Where Should I Focus My Time On Improving Recognition At Work

You know your organization has an employee recognition problem.

The last employee engagement survey showed an average of 64 percent for all the recognition statements on the survey. Participation levels with the usage of your online recognition programs are inconsistent with leaders and employees across the organization. 

Open-ended feedback from employees tells you that many employees just don’t feel valued and appreciated. 

Something has to change. Where do you begin? 

Looking at Your Recognition Foundation 

When you build a house, the first place you start with is preparing the construction site and pouring the foundation. The same applies to where to focus your efforts with employee recognition—you start with a good foundation.

Foundations must be strong. You must be confident your foundation can withstand natural disasters, corrosion, and the settling that affects buildings.

Many recognition providers and recognition and reward associations use a recognition pyramid to look at the various forms of recognition. The recognition pyramid comprises three levels. I’ll explore each of the levels.

At the top, and pinnacle of the recognition pyramid, is Formal Recognition. These are the above and beyond, high-performance award programs run organization wide. They are the best-of-the-best performance winners or the nominated awards that judges adjudicate.

There’s usually an award ceremony and award recipients receive a tangible award and often accompanied by some reward. Typically, formal awards only impact about 1 to 3 percent of all employees and these events happen just once a year. 

Coming down, the recognition pyramid brings you to the Informal Recognition level. This is more performance-based recognition and reward type programs. They are business unit or department driven. 

People can use recognition, award nominations, or include point-based rewards, incentives, and awards. Managers or peers, depending on the program criteria, can give informal recognition. In addition, informal recognition also includes social celebrations and acknowledging of life events. Informal recognition typically affects between 30 and 50 percent of your employee base and you expect the frequency to be monthly to quarterly. 

Then we come down to the base level—the foundation of the recognition pyramid—known as Everyday Recognition. It is mostly intangible forms of recognition, but can include tangible acknowledgment for individual contributions, achievements or efforts made, and observed positive behaviors. 

Everyday recognition is about expressing thanks to people and acknowledging others for doing amazing work in outstanding ways. This foundational level of recognition can happen on a daily or weekly basis and usually impacts 80 to 100 percent of your employees if they do it properly. 

Reaching this number of employees depends upon management competency and holding them accountable for recognizing staff. And the strength of your organizational culture in driving behaviors like employee recognition is also a factor.

Where To Focus Your Time: Focus on improving Everyday Recognition, the foundation of the recognition pyramid. This means providing education and training needed to teach everyone how to be comfortable and confident in recognizing one another. You will impact the largest number of employees at the highest frequency of receiving recognition.

Understanding Recognition Practices and Recognition Programs

I have defined Recognition Practices as the frequent, personal, and habitual behaviors people do to express appreciation and recognition to others. They also include the cultural and customary ways an organization has of showing people that they and their contributions are valued. 

Recognition programs are the regular, informal or formal, organizational procedures and online administered programs for providing immediate or scheduled, individual or team, acknowledgment, recognition, awards, incentives or rewards, for achieving various strategic, behavioral or performance-based criteria.

The interpersonally delivered and expressed recognition, done face-to-face, on the phone, through videoconference, and even by email, are practices that resonate more strongly than using recognition programs. Recognition programs are great and provide a useful medium for delivering recognition to employees across an entire organization from around the world. 

Yet, our research using estimation analysis shows that employees rate recognition practices as have 2 to 3 times greater impact on areas like employee engagement and retention, over that of recognition programs. 

In reality, if you don’t know how to do recognition practices the right way, then you will probably not use your recognition programs properly, either. I have always told organizational leaders that recognition programs are simply a tool to help people practice giving recognition.

Where To Focus Your Time: Put a concentrated effort on expecting and enhancing your personal and organizational recognition practices. This will automatically improve how valued and appreciated people feel. And it will improve the quality of the recognition expressions even with using your online recognition programs. 

A Focused Plan of Attack 

Another foundational set of actions you need to take to improve recognition in your organization is:

1. Setting Expectations 

Too often, leaders have not set the expectation for giving recognition to one another. State what the purpose is for recognition and why it is so essential. Have a standard for how often leaders and managers should recognize staff. Communicate regularly through all the communication mediums the expectation for giving recognition to all employees.

2.    Feedback and Accountability 

So, you have set the expectation. But if you don’t solicit feedback regularly and hold people accountable, nothing will ever change. Find out from employees using pulse check surveys how their managers and peers are doing in giving them recognition. Do they feel valued and appreciated for the contributions they make? Ensure you measure leaders on their recognition competency skills. When performance reviews are conducted, record their recognition scores. 

3. Provide Helpful Resources

You cannot set expectations without providing people with the resources they need to draw upon. Provide short and long length articles, recognition guides or job aids, great infographics, tips and advice on how to give meaningful, memorable and motivational recognition. Don’t leave people high and dry. Support them to give better recognition.

4. Educate Everyone

When you educate people on giving amazing recognition, you are telling them why recognition is important. You want to positively influence people’s attitudes and beliefs. When you train people about recognition skills, you are showing them how to recognize those around them. Many people may have the desire to want to recognize colleagues. Their only problem is that they don’t know how. That’s why education is so important. 

5. Reinforce Positive Practices

If a person recognizes a peer at the office and no one else was there to see or hear about it, were they really recognized? Even if no one was there, that peer was still recognized. To encourage everyone to keep recognizing one another, we must positively reinforce acts of recognition. First, you must thank the recognition giver respectfully when you receive recognition. Second, take time in your one-on-one feedback meetings to acknowledge and express appreciation to people who actively give recognition. 

6. Recognize Recognition Program Users 

And you can use the very tools you want to promote using to recognize the exemplary recognition givers. You can make acts of recognition more visible by giving a like or star on the social recognition newsfeed. Always add a complimentary comment as well. Never give a like alone without a comment. Draw upon the diagnostic reports and commend the top recognizers and thank them for engaging their staff and those they work with. Ask leaders to share examples of people they have recently recognized. It highlights those who are giving recognition but also reveals some of the amazing actions employees are doing.

Hopefully, you’ll find some thoughts and ideas that you can apply to focus your time on improving recognition at work.

Recognition Reflection: Where do you focus your time and effort on improving recognition at work?

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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