1) Invoke a higher purpose; create a movement

Most people want to engage in something meaningful, beyond what they perceive as short-term, flavor-of-the-month gimmicks. They want to be involved in co-creating something in which they can have ownership and can help evolve over time.

As you set your goals (a must!), ask yourself – and the various stakeholders – what success looks like. All this recognition stuff is admirable, but it doesn’t matter one bit if the movement doesn’t move the needle for your company.

Your employee recognition program becomes a solid strategic initiative and wins over the biggest skeptics when it:

  1. consistently reinforces the behaviors required to achieve corporate objectives;
  2. provides employees with a deep understanding of how company aspirations translate into their daily work
  3. reveals insights into the living forces that bolster your culture, and identifies gaps;
  4. promotes innovation, speed, flexibility, spontaneity and cultural vitality
  5. exposes and rewards role models; employees who may not always be the most visible but are often highly engaged.
  6. results in increased employee satisfaction, which increases customer satisfaction and revenue.

During the planning stages, don’t think of it as a recognition program but as a recognition movement. Recruit the help of kindred spirits. Deeply dedicated people who believe that your recognition movement will grow deeper relationships between managers and employees and energize your performance improvements. Their passion will ignite excitement and inspire others to engage.

2) It’s about how good, not how many

Some programs measure success according to the number of logins and kudos sent. When it comes to meaningful recognition however, less can definitely be more.
While a quick attaboy/attagirl is certainly better than no recognition, no one gets more deeply engaged or inspired as a result of an occasional pat-on-the-back. A clutter of well-intentioned but vague messages add very little value, even for the recipients.

It’s highly preferable to have fewer short kudos in favor of better-crafted, detailed praise that relates the action or accomplishment back to your objectives and culture. With the right tools, writing a meaningful message may take a few more minutes than “great job – you rock”, but the all-around benefits are exponential.

3) Provide easy access and high visibility

People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. To get up in the morning and make the world a better place. Build a community. Learn from each other. Be inspired.

Each communication should include a reason for employees to come back to your recognition website to be inspired by the pride-building activities happening moment-by-moment, cubicle-by-cubicle, in every corner of the organization. Like a village drumbeat spreading good news from department to department.

Eliminate all barriers if you can. Using single sign-on (SSO) software makes it easy to login securely without your employees having to remember yet one more password. Also, make sure to ask your recognition program software provider for one or more widgets that you can add to the most visited pages of your intranet to broadcast recognition activities dynamically.

Top recognition platforms provide the option of Single Sign-On and widgets integrated with your intranet, and include communication tools that bring participants back to the website on a regular basis.

There’s no more powerful cultural boost than seeing a revolving parade of colleagues exposing core values ingrained in day-to-day activities. Everyone gets inspired by stories of people they can relate to: I too can do this. That person being recognized right now is just like me.

4) Obtain active participation from the leadership team

When (finally!) your Executive Committee gives you the go-ahead to implement an online employee recognition program, make sure you not only get their endorsement but their unwavering commitment as well. If your CEO can’t be the program champion, he should at least become an enthusiastic participant.

Nothing will destroy the credibility of your initiative faster than the lack of participation by your own CEO and Executive team.

The simple truth is that if it doesn’t matter to the boss, it doesn’t matter. Conversely, what is important to the CEO will inevitably become important to the entire management team and to the company at large. As the old adage says, where the head goes, the body follows.

If your leadership team doesn’t believe that taking the occasional few minutes to recognize employees who make a real difference is time well spent, they are sending a very clear message that this is not a priority, so perhaps neither are the employees.

Managers will wonder why the expense was approved in the first place, especially in periods of austerity when they may be asked to slash spending.

5) Create an internal marketing plan

If you don’t communicate on a regular basis, your employee recognition program will languish, just like sales would languish without any marketing support.

Follow Marketing’s lead – do for your recognition program launch (or re-launch) what Marketing does for a product launch. Create a month-by-month communication plan, stick to it and we’ll guarantee unprecedented participation.

We recommend three types of communication, each with content of interest to the target group:

  1. for your Executive Group, focus on overall results and impact: high level, lots of stats;
  2. for your Management Team: quick tips, best practices, team results;
  3. for individual participants: positive reinforcement, culture stories, everyday heroes, etc.

First and foremost, get buy-in from one of the most important groups: managers. Communicate to managers the business logic behind the investment, the importance of their sustained participation and the impact success will have on your growth strategy as well as their own results.

A solid hierarchy-based management platform with a built-in communication system makes it easy to deliver messages tailored to the right audience, down to the location, department or team level for even greater resonance.

Regular, engaging communication that informs and inspires will keep employees at all levels engaged in the program for the long term.

6) Keep the software costs separate

If you choose to make point awards a part of your recognition program, make sure your employees are getting the value they fully expect from their reward. There’s no surer way to make employees feel cheated than by having them pay $130 for a $100 gift card because the program management software cost is passed along to them, bundled into the point price. This can give your entire program a bad taste.

It’s easy to calculate the cost of an item in dollars – especially a gift card – and most employees will do the math. Whether or not they complain openly, they will feel short-changed if they perceive the cost to be unreasonable.

Consider partnering with a vendor that separates software licensing fees from the actual recognition awards. The transparency from the established monthly fee gives you greater control over program costs, plus the necessary flexibility you’ll welcome if faced with budget restraints.

Whats more, vendors that derive their revenues from software fees will be more inclined to help you include your own rewards as part of the offering rather than see that as a threat to their own profitability.

It follows that vendors who derive their revenues solely from the sale of points will gauge success – and your importance as a client – according to the number of points that you purchase.

Remember: recognition success does not equate to the number of points awarded but to the universality, quality and the relevance of recognition activities to your company’s established objectives.

7) Consider giving everyone a small point budget for peer recognition

Although point awards are always optional and should be considered very carefully to ensure fairness and equity, a recent study of Rewards Nation customers shows that points have a significant impact on manager participation in informal recognition programs. (Note that the actual quality of recognition activities was not part of this study, but remains the most important criteria when measuring program success.)

Surprising study results showed that managers are 97% more likely to recognize staff in programs where employees themselves have a small budget to recognize peers over programs without any point awards.

In programs where only managers and above could award points, 60% of them actually did. In pure recognition programs where no one could award points, 38% of managers made it a priority to recognize employees.

Points don’t have to be redeemed for merchandise or gift cards to be exciting. A customized catalog can feature inexpensive options such as a pizza lunch for the team, a privileged parking spot, time off, a donation, tickets to a local sporting event, cool company swag, etc.