Six steps to a successful recognition strategy

A little appreciation goes a long way: why saying thank you is worth it, and how to weave it into your benefits strategy

Six steps to a successful recognition strategy

There’s something employers can offer their staff that costs nothing, while 71% of employees say they’d give up a pay rise for it. It makes them 34% more likely to stay with an organisation, more committed to the success of the business and happier at work. Yet one in five employees say they have never received it from their boss. This illusive benefit is a simple thank you.

A study by One4all Rewards also found that being thanked could help boost employee performance by 44%. This could be partly because - according to other surveys - 86% of employees who are recognised at work feel more motivated in their jobs, and organisations where recognition is part of the business DNA inspire 14% more engagement than those where appreciation is not shown.

The need for recognition is rooted in human psychology. When Abraham Maslow devised his Hierarchy of Needs in 1943, he emphasised our need for both belonging and esteem – both of which are reinforced by appreciation from our colleagues and managers. This has always been vital in the workplace, but is now more relevant than ever. Employees have grown used instant feedback in every other aspect of life, from gaming to social media. They now expect the same immediacy in the workplace, which is something the established annual cycle of performance reviews cannot provide.

Creating a culture of recognition and thanks is increasingly vital, and there are six steps to devising a successful strategy.

1. Make a fuss

A brief word of thanks, or a line in an email, should form part of the everyday gratitude that keeps employees engaged and committed. However, a recognition scheme requires more than a casual ‘thank you’ in order to have an impact.

Rewards with monetary value will never go down badly, but it’s not the value of the reward that matters – it’s the meaning. These rewards need to come with personal recognition of a job well done. A thank you note or phone call from a line manager or senior management means the business is taking time out to recognise the contribution of an individual, and will mean far more than a small sum transferred into their bank account or a restaurant voucher popped in the internal mail.

2. Include everyone

If the purpose of a scheme is to show everyone that their contribution to the business is valued and appreciated, then nobody should be excluded. The structure of the scheme also needs to be considered carefully so that nobody is effectively excluded by the success criteria. If you choose to celebrate good customer service, for example, then consider how the scheme can apply to those without a customer-facing role too.

3. Involve peers

Typically a traditional ‘employee of the month’ scheme involved a manager personally picking a winner. This runs the risk of appearing to be motivated by internal politics, favouritism, or some kind of unwritten rule about when it’s ‘your turn’.

It may therefore be more effective to empower all employees to recognise one another. Employees are aware of what their colleagues do on a daily basis, so they have the best understanding of those who most deserve recognition and reward. Some employers enable staff to nominate one another for recognition. Others offer a large number of smaller rewards, and enable employees to give them to one another.

4. Reward quickly

If employees are waiting for weeks for a thank you letter or recognition award, then the link to their performance is lost. The faster employees can be recognised, the more it reinforces their actions.

This is worth bearing in mind when establishing the processes and approvals required for a scheme. Is it better for decisions to come from the top, and sacrifice timeliness; or is it better to communicate the aims of the scheme, and empower more localised decisions?  It’s even possible for a business to give every member of staff a number of points to allocate to their colleagues whenever they wish, so the reward is immediate and tangible.  

5. Tie to strategy

Any recognition scheme needs specific criteria, so it is seen to be transparent and fair. Given that recognition schemes will encourage specific behaviour, it makes sense to tie the criteria to strategy, so they are exhibiting the behaviour that’s of most use to the business.

If the business is built on its reputation for excellent customer service, it should form the backbone of the scheme. If it has an ethos of teamwork, the scheme criteria should focus on those who contribute to the team. If the business thrives on innovation, then this is what you need to reward.

6. Share recognition stories

Once a recognition scheme is established, it’s easy for it to disappear into the scenery, so employees feel that receiving an award is nothing special. It’s essential, therefore, for the business to share success stories more widely.

In many cases, it’s worth considering a single rewards platform, so that everyone within the organisation is aware of the rewards handed out at all levels – and the reasons behind them – in order to increase visibility across the business.

A simple thank you

Reward and motivation schemes have fuelled the growth of an entire industry, offering integrated platforms, with vouchers, points and a complex array of personalised rewards. The maturity and innovation of this industry means there will always be something available to suit any workforce.

However, before any business invests, it’s worth remembering the power of a simple thank you. One man who put a great deal of faith in gratitude is Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell’s Soup in the US. Between 2002 and 2009, engagement levels at the company rose from 38% to 68%, partly as a result of the fact that Conant had introduced a culture of thanks. He personally chose to lead by example, and during his time at the helm, he hand-wrote 30,000 thank you notes to members of staff. After he suffered an accident in 2011, he was inundated with letters from employees across the world who felt that he had taken a personal interest in their welfare and wanted to return the favour. You could argue that it’s the kind of engagement that money cannot buy.


Saturday 19 August 2017
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