how to create an effective recognition program

Knowing the essential elements of appreciation is only the first step in getting appreciation right. For most HR professionals and managers, the task doesn’t end here. What follows is the struggle to put together a mechanism that allows appreciation to become a part of daily life. While inculcating a culture of recognition is a long and tedious process, recognition programs do not need to be so. In fact, recognition programs need to be the exact opposite in order to be effective. There are plenty of articles out there talking about the essential elements of appreciation but not enough talk about how to put those elements together to create a strong recognition program.

The essential elements of a good recognition program:

Before jumping in to create a recognition program, it is important to piece together some guidelines that will help in shaping the right program for your organization. Here are a few that serve as a good starting point:

1. Inclusive: Recognition is not the responsibility of a manager alone. Everyone in the team should be empowered to recognize and acknowledge great work. A good recognition program addresses this need. Gone are the days where E-sat surveys revolved around questions like – “How often does your manager recognize you?” Questions now trend to shift focus from the manager to everyone in the team. Individual contributors in the team need to see more questions that hold them accountable for recognition. How about asking – “How often have you recognized your team member for their contribution?” instead?

2. Frustration-Free: A major reason why recognition programs do not gain traction they deserve is the effort it takes to appreciate someone. Recognition needs to be simple, easy and frustration-free. Any mechanism that needs more than three steps is too painful, impacts utilization and does not suit the purpose. The simpler the process, the better. Work hard to ensure that the process you set up does not entangle the recognition provider with messy approvals and numerous roadblocks.

3. Non- monetary: Rewards is not necessary equal to recognition. It is a simple fact yet one that most people tend to forget. It is easy to give away cash, gift vouchers and objects in hope that all recognition troubles fade away. Yet, while this may please some, it is highly likely that it may not. As Patricia Odell reports, “Cash is no longer the ultimate motivator.” Odell cited data from the Forum for People Performance Management and Measurement at Northwestern University—which had discovered that non-cash awards tend to be more effective; the exception was rewarding increasing sales. “The study found,” Odell wrote, “that non-cash awards programs would work better than cash in such cases as reinforcing organizational values and cultures, improving teamwork, increasing customer satisfaction and motivating specific behaviors among other programs.” Try to adopt non-monetary means of recognition where possible. It is a good idea to focus on creating a memory vs just handing out cash.

4. Public acknowledgement: Sometimes it is not enough to recognize someone in a 1:1 discussion. While it is important, people often crave more. It doesn’t have to be a big event with balloons or ribbons, though that would be nice. Sometimes an email to the entire team works just as well. It important to realize that for an individual, this might be the biggest recognition that they ever receive and a moment that they will cherish. Invest in making the moment special – it can be an email, pinning their name up on a board, a quick team huddle or handing out certificates in a big event. Choose your form but make sure their contribution is publicly acknowledged.

5. Regularly reviewed: Recognition mechanisms should stand the test of time. They need to be regularly evaluated to check for relevance and effectiveness. Too often, we put in place a program, monitor it for a few months and then forget about it. Any new launch is an exciting change and while the first three months provides valuable insights on tweaks that may increase effectiveness, excitement may eventually die down. That is when true effectiveness is tested. Park success measures against each program and monitor on a regular basis. Be prepared to change or even shelve the program when it no longer serves its original purpose.

Do you have any effective, easy and fun recognition mechanism in your organization that works wonders? Let me know in the comments below. After all, who isn’t on the lookout for quirky recognition solves.


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