business books and business magazines that inspire me to think about employee recognition in a fresh new way.

For example, in the September-October Harvard Business Review (HBR) there’s a great article on Put Your Purpose at the Core of Your Strategy by Thomas W. Malnight, professor at IMD, Ivy Buche, associate director, Business Transformation Initiative at IMD, and Charles Dhanaraj, a professor at Temple University. 

Now, as you would expect from HBR, these academics are addressing purpose as it relates to business strategies. But I instantly saw the application of the principles in this article towards creating a recognition strategy.

Are you ready?

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Can You Please Tell Me What a Recognition Strategy Is?

What exactly is a recognition strategy?

When you search out Recognition Professionals International’s (RPI) seven best practices standards you’ll learn that their first standard is Recognition Strategy.

RPI defines a Recognition Strategy as a written strategy statement and plan with specific program objectives, with recognition aligned to the organization’s culture (i.e. vision, mission and values) and the business strategy and objectives. They use a three-dimensional recognition approach of formal, informal and day-to-day recognition practices. This Recognition Strategy document typically outlines the procedures and processes used and the program delivery methods for the various types of recognition adopted.

My definition of a recognition strategy includes a few more features that help make your recognition strategy a working, actionable tool.

Let’s dive in to learn more.

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What Do You Work On First With Employee Recognition?

Lucky you! 

You are responsible for employee recognition in your organization. Whether that is a full-time position or a part-time add on to your other responsibilities, it’s hard to know exactly where to start. 

Recognition Professionals International advocates a holistic approach looking at seven best practice standards:

1.   Recognition Strategy

2.   Management Responsibility

3.   Program Measurement

4.   Communication Plan

5.   Recognition Training

6.   Events and Celebrations

7.   Program Change and Flexibility

Most of the standards above imply recognition programs.

But do you work on recognition programs first? Is there anything else you need to concentrate on? Let me propose another area to think about first.

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4 Important Reasons Why Recognition Comes Before Rewards

When you think strategically about recognition and rewards or with trying to implement them, do you have a logical order in how you think about them or practice them?

Yes, I have a bias in that I am foremost a recognition strategist before thinking about rewards. But I completely understand the place for rewards and know the value they play in both recognition and reward strategies.

However, I think there is a psychological and practical reason for prioritizing recognition before rewards.

Consider the following reasons.

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If You Want To Give More Recognition, First Figure Out Why

I have seen where after a poor performance on the recognition measures of a recent employee engagement survey that the CEO tells all the leaders and managers to go out there and give more recognition to people.

You can probably guess why the senior leader asked them to do that. The reason was to improve the recognition scores on the next engagement survey.

This mandate from on high doesn’t work.

Giving more recognition to the people you work with for the sake of the numbers is not why you want to recognize others more.

It is not about numbers and measuring the occurrence of recognition. It is about giving recognition more purposefully.

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Top 10 Ways To Drive Recognition Through Your Culture

Effective use of recognition programs and exemplary recognition practices are always driven by your company’s organizational culture. Your culture must stimulate the positive actions you want to see happening to get more people recognizing others more frequently. Look at these Top 10 Ways to Drive Recognition Through Your Culture to spark greater engagement.

  1. Leaders need to own developing company culture. They are the ones who can see the big picture and the corporate vision. Leaders must not only drive organizational culture but also align it with the company business strategy, people strategy, and even your recognition strategy.
  2. How leaders act and what they focus on determines your culture. Leaders must visibly demonstrate daily actions of recognition expressions and celebrating achievements. What employees see their leaders positively doing they will strive to emulate. It is much easier to follow good examples.
  3. Establish a strategic recognition team/committee. Draw upon a diverse and inclusive representation of leaders and employees to steer the integration of recognition into all facets of work life practices. Have them flag any discrepancies with positively living the company culture from top to bottom.
  4. Frame the value of recognition giving and start a movement. Encourage a small number of leaders and employees to become ambassadors of recognition giving. Commit them to passionately appreciate people for the great things being done. Show them how to effectively use your programs.
  5. Expand recognition through company networks. There will be leaders and different departments whose people are better at recognition giving than others. Provide them the chance to share through email broadcast, printed articles, and video interviews how, and why, they are such good recognizers.
  6. Evaluate your stated organizational values and beliefs. People leave and change and so do the way things are done. Your company values may need to be evaluated and revised to fit better. Staff must then identify whether their personal beliefs still mesh with the company’s values and direction.
  7. Create unifying symbols of recognition for everyone. Ensure symbols of recognition are reinforced through branding and meaningful program names. Consider using social badges on your recognition website. Have branded tangible gift items available to acknowledge your employees achievements.
  8. Set simple goals to achieve quick wins. Invite people to set realistic goals for how often they will give better and more effective recognition. Use forum pages or online social collaboration tools to share progress. Or post successes and what you’ve learned through your social recognition program.
  9. Influence your culture through learning. Do what you can to create continuous learning opportunities to develop your culture and recognition giving skills. Get your learning development experts to utilize every available informal and formal learning method to enhance culture and recognition.
  10. Call out the cultural expectations for recognition giving. Use all available communication channels to invite everyone to be true to your culture. Ask staff to gently remind colleagues when they’re not doing or saying things consistent with what your company believes. Recognize those who live it!

Previously published by the author in Incentive Magazine

How To Implement a Recognition Strategy in Large Organizations

Over the years I have helped several large organizations in facilitating a team of their leaders in developing a written recognition strategy. The challenge I face after they have completed a recognition strategy session is leaving the owners of the strategy document with instructions on how to implement it and then see them make it happen.

Sometimes these recognition strategies become glorified documents that a manger or leader can now say they have a written recognition strategy whenever someone asks.

But if you don’t implement a strategy and plan then nothing ever changes.

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Never Mix Agendas With Your Recognition Strategy

Years ago when I was leading a church congregation I invited a member to meet with me to discuss a matter involving their publicly disciplining some of our youth. Ironically, this individual also wanted to meet with me to discuss a different subject.

We met that evening, and I allowed them to start with their subject first. Afterward I dealt with the more sensitive subject I had on my agenda. I can only tell you it didn’t go over very well. In fact, they didn’t talk to me for several weeks after.

However, I can tell you I learned a very important lesson from that experience. And that is, never mix agendas. 

If someone wants to see you about something, let that be the sole purpose for the meeting. Don’t add something you have on your mind to the meeting.

In a similar vein, never mix agendas with your employee recognition strategy either. Stay focused on creating a recognition strategy all by itself and add nothing else.

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How To Shift Organizational Cultures After a Merger

There are challenging things that people in corporations experience and one of those times is when there is a merger and acquisition with another company.

It affects people in so many ways and it can impact how you will proceed with recognition and rewards.

Consider that consulting firm McKinsey and Company found that “95 percent of executives describe cultural fit as critical to the success of integration following a merger. Yet 25 percent cite a lack of cultural cohesion and alignment as the primary reason integration efforts fail.”

Getting culture right is obviously critical after a merger.

William Bridges, author of one of my favorite books, Managing Transitions: Making the most of Change, wisely said, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”

What he’s referring to here is that change is situational, as in the case we’re discussing here with a merger. But transition is “the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation.” Thus change is external and transition is internal.

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