5 common mistakes that doom recognition programs

A passive approach of simply applauding longevity or doling out trinkets doesn’t cut it anymore. Use internal platforms for your plaudits, which should align with your company’s core values.

Recognition for a job well done is a wonderful thing and a big contributor to employee engagement.

A poorly designed recognition program can fall flat and give the initiative a bad name at your company. Here are some common pitfalls to avoid if you’re taking the positive step toward ensuring that your employees feel appreciated:

1. Just giving out “stuff.” We talk to many people who say their organization has a recognition program simply because they give out service awards on milestone anniversaries. Though that’s a nice gesture, a true recognition program does not simply reward employees for not quitting or getting fired. It should involve discretionary awards (monetary or non-monetary) that reinforce your company’s core values and business goals. Nobody puts in extra effort each day for the promise of getting a gold watch 40 years from now. Not only that, fewer and fewer employees are even staying long enough to reach those milestones.

2. Not making it social. Although any employee would appreciate a nice e-card and gift from their manager saying “great job,” the effects of such an event are limited, as only two people know about it. When a recognition event is posted in a social setting, it gives co-workers an opportunity to chime in with cheers, congratulations and reinforcement of the original message. It also shows others in the organization what types of actions are valued. “Social” doesn’t have to mean opening your company up to Facebook and Twitter; it simply means that recognitions are shared within an online platform to encourage interaction.

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3. Not making it a priority. It’s very easy not to recognize anyone. We’re all busy, and most people would probably rather take a few minutes of downtime to browse Facebook or catch up on the day’s news than send their colleagues congratulatory messages. That’s why it must be a business priority, both supported and practiced by upper management. If sending recognitions is seen as frivolous, few will do it.

4. Not communicating about it. A recognition program is not something you can “set and forget.” You have to constantly promote it through other channels, such as newsletters, videos and your company’s intranet. We like to compare a recognition program to a restaurant. Simply having a great chef and nice décor is not enough if people walk by and see an empty dining room. You have to promote your enterprise and get patrons in the door. Once others see a crowd of people inside having a great time, they’ll come, in too. Similarly, if there is a lot of great participation in your program, employees will keep coming back to check it out and be part of it.

5. Not linking it to business purposes. Recognition in itself is great, but you’re missing out on a huge opportunity if you’re not linking award types to your core values and business goals. Your program should reinforce the desirable behaviors you’re seeking from your employees, such as customer focus, innovation and teamwork. Ask the recognizer to align (via dropdown, checkbox, etc.) their award with one of these values so everyone can see the types of actions your organization views as essential to business success.

For a great example of an organization that gets recognition right, check out this short video on Orlando Health’s program, Applause Central.

Meredith Mejia is director of marketing at WorkStride. You can follow her posts on Twitter via @WorkStride. A version of this article first appeared on the WorkStride website.

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