It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s most successful organizations have employee recognition programs in place. These programs enrich and sustain the cultures they are part of.
Most of these successful employee recognition programs share a few basic principles:
Recognition is most effective if it’s given in a timely manner. This is when it has the most potential for impact. The more time that passes, the less associated the contribution becomes with its recognition.
For example: Susan stays late for an entire week in a heroic effort to organize a major event for the company. The event is a resounding success. That evening, as the event closes, nobody recognizes or rewards Susan’s efforts.
Days, weeks, and months go by -- still nothing. At the end of the year, Susan is awarded a bonus in recognition of her contributions to the organization.
This approach to recognition is problematic for several reasons:
Recognition is more effective when given frequently. Employees make myriad contributions throughout a single week. Failing to provide regular feedback eliminates the opportunity for those contributions to be appropriately recognized and rewarded. Infrequent recognition increases the likelihood of an employee feeling undervalued in their role.
To illustrate this point, let's look at another example:
Rashad does a superb job, day in and day out, but his excellent work only gets recognized once per year, or once per quarter. That recognition's impact will be severely diminished.
If Rashad is recognized on the spot for only one of the contributions he makes each quarter, countless contributions will go unrecognized and unrewarded.
This provides little to no extrinsic motivation for him to continue working at that level. It also fails to provide the intrinsic motivation he'd get by understanding the purpose behind his daily work, and the impact it has on his team.
Frequent recognition helps encourage an employee like Rashad to continue putting forth a consistently exceptional effort, by providing a consistent reminder of the value his work has.
Why is it important to call out and recognize specific contributions?
It’s important for employees to know which contributions they make are considered most valuable. A quick “Great job last month” isn’t without value; however, it’s denying the recipient some crucial feedback.
A more useful piece of employee recognition might be something like “Great job catching that mistake on the Hernandez account, Eric. We might not have closed it without your attention to detail.”
This piece of recognition not only shows that Eric’s colleague genuinely appreciated his work, but that his attention to detail was a valuable asset that contributed to his team's success.
Eric will be more likely to leverage his exceptional attention to detail in the future, to the benefit of other colleagues.
Although private recognition is effective, public recognition offers several advantages. For one, being recognized publicly often magnifies its impact, and gives other colleagues the opportunity to join in the recognition.
Visible recognition also provides examples of commendable behavior, actions, and contributions that others can repeat.
For example: Jessica deploys a performance fix to her company’s codebase that saves customers several minutes during their checkout process.
Jessica’s manager comments that “Jessica’s performance update is saving time for thousands of customers, and that’s priceless to us as a company.”
Jessica knows her clever fix is appreciated, and her colleagues are given an example the type of great work her organization values most.
Although it may seem challenging to implement each of these elements of an effective recognition program all at once, there are many great tools available that can simplify and streamline your efforts. In the next chapter, we'll discuss some of these tools, and how you can get the most from them.