When designing an employee recognition program, many of the decisions made up front dictate the program’s long-term success. From determining which platform you’ll use to support the program to how you’ll incorporate your company’s unique culture and values, there are many choices to make and they all affect program performance. This article addresses key criteria for employee recognition and considers how each can move you closer to your program goals.
We’ll begin by reviewing best practices that apply to any recognition program, followed by ways to tailor a program to your company’s needs, and finally, conclude with tactical recommendations that can help ensure your goals are realized. From the high-level to the day-to-day, understanding all of these criteria for employee recognition will prepare you to create a program that delivers a real impact.
Laying the Groundwork: High-Level Best Practices for Employee Recognition
Before we move into more nuanced criteria for employee recognition, let’s review three high-level best practices that lay the foundation for a successful program. These will set you on the right course to develop an employee recognition program that’s aligned with your goals and realistically positioned to bring them to life.
1. Define Program Goals
Research has confirmed again and again that employee recognition programs benefit the companies that implement them. That said, their specific benefits vary — from retention to employee morale and beyond, there are many positive changes a great employee recognition program can bring to your company. It’s important to define exactly what your specific goals are so you can tailor your program accordingly.
Objectives commonly tied to employee recognition include:
Core value reinforcement – by setting custom recognition occasions aligned with company core values, you can leverage employee recognition as a form of behavioral reinforcement for company core values.
- Reduced turnover – employee recognition drives down turnover by helping improve key contributors to it—namely, workplace culture and the quality of the employee experience.
- Increased productivity – studies have revealed a positive correlation between employee recognition and productivity.
- Better cross-team collaboration — employee recognition programs improve peer-to-peer relationships, improving the flow of communication between colleagues.
- Higher employee morale — 40% of employees say they’d be more engaged and put greater effort into projects at work if they were more regularly recognized.
Whatever your goals, defining them early gives you a clear way to measure program performance later on. Additionally, having specific goals in mind lends a much needed sense of direction to the subsequent criteria for employee recognition that you put in place.
2. Recognize Repeatable Behaviors
This best practices traces back to the psychological mechanism that makes employee recognition programs so effective: positive reinforcement. Put simply, the concept of positive reinforcement states that behavior that is rewarded will be repeated.
For example, if you recognize a colleague for designing a sleek graphic to accompany a presentation, that colleague can feel good about their work, but they’re never going to design the exact same image again. On the other hand, if you recognize the colleague for their dedication to impeccable visual presentation, you’re recognizing a more generalizable behavior that they can easily repeat in the future. It’s a small tweak, but it makes a difference in terms of maximizing the behavioral outcomes of your program.
Another example is recognizing colleagues for living up to company core values. Say that one of your organization’s core values is tied to efficiency, so you recognize a colleague who found a creative way to streamline a formerly cumbersome, manual process. When you use this person’s commitment to efficiency as criteria for employee recognition, you’ll encourage them to look for future opportunities to improve workflows and exhibit more of the praised behavior. In this way, you are able to effectively shape trends in employee behavior via positive recognition.
3. Streamline the User Experience
Lastly, you can design the most thoughtful, goal-oriented employee recognition program that has ever existed, but if the user experience is unclear, overly manual, or otherwise cumbersome, employees are much less likely to participate. Regular employee participation is the life force of any thriving program, so one that discourages use is a major problem.
Offering a frictionless user experience—both from the administrative perspective and the employee side—is key. HR departments are increasingly embracing digital transformation to improve traditionally manual processes, and employee recognition is no exception. If your program relies on HR employees to manually facilitate every step of recognition, negotiate discounts, or issue rewards, it’s time to seek out a more modern solution. Not only will this improve the efficiency of your program, it will allow your HR team to direct their efforts on other important company objectives.
Customizing Your Program: Criteria for Recognition and Curated Rewards
With the best practices shared in the previous section in place, you’re ready to take steps to tailor your program to fit your company’s unique needs and drive progress towards program goals. Tailoring both recognition occasions and employee rewards to your program objectives is an effective way to configure the program to support your goals. Here’s how to do it:
1. Align Criteria for Employee Recognition With Program Goals
If you’ve taken the time to clarify what the goals of your program are, this step should follow naturally. For example, if your goal is to increase productivity, you can set recognition occasions related to efficiency or outstanding results. By creating custom recognition occasions that are aligned with your program’s objectives, you’ll ensure each recognition is an investment in bringing those goals to life.
