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Devising effective employee recognition programs

Devising effective employee recognition programs

In an ideal workplace, employees are motivated each and every day simply by the desire to do their best and help the company succeed. The prospect of an eventual raise or a promotion doesn’t hurt, either. But we all need a little extra nudge sometimes. When properly devised and implemented, employee recognition programs can help create incentives that motivate your workforce to be more productive and innovative.

But the wrong recognition program (or a failed rollout) won’t help your company and may even backfire. Success should be its own reward but acknowledging your employees’ accomplishments can go a long way toward keeping them motivated and inspiring others in the organization.

Employee recognition programs: the basics

Recognizing employees for going above and beyond can give them that extra push and reinforce workplace morale. They range from Employee of the Month awards (with a corresponding plaque or certificate on the office wall) to cash or other prizes. For instance, some companies award points to employees, who can then redeem them for merchandise through a third-party catalog.

But they’re not all effective. You want to make sure you’re rewarding the right types of behavior or goals; avoiding the appearance of playing favorites; and making sure the behavior rewarded is in line with your company culture.

Don’t get burned by recognizing the wrong things

These programs must be transparent, fair, and supportive of good teamwork in order to be successful. It’s okay to gamify these programs, but there are limits. You want to avoid sowing mistrust or even sabotage among your employees. For example, employees may be reluctant to help a co-worker if it means they’ll have a better shot at winning a given recognition program.

For similar reasons, awards ceremonies have the potential to cause discord among those who aren’t recognized. Just make sure you’re basing the award or recognition on measurable data or efforts that can be clearly conveyed to the team. Creating the wrong incentives could cost your business valuable resources.

Consider the example of a sales team given points for either each call they make or for each sale they close. What if they’re just dialing random numbers (not necessarily vetted leads) or closing multiple low-dollar sales? Their numbers might look good for the program, even if what you really want are quality high-dollar sales and long-term relationships with each customer (which may require more time on the phone and follow-up calls).

How to recognize top employees the right way

There’s no one size that will fit every organization. In a Forbes article, HR- and talent-management analyst Josh Bersin identifies five research-based practices for implementing winning employee recognition programs:

  1. Base recognition on specific results and behaviors: In addition to awarding performance, this will provide examples for others in the organization.
  2. Avoid top-down recognition: Peer-to-peer recognition is often more effective because peers have a better idea of what their co-workers do on a daily basis.
  3. Share stories of success: A prize is nice, but sharing their success story with peers (preferably in a company blog or newsletter) keeps employees engaged.
  4. Make it simple to recognize achievements: Some programs allow employees to award their peers points for a job well done.
  5. Align recognition programs with your values and goals: Tying an award to a specific company value or goal helps reinforce your mission.

Get help making your workplace more rewarding

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