Career milestone award or service
award recognition programs have been around for many years.
Over those years there have been
the customary plaques, symbolic crystal awards, and gold watches—and these used
to start when a person reached 25-years of service.
But as tenure reduced significantly
with economy and business changes, and retention of employees was harder to
maintain, career milestones now begin at 5 years and 5-year increments
thereafter. Today, you will find many companies now start career milestones at
an employee’s first year of service.
The reality is, whether you give an
employee something tangible or not, they always have a workplace anniversary
every single year.
How do you plan to make the next
round of your milestone recognition celebrations more meaningful and effective?
Vineet Nayar, an Indian business executive and former Chief Executive Officer of HCL Technologies, is the author of the critically acclaimed management book Employees First, Customers Second.
that employees are the clear differentiator in the value zone for helping
organizations grow faster and be more competitive. He further states that the
business of leaders and management is to enthuse, encourage, and enable
employees to continue creating this differentiating value for their customers.
already know the power of employee recognition. But not everyone is like Vineet
However, what all leaders want to know about recognition is four major points about the programs and practices that you are overseeing.
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.
organizations have a formal awards program that is their “best-of-the-best”
academy awards event. These formal award programs are truly the best
performance ranking, or earned award, such as the top salesperson, or they
are nomination based and selected by a judging committee.
selected jurors are previous award recipients because they know the standard
required to become an award winner.
does using previous award winners as jurors who are peers of potential
award candidates lead to bias in selecting winners?
All of us are
striving to help people in our organizations feel valued and appreciated for
their contributions and for who they are. We’re also tasked with showing
everyone how to give more effective and meaningful recognition face-to-face and
with using our online recognition programs.
And the only way
we know how well we are doing is by measuring the outputs of recognition
through our recognition programs and through employee perceptions on
recognition received through engagement surveys.
But is there
another way that you can refocus what you measure that will lead to more
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.
have always been a big advocate of the fact that it’s the quality of your
recognition that makes it a big deal.
and time again, I have witnessed how when you put more of a personal touch into
the recognition and rewards you give, the more meaningful and effective the
effect will be on the recipient and on their performance.
have summed this principle up before by saying, when you give people
recognition you don’t have to give them a reward; when you give people a
reward, you must always accompany it with recognition.
I have a social science experiment to share with you that validates this
Whenever technology is involved there will always be bugs and glitches that get in the way. It’s the same with recognition and reward programs. However, for the most part the biggest problem with recognition programs is not technology. It is the people factor and how recognition programs are used. Consider these Top 10 Solutions to Typical Recognition Program Problems to help you out.
1. Poorly Planned Programs. Too many leaders launch recognition programs without a plan. Create a recognition strategy with purpose, philosophy and principles. Determine overall objectives you want to achieve with them. Then set specific, measurable goals so you know how to measure your progress. Develop an annual plan to improve the weak areas of your recognition programs.
2. No Management Participation. Start right at the top by lobbying for an executive sponsor to champion the recognition cause. Show leaders how to use the programs and provide supports. Personally commit leaders to using recognition programs. Educate managers on recognition practices and using programs. Hold managers accountable for usage and monitor program reports.
3. Lacking Consistent Usage. You have your recognition programs in place but managers and employees aren’t using them. Apathy and complacency are the enemies of using tools for what they were meant for. Set clear expectations for using the programs. Regularly communicate how to use programs and share positive examples of great recognition givers and their impact on people.
4. Inability To Recognize. Recognition programs are simply tools for giving appreciation and recognition to other people. An effective user of recognition programs must already be effective in giving recognition face-to-face. Teach people the positive behaviors associated with giving people meaningful, memorable and motivational recognition. Expect people to apply these skills first.
5. Too Achievement Focused. Some recognition programs are really reward or incentive programs labeled solely as recognition programs. That’s because rewards are being used to reinforce performance outcomes. This can create an entitlement mentality. Don’t forget to use recognition programs to express appreciation, acknowledge people, and communicate gratitude for everyone.
6. Programs Remain Unknown. Sad to say it but there are companies with recognition programs that their employees don’t even know about. I’ve seen it when we get companies to inventory all the rogue programs that exist. Create a centralized strategy with some core programs and allow local programs to continue. Now brand, communicate and promote them everywhere you can.
7. Unclear Program Expectations. Spell out the expectations for each type of recognition program. Social recognition programs connect people with each other and positive actions. Performance recognition programs reinforce positive behaviors and strategic goals. Milestone or service awards are a celebration of people’s contributions. Don’t expect the wrong things from different programs.
8. Lousy Rewards Criteria. Recognition and reward programs can create problems when criteria for rewards are not clearly determined. What one person determines is above and beyond is different for someone else. Develop clear criteria for rewards based on whether the action was once or consistently done; the degree of impact of their actions; and who and where the impact was made.
9. Big Hoopla Launch. Beware grand launching of new programs with big glitz and full of pizzazz. Ask any IT department about introducing new software and they’ll tell you there are always bugs. The best advice I can give is if you start big you will end small; if you start small you will end big. Start by piloting the program in one division first. Iron out any program glitches before going company-wide.
10. Not Creating ROI. Recognition programs can be a sitting duck for being reduced in scope or completely eliminated when seen just as a feel-good-activity. Your recognition programs must be aligned with your businesses goals and seen as a performance driver. Make sure you are fully using reports and analytics to correlate recognition with results and always calculate business impact and ROI.
Previously published by this writer in Incentive Magazine.