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.

Look at Recognition Practices First

Employees need to know the art and practice of giving meaningful and effective recognition to people first, before ever using your recognition programs.  Good use of recognition programs can only happen following consistent use of proper recognition practices. 

Recognition practices are the frequent (often daily or weekly), personal, and habitual behaviors people do to express appreciation and recognition to others, and the cultural and customary ways an organization has of showing people that they value them and their contributions.

However, giving effective recognition is not something you are born with. You experience it through positive parenting in the home and hopefully at school through positive teaching. And you also hope that you’ll get acknowledged and praised when working well on the job. But, that doesn’t happen as often enough according to Gallup polls, which show only a third of employees receive praise or recognition in any week.

The good news is we can all learn recognition practices.

Integrate them into your organization’s learning and education development, leadership and frontline training, and ongoing communication strategies. Recognition practices need to be a behavioral expectation right from onboarding right up to the C-suite.

Essential Recognition Elements

Below are a few of the essential recognition elements I would focus on with wanting to develop effective recognition practices in an organization.

Defining recognition. Each employee needs to define and understand what recognition really is. Recognition is too often lumped in with rewards because of its close association with compensation and benefits. You must articulate what recognition means to your organization and then communicate it and expect it from all employees.

Differentiating recognition. It is important to explain the differences between recognition and rewards. All staff must know when you would use one or the other, or even both, at the right time and circumstance. Decoupling recognition from rewards will go a long way to helping people master recognition giving.

Showing people. Many people don’t know how to give recognition, or are not sure of themselves when they attempt to give it. Showing people how to give meaningful and effective recognition is something to focus on when starting out. Don’t let poor standards of recognition practices continue. Set positive examples and expectations of what employees deserve.

Educating recognition. Discuss with people why recognition is so important to those they work with and the organization they work at. They need to know why recognition is so important and the benefits that can come from doing it right. When people know the “why” behind recognizing others then the “how” becomes so much easier to learn.

Learning principles. There are common truths and principles of human behavior behind giving great recognition. These accepted or professional rules of action that direct the behaviors essential to positive recognition are important to learn. Think how personalization would affect the recognition you give. Or consider the principle of specificity with recognition versus the generic and trite phrases like, “Well done” or “Good job!” These principles can affect employee perception of the recognition practices attempted.

Reverse training. Teach people through bad examples of the wrong ways to give recognition so people know why others can get so upset about poorly given recognition. Understand that there is a wrong way to recognize people. Capture the typical horror stories of recognition done wrong within your organization in writing or by video with no-name scenarios that can achieve this goal.

Impacting people. Share with employees what happens to people when they don’t receive recognition and what happens to them when recognized. By getting a common understanding and sharing insights, you build awareness of recognition’s impact. Any group of employees can list the effects that happen from great recognition or the lack of recognition they’ve experienced.

Overcoming barriers. We let many things impede recognizing those we work with. Knowing the barriers that people give for why they don’t recognize people and the simple ways for overcoming these barriers will quickly address this. Most barriers are myths or excuses built up over time and perpetuated by word of mouth. Show everyone how to dispel these barriers and stop people from keeping them alive.

Managing discomforts. Work to identify why some people are uncomfortable with recognizing others and what they can do to reduce this stress. Discomfort with recognizing people is a learned behavior and fortunately, people can unlearn these negative habits. Acknowledge that these recognition discomforts are real and provide people with ways to overcome them.

Using behaviors. Make sure you reveal some of the most effective behavioral skills for giving meaningful recognition. We have grouped effective behaviors under five categories, Appreciative Listening, Recognition Talking, Praiseworthy Actions, Rewarding Giving, and Acknowledging Intent. Behaviors like, expressing recognition with a pleasant and exciting tone of voice, removing distractions before recognizing someone, and being specific with the words you speak or write will all help.

Accepting recognition. Just as some people have a hard time recognizing others you must also learn to receive recognition properly. Too often people downplay or negate the recognition they receive. You might have said or heard others say lines like, “Oh, it was nothing.” Or “It’s not such a big deal.” When you respond with negative comments to recognition given, you might inadvertently discourage people from recognizing you again.

Prioritize working on recognition practices first before improving your recognition programs. Systematically work on any of the recognition elements listed above through your education and learning, ongoing training, and continual communications.

Perfect recognition practices makes for perfect recognition.

Recognition Reflection: How much emphasis is given to addressing recognition practices in your organization?

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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