Here’s How to Get Engagement With Your Recognition Program

Sometimes companies launch recognition programs and they don’t exactly light up the sky and shine, as they should. 

For a variety of reasons you might not have gotten the engagement and traction you thought you would when you designed and developed your organization’s recognition program. You thought you got everyone’s input and their buy in, and then… pfft! 

Lots of foundational things can stop recognition program engagement whether it’s access to technology, the nature of the work of most employees, or simply a lack of respect thinking employee recognition is unimportant.

But let’s look at what needs to be in place to engage your managers and employees with your employee recognition programs.

1. Find Out What Employees and Managers Want and Need

You find that most employees just want to feel valued for who they are and acknowledged for their contributions. And what is happening a lot is employees are being taken for granted. Not a good indicator to have.

At the same time you have managers who want something that is quick and easy to use. They want to recognize those employees they don’t see regularly face-to-face, especially remote employees, and either recognize them for great work or reward them for going above and beyond. Managers need tools and the ability to track those who are giving and receiving recognition or otherwise using the programs.

As an organization you want to create a culture that encourages recognition giving and collect recognition program data that shows who is being recognized, by whom, and for what reason. 

2. Design and Develop Programs Around Wants and Needs

Companies design online recognition programs in-house or they’re developed by a third-party vendor. Determine if you have enough employees to warrant an online system for recognition. How many employees and managers have access to technology via desktop or laptop computers or other mobile devices to acknowledge their peers and others?

Many employees want more immediate recognition themselves and want to recognize and appreciate their peers in different ways.

How will recognition programs make a difference for us?

3. Create a Teaser Campaign for What’s Coming

Using video trailers, email blasts, posters, cafeteria tent cards, whatever means is available to you, share with employees what is coming as early as possible. Use curiosity and intrigue to engage people.

Always explain why. Explain the choice to proceed with an online recognition program laying out the reasons. Tell everyone the features and benefits of the recognition programs and how they will work in their daily work life.

4. Teach Insights on Recognition Practices

Recognition programs are only tools. They help managers and employees practice recognition giving and can never replace the daily, one-on-one recognition experiences. Educate all employees on the fundamentals of effective recognition practices through lunch and learns, tips and resources to learn how to give effective and meaningful recognition.

Adopt some organizational commitments towards specific recognition practices like, at management meetings managers can stand up and acknowledge a fellow manager for help they’ve given them or an achievement reached since the last meeting. Or maybe you start all staff meetings with recognizing employees who merit it.

5. Setting Clear Expectations of Your Programs

Establish clear expectations for how the company expects leaders and managers, and employees, to use the recognition programs with norms and parameters or guidelines. Explain the difference they will make in people’s lives by taking part in using the programs. For example, “like” something on a program post but also add a comment.

Set expectations for how employees can use the recognition programs. Show them it doesn’t take much time to express appreciation for a colleague’s help.

More often than not people need to know they have permission to use the recognition programs. Empower everyone to recognize those they work with regularly and consistently.

6. Provide Ongoing Education and Training

Develop simple online tutorials yourself or work with your vendor to instruct all employees on how to use your recognition programs. Take time out of a regular staff meeting to review the use of the various recognition programs.

Make sure in your onboarding of new staff that you have time to orient employees to your recognition programs. Invite them as one of their first actions on the job to acknowledge and thank someone who made them feel especially welcome to work for your organization.

Put recognition programs on the agenda of management meetings to show ease of use and benefits of your recognition programs. Show them why recognition is so important and how easy it is to use the programs.

7. Create and Implement a Communication Strategy

Adoption and engagement in any program requires ongoing messaging and repeated communication.

Draw up or have your communications team (if you have one) create a Recognition Communications Calendar for the year of all the communication tips, updates, and reminders to broadcast each month to targeted groups of employees.

Draw upon print, video, visual media, digital media, and other technology delivered communications. Use face-to-face interaction and meetings, email conversations and communication, business meetings and presentations, social media applications, team messaging applications, like Slack and Microsoft Teams, to disseminate principles of employee recognition and advice on using your programs.

8. Use a Staggered Launch to Start

Best not to launch a recognition program across the entire organization on day one. I have always said if you start big (launch company-wide) you’ll end small (engagement is low) but if you start small (pilot or targeted department or region first) you’ll end big (higher engagement that creates a ripple effect for the organization wide launch).

Launch to a high potential, engaged, and high performing department or region. These are the managers who already get recognition right and they know it’s important. Almost any initiative would succeed here.

Since this is a positive and engaged starting place you can evaluate how the program was used. You can identify the pros and cons of the program and recommend improvements and adjustments before launching across the company.

9. Solicit Ongoing Feedback on Program Usage

No program is bug free on launch. That’s why you start or launch small if you can. Get program user feedback from managers and employees.

Survey them or conduct focus groups to discover the ease of use and navigation of the program. Find out the overall employee experience and solicit review comments. 

Consider setting up notification reminders if specific managers have not used a recognition program in a while. Inform them when they last recognized someone using a specific program. Instead of making them feel guilty for not using the recognition program, ask for their help. Ask them, what are their concerns in using the program? What would help them use the programs more often? What factors are holding them back from using the programs? 

Let them know what the average use of the different programs is so they know what normal is for your organization.

10. Be Continually Improving Your Recognition Programs

Every quarter and every year you will conduct a review of each recognition program. Request actual usage data and employee feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of each recognition program.

Seek out best practices from other organizations and professional associations to learn what other organizations are doing to get employees engaged with their recognition programs.

Where there are bugs and problems diagnose the cause or symptoms of problems. Ask employees and managers for their input and evaluate different options and recommended improvements.

Design effective quality control procedures and make necessary changes along the way. If one department or region is having more success than another, then find out what they are doing well and replicate their actions to achieve the desired results.

Recognition program engagement does not happen overnight once launched. It requires expectation setting, permission giving, ongoing communication, consistent education… and bottom-line getting out there and using them!

Recognition Reflection: How do you get your employees engaged with using your recognition programs?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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