How Do You Measure The Effectiveness of Recognition Programs?

I think it is very important to be more strategic about recognition where you work. You must clearly know the purpose of each of your recognition programs.  

Only then will you know when your recognition programs are effective or not. 

Take the following approach seriously for a fresh look at your recognition program effectiveness 

Why Should You Evaluate Recognition Program Effectiveness? 

If you are not measuring the effectiveness of your recognition programs, you won’t know if they are effective or not. That is the obvious answer. Such measures will guide you in knowing how well each program is functioning. You’ll also quickly discover if there are any concerns to deal with. You will need to give an account of the performance success of your recognition programs to your senior leadership team. And effectiveness measures will guide you in identifying areas for continuous improvement.

Here is an evaluation approach based on the National Reporting System, Support Project from 2018.

Define the Purpose of Your Recognition Programs 

Each recognition program has a different and definitive purpose. Never treat your recognition and reward programs as just functional tools that have features to perform. No one recognition program is the same as the other. I have accompanied the list of recognition programs below with a separate purpose statement. These are simply my own thoughts that were top of mind. However, your purpose for each of the same programs will be different for your organization. No right or wrong.       

  • Career service milestone award programs: The purpose of milestone award programs is to honor and celebrate the lives and contributions of your loyal and long-serving employees.      
  • Social recognition programs: The purpose of your social recognition program is to express recognition and appreciations, and acknowledge everyone for the positive things that happen at work at the moment.      
  • Performance based recognition and reward programs: The purpose of your performance recognition programs is to recognize and reward those who produce excellent work and perform outstandingly      
  • Above and beyond formal award programs: The purpose of your best-of-the-best awards of excellence is to celebrate your best employees for their incredible work and the amazing contributions they make.

Know All You Will Need To Measure

Three areas that are typically included in recognition program evaluation are participants, services, and outcomes. 

  1. Type and number of participants. These metrics might include:
  • Number of employees participating.
  • Number of managers participating.
  • Number of employees recognized.
  • Number of employees not recognized.

2. Program services provided to participants. A beginning list could be:

  • Ease of use of your recognition programs.
  • Satisfaction with the features and performance of the programs.
  • Ample resources and tutorials to learn how to use the programs.
  • The recognition program fulfills what it claims to do.

3. Program outcomes achieved by participants. Some outcomes to consider are:

  • Reach of the recognition program.
  • Sentiment of the recognition program experience.
  • Frequency of recognition expressions given per employee.

Likelihood to recommend your organization as a place to work at.

Design Your Evaluation Approach 

You can use a program logic model to help identify the factors that will become part of your evaluation process. 

Program logic models focus on three areas as well, (1) Inputs, (2) Outputs, and (3) Outcomes. 

For Inputs you might have,

Accessibility of recognition programs.

  • (Output) Number of times logging onto program.

Allocated budgets for giving rewards.

  • (Output) Proportional and allocated budget per manager.

Managers trained on how to use the recognition programs.

  • (Output) Number of managers trained on program usage.

Positive employee engagement with programs.

  • (Output) Number of active employee participants.

When looking at Outcomes you may need to create three progressive timeframes, like (1) Short-Term, (2) Intermediate, and (3) Long-Term.

For example, with the Input of “Managers trained on how to use the recognition programs,” you might have Outcomes that look like:

  • Short-Term: Program usage skills gained
  • Intermediate: More managers recognizing their employees.
  • Long-Term: Increased employee engagement on recognition related measures.

These measures take Effectiveness beyond just the number of managers who took the training, which is purely participation.

I found this a fascinating exercise to look at recognition outcomes across these three different timeframes. Each timeframe produces a different level of impact on program measurement and performance outcomes. It gives a whole new focus on the level of recognition program effectiveness.

Collect and Analyze Your Program Data

Recognition programs typically produce standardized output reports based on usage. 

However, when you are digging down into program effectiveness, create a process plan for collecting all the data you really want. 

With your logic model approach, you have listed some novel data points to be collected. Write out the data you need that matches each logic model output and outcome. You had best identify the sources where you can identify data for any activities and outcomes. 

You will probably want to collect information from the different participants who use your programs—managers, employees, and program administrators. 

Set up calendar timelines with plans for collecting each specific data you need. Assign who is going to collect the data. Always keep in mind the type of analysis that you need conducted that will help you use the findings the best way possible. 

Determine What Effectiveness Looks Like 

Determine what you think recognition effectiveness should look like. This really caught me off guard at first. It is so obvious. Effectiveness of recognition programs is in the eyes of the beholder. It is what your senior leaders and organizations want it to be.

The National Reporting System (NRS) actually has four models for creating standards for program effectiveness. These typically relate to educational teaching programs versus software programs: 

  1. “Continuous Improvement—Designed to make all programs improve compared with themselves. Used when you want program quality to improve for all programs.
  2. Relative Ranking—Used for relatively stable measures, where median performance is acceptable. Used when state policy is set for a more uniform level of quality across programs.
  3. External Criteria—Promotes adoption of a policy goal to achieve a uniform higher standard of performance. Used when moving programs toward a broad, overarching goal.
  4. Return on Investment—Provides information on whether services are worth the monetary or resource investment. Used when the state wants a cost-benefit approach.”

In summary, you could list these for your recognition program effectiveness exercise as:

  • Continuous Improvement: Want the program effectiveness to improve for every recognition program.
  • Relative Ranking: Want a more uniform level of usage and performance across the recognition programs.
  • External Criteria: Want to move programs toward a broad overarching goal, such as where they stack up on our Recognition Maturity Model®.
  • Return on Investment: Want to consider the cost benefit of what recognition programs are doing.

Choose which models you will use to evaluate your recognition program effectiveness.

Tell The Story of Effective Recognition

You have followed the above evaluation steps and now it’s time to review what you have done. You can tell the story of your organization’s recognition program effectiveness better after you have assembled this information and data.

You can review your logic model with its inputs, outputs and outcomes. You can determine how successful your programs are in achieving their goal. And it might cause you to challenge preconceived assumptions you had and the influence of any external factors.

You can review the process you have taken to analyze the data, and which model you used to create a standard. Develop potential questions for at least one selected input, output, and outcomes to show how your evaluation can respond to them.

  • Input: Accessibility of recognition programs.
  • Potential Question: Have we addressed all the accessibility barriers?
  • Output: Number of times logging onto program.
  • Potential Question: Did we get more employees accessing our recognition program?
  • Outcome: Increase in number of employees feeling recognized.
  • Potential Question: What factors worked (or did not) in achieving more employees feeling recognized?

You can identify how the information you have gathered will impact your ongoing recognition strategy and plans. Creating questions after you’ve collected the data is easier to do at that point in time. More questions lead to gaining better recognition program effectiveness. 

Put this all together and you have a report that can communicate with your senior leaders and other stakeholders. 

I did not include every aspect of the NRS process model for measuring program effectiveness. However, I hope you can apply the framework I have shared with your recognition programs. This will help you see more, and better ways, to improve your recognition program effectiveness. 

Recognition Reflection: How effective are your organization’s recognition programs?

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