How To Prevent The Downfall of a Formal Recognition Program

Like the fall of the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars saga, sometimes you have to bring your formal award and recognition programs back to the light side. When any of your formal award programs fall apart, you need to step in quickly and turn things right around. 

Following are a few ways to consider with preventing the downfall of your formal recognition programs. 

#1. Establish a Strong Purpose with Actionable Goals 

Whenever I have seen a formal award program lose steam, I will ask to see what the actual purpose of the award is. Often, the clarity of the purpose statement, or the lack thereof, speaks volumes as to the ideas and intentions behind this award. Too often, people know the name of the award but don’t know why their organization started it.

An award program purpose statement can help guide adjudicators by removing any bias or favoritism. This aids employees by creating a healthy perception of the awards.

Once you have defined the purpose, then there had better be some actionable goals set to make this award successful. These goals keep the process on track and provide the metrics to evaluate whether you have achieved what you set out to do.

Unfortunately, with celebratory award events, there are rarely goals put in place on what needs to be done before, during, or after the award event. 

Formal awards should also include peers nominating peers besides managers. This promotes transparency and inclusivity, which can often be questioned with formal awards when employees are not involved. Look for the involvement of employees, such as a previous award recipient being a judge the following year.

#2. Effective Communications and a Positive Promotion Campaign

You need an early promotion campaign to allow leaders and employees the chance to nominate an employee for an award all year round. There is usually a communication strategy to elicit more award nominations right up to the final submission date.

One problem with a nomination-based award is that it often depends on the quality of the written nomination submitted. To prevent this becoming a problem and to encourage the same high standard of nominations each time, look to teach and coach people in person and through online tutorials on how to write an effective nomination.

Organizations don’t do a great job of explaining and sharing what it took to become an award winner. Capture on video interviews with previous award winners, telling of their best practices in the award category. Talk with the award nominators and have them tell viewers what they included in their nominations.

And then you can have the judges who adjudicated the award nominations give specific feedback on those nominees who were the highest scoring. Where did they stand out from others? What types of things should nominators include in their nominations to strengthen them? 

#3. Follow a Clear and Objective Process

To make formal award programs successful and sustaining, you must have a process and project management flow with checklists to help streamline each program and celebration event.

Draw upon the successes and failures of major public (think Oscars) and industry award events to gain valuable lessons. Build your project checklists so that you can get everything right for each award submission every time. Same goes for the awards events as well.

Don’t rely on memory when dealing with award program details. It’s also important not to skip important steps to save time.

And don’t worry about creating the perfect checklist for the first time around. You must carefully analyze the nomination process and judging. Meticulously, plan out all the steps required for a successful celebration event. Trial and error must test out both the nomination and celebration processes. Anything missed or problematic can easily be revised and improved for next time.

#4. Create a Celebration Plan for Meaningful Events

One thing that has disappointed me is how some organizations have let formal awards die during the pandemic. It was like leaders were thinking, well if we can’t meet in person, we can’t award or celebrate people. The irony is that more people went above and beyond their regular work duties during the pandemic than at any other time. You can still have award ceremonies done virtually.

There are three time periods you must be mindful of with planning award celebration events before the event, during the event, and after the event.

Period 1: Before the Event 

Well, before the award celebration event, you have multiple checklist tasks to check off. Your goal is to orchestrate a recognition ceremony that helps create organizational heroes and heroines. This needs to be a motivational experience that generates positive energy and fun. The bottom-line is you are helping leaders to celebrate and honor the outstanding employees within the organization.

Start with setting a purpose-driven objective for what you want to achieve and that will guide you.

There are lots of logistical planning steps required for a celebration event that needs consideration. You can project planning out from 6-months to a year beforehand when having to book the venue, catering, tables and seating, the staging, and required light and sound technology. 

Of course, a virtual event might not need as much time, but it must be well planned out.

And you can rehearse the awards event with your host or emcee and specific staff so that everything goes off without a hitch.

You’ll also need a well-timed promotion and communication calendar using your corporate website. Highlight when the nomination submissions open and when they close. Organize and train the judges who will evaluate the nominations.

Period 2: During the Event

This is show time, and everything must flow like clockwork. Familiarize the host or emcee with all the timing elements and any last-minute changes to the celebration program.

Ensure that award recipients and nominees are at designated seating along with any personal guests. Give organizational leaders a chance to visit with award winners before the event. 

The presentation of the award is one of the most important part of an award ceremony. Getting the right person invited to make the presentation to a recipient makes it doubly special. Share with the presenter the story behind the individual and their contributions. 

Have a photographer on hand to take a picture of the presenter and awardee receiving their award. 

Period 3: After the Event 

After the awards ceremony, it is time to evaluate whether the event achieved the desired objectives and the satisfaction levels with the various elements of the event.

Post informal photographs along with photos of the award presentation online to share the event with other staff who could not attend. Provide access to these photos to each award recipient. 

Send out satisfaction surveys to everyone in attendance.

This is where you review objective and subjective measures as to the level of satisfaction of recipients, employees, volunteers, and leaders. And you are now prepared to act on any improvement suggestions and recommendations. 

#5. Measure Everything and Make Ongoing Improvements 

Too often, organizations get caught up only with the analytics linked to their online recognition programs. They also misplace a lot of credence in the lagging indicators of annual employee engagement surveys. 

However, program owners rarely measure are the outcomes of formal award programs and their accompanying celebratory events. 

Complete an analysis of your formal award programs and see if you can find some effective measures of success. Examples might include:

  • Number of nominations received.
    • Submitted by department.
    • Submitted by leaders.
    • Submitted by employees
  • Number of nominations per award category.
  • Number of nominations screened and forwarded for judging. 

And, for your celebration events, do you have the indicators like the following? 

  • Post Event Surveys.
    • Attendance numbers.
    • Audience reactions.
    • All attendee satisfaction levels.
      • What they liked most.
      • What they didn’t like.
    • Attendee demographics.
    • Departments attendees are from.
    • Repeat attendee.
  • Volunteer data from those who assist at the celebration event.
  • Engagement on social media and on the social recognition platform.
  • Net Promoter Score, where you ask attendees and award participants how likely they would recommend this event to friends? 

Naturally, with the data you’ve got from all of your collected metrics, you can now start quality improvement initiatives. These ideas may generate revision of your checklists to make things better next time. 


Ensuring a successful formal award program and celebration event requires careful planning and putting procedures in place so they don’t become a problem.

1. When you know the purpose of each formal award program, you will have the master direction to guide everything that is necessary to be done.

2. Prepare to create checklists for every major stage of your formal awards program, along with their accompanying events, to make everything so much easier.

3. Work continually at evaluating your formal award programs from the idea of continuous improvement and your programs will never fail you.

Recognition Reflection: How often do you review your formal recognition programs and revise them?

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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