Ultimately, choosing the right occasions depends on your objectives, culture, and company, but many organizations have found success within the categories below:
- Company core values: using core values as recognition occasions helps transform them from high-level ideals to demonstrated behaviors.
- Progress towards major objectives: using OKRs or other major objectives as recognition occasions helps keep them top-of-mind. It can also bolster peer-to-peer relationships by reminding employees that everyone is working towards shared goals.
- Career development: recognizing employees for strengthening new skills supports the development of a stronger team. It can also help drive down turnover by reinforcing the idea that employees are progressing in their roles at your company.
As you outline criteria for employee recognition and establish custom recognition occasions, consider what goals your selections will reinforce. By being thoughtful about this decision, you’ll be able to create a program that powerfully supports your recognition goals.
2. Create a Custom Rewards Catalog
Most employee recognition programs incorporate redeemable points that employees can cash in for rewards of their choosing. Another decision you’ll need to make when building your program is which rewards employees will be able to choose from. This represents another great opportunity for customization.
For some companies, offering employees the greatest variety of rewards possible makes the most sense. For others, a more concentrated approach might be better aligned with program goals. For example, if your program is focuses on improving employee wellbeing, consider featuring rewards related to physical and mental wellness, such as meditation classes and access to healthy meal delivery services. Other examples include focusing your catalog on philanthropic donations, custom company swag, or rewards oriented around professional development. Again, the right choice will depend on the objectives you’ve defined for your program.
Bringing Your Program to Life: 3 Tactical Recommendations to Ensure Success
There are a few more logistical recommendations that you should keep in mind to ensure that your program will be maximally impactful. These last few ideas will help make adhering to criteria for employee recognition frictionless and easy.
To optimize the chances your program succeeds, consider the following three recommendations when putting it into practice.
1. Choose the Right Platform
There are many employee recognition providers to choose from, which — although positive in some ways — can be a challenge in the sense that it’s difficult to weed through the weaker options. Speaking broadly, it’s best to look for a platform that features the following:
- No item markups that require employees to spend more than market-value on rewards
- Plenty of room for customization, so you can build a program to match your goals
- Built-in rewards and corporate perks, so the burden of managing these program elements is not the responsibility of your HR team
If you’re having trouble determining what platform is best for you, turn to third-party review sites like G2 that aggregate feedback from thousands of users. This can help provide useful insight into what different solutions can offer.
2. Publicize Your Program
It sounds simple, but it’s something that too often goes overlooked with employee recognition programs: if employees aren’t aware that the program exists, they aren’t going to use it.
Program administrators commonly underestimate the level of communication necessary to get an employee recognition program on their team’s radar and embedded in existing workflows. Email reminders are certainly a good place to start, but you can also take it a step further to ensure the program stays top-of-mind.
One creative way to do this is by hosting a launch party to kick off the program, like Communication Service for the Deaf did to introduce Fond to employees. A party feels eventful and will help employees think of recognition as an important program to participate in. You can also set up recurring reminders that periodically alert team members they have a recognition budget to distribute. Whatever your approach, be sure to build in strategies to ensure employees don’t forget the program exists.
3. Make Recognitions a Part of Onboarding
Incorporating employee recognition as part of your onboarding process will help ensure all incoming hires are well-acquainted with the program from the first day they join your team. If you get a little creative with it, this can also be a great way to up the quality of your company’s onboarding process.
Familiarize new hires with the program by encouraging them to put it into practice right away as part of their training. Or, end their first week of work on a high note by delivering a personalized note of recognition. The earlier you get new hires used to practicing employee recognition, the more comfortable they’ll be using the program and the more effectively you can make it an integrated cultural norm.
Together, these three logistical recommendations are the final steps you need to ensure your employee recognition program is highly effective and equipped to drive the program objectives you want.
The Flow of Feedback
Employee recognition programs, at their core, are all about feedback. The flow of feedback is a hallmark of any healthy organization, and just like employees need to hear about how they’re doing with their job, your HR team also needs to hear about how the recognition program is performing.
Make an effort to be proactive about soliciting feedback around how your employee recognition program is perceived and don’t be afraid to adjust criteria for employee recognition accordingly. The best programs are iterative, and the better you’re able to listen and respond to what employees are saying, the more refined and effective you can make your program.
Katerina Mery is a Marketing Specialist at Fond with a background in cognitive psychology and a passion for improving the way people live and work. She especially enjoys learning about how to accomplish this through rewards and recognition. In her spare time, you can find Katerina running outside, admiring art, and exploring the latest and greatest local restaurants.