Make everyone count: How to build an employee recognition program

, Product Marketing | December 28, 2016

employee recognition

This is a guest blog post by George Dickson, Content Marketing Manager at Bonusly.

Recognition is the cornerstone of engaged employees and a healthy team culture. In fact, a Gallup survey found that employees who receive recognition and praise frequently “increase their individual productivity, increase engagement among their colleagues, and are more likely to stay with their organization.”

Despite the bottom-line impact it can have, many teams still struggle to develop an effective employee recognition program. Of those who do succeed in developing a program, many fail to sustain it over time.

At Bonusly, we’ve helped hundreds of organizations build a recognition-rich culture, and in doing so we’ve identified key strategies we’d like to share to make it easier.

Lead by example to get the ball rolling

If you’re working to develop the type of employee recognition program that contributes meaningfully to employee engagement and retention, it has to be supported at every level—from the new hire, to team leadership, to middle management, and all the way to the executive team.

If recognition is important to your team on paper but employees seldom see anyone give recognition openly, there’s already a layer of cognitive dissonance in the way that is difficult to overcome.

The easiest way to accomplish this first goal is to establish a practice—especially among leadership—of giving recognition widely, and often. It sounds simple because it is; but sometimes the simplest things can be extraordinarily powerful.

Each time you give recognition, you’re not only providing an example to emulate, you’re reinforcing the idea that recognition is an active and natural element of your team culture that everyone (including senior leadership) takes part in.

Be authentic by recognizing work, not time

employee recognitionInauthentic employee recognition is about as meaningful and useful as inauthentic currency. It might look fine from a distance, but its true value is questionable at best.

Many recognition schemes focus primarily on tenure—87 percent of them, according to Bersin and Associates.

Although the time employees have invested in your organization is worth recognizing, that anniversary celebration too often becomes a single, obligatory moment of recognition for the entire year.

It’s easy to make recognition more meaningful and authentic by focusing on contributions the recipient made during their tenure, rather than the tenure itself. And if you can’t come up with a few genuine reasons to applaud even one of your colleagues, that’s a valuable insight in itself.

Align your recognition program to team culture

Recognition aligned with your team culture, goals, and values helps employees see where their contributions fit within the organization. It helps them to understand the positive impact their work has on others and see how their efforts directly push everyone forward toward a common goal.

You can support alignment by keying in on your organizational values and goals with each piece of recognition you give.

Recognize employees frequently & consistently

employee recognitionRecognizing one great contribution is a great start, but it’s only a start. For recognition to make a meaningful and sustainable impact over the long term, it has to be given frequently and consistently.

Frequent recognition provides regular reinforcement to the giver, the recipient, and any witnesses that employee contributions big and small are truly valued in their organization.

One of the easiest ways to achieve more frequent recognition is to make giving it a fun, natural, and *ridiculously easy* interaction. You want it to be so easy that people wonder why they never did it before.

Make recognition & praise visible

Visible recognition serves multiple purposes. Public praise is a strong motivator; but perhaps the more important element is the example it provides. Each visible piece of recognition given provides a salient example of the type of contribution your organization values most.

If a team member is publicly praised for the way they delighted a customer, those who see that praise see how valuable positive customer interactions are to the team, and gain another prime example of success to mimic.

The more visible the praise, the more potential for impact across the team.

Enable teammates to recognize one another

employee recognitionIt’s crucial to have managers and senior leadership on board and participating, but if they are the only ones empowered to recognize and reward great work, there’s guaranteed to be a lot of great work that’s going to go unrecognized.

Even if they want to—even if they dedicate an inordinate amount of time toward recognizing their team’s achievements and contributions, in most cases it’s physically impossible for a manager or leader to witness and visibly recognize all the great work going on around them.

There are simply too many worthwhile contributions made on even a medium-sized team on any given day for one person (or a handful of people) to recognize effectively.

That’s why it’s important to empower everyone to recognize and reward great work, and to give them an easily accessible, public venue for it.

Put your employee recognition program into practice

There are a lot of ways to achieve these objectives, but a tool like HipChat provides a perfect starting environment right out of the box. Whether you dedicate a room to recognition or express it right in your main room, publicly praising a colleague for great work is a 30 second effort whose benefits will last long after the fact.

HipChat is your team’s home base and can also easily be your point of employee recognition. Give shout outs to teammates and share praise in front of the whole team. Even install Karma Bot to give teammates “karma points” for awesome work.

HipChat’s Bonusly integration seamlessly builds on that functionality, providing a massive catalog of instant rewards and charitable donations to motivate participation, easy ways to identify and tag organizational values, and deep, actionable insights to help you better understand, support, and leverage the strengths of your team.

Developing and maintaining an effective employee recognition program may seem like a daunting proposition, but with a few guideposts and the right tools, it’s easier than you might think.

George Dickson manages content and community at Bonusly. Dickson is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures through thoughtful leadership and frequent employee recognition.