A Culture of Recognition: It’s the Challenge of Simple, But Not Easy

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I have the honor of doing what I love for my job: I help company leaders transform their cultures into ones of appreciation and recognition.

Creating these cultures is simple – empowering everyone to “catch someone doing something good” – but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Strengthening culture rarely is.

Recently, I read this story from Terri Robberson on the blog The HR Difference:

One of the most mind-numbing meetings that I have ever attended was a presentation by a Director of HR at one of my former employers. She had been leading a task force comprised of managers, HR Business Partners and employee representatives throughout the company to create a new Employee Recognition Program.

While I don’t remember the details of the program, I vividly remember the two-hour meeting in which the team talked about their proposal. I sat there as they reviewed detailed categories of the types of things employees could do to merit recognition and how the various contributions aligned to certain levels of recognition in the program. This was followed by pages of guidelines that defined who was qualified to be recognized and how often; the specific categories of allowable recognition; and how it was all going to be managed and monitored to ensure the program wasn’t abused.

I remember thinking, ‘Geez, employee recognition should be a lot more fun!’ It should be a heart felt “thank you” to the person receiving the recognition. Recognition should create a buzz that inspires others, not be one big blob of bureaucratic red tape!’ My mind drifted to the words, ‘Encouraging the Heart,’ which is how Kouzes and Posner describe employee recognition in their book, The Leadership Challenge. This program had no heart! I left the meeting depressed.”

This story illustrates perfectly the challenge of simple, but not easy.

Best practice for successful strategic employee recognition requires a commitment of 1-2 percent of payroll to fund appropriate recognition activities across the organization. When committing that level of investment, there must be some level of control for the program, measurement and reporting mechanisms to prove the business value and ROI being achieved.

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But you must also never lose the “heart-felt thanks” value of the program, too. After all, that’s the reason for your investment. Make it easy for employees at all levels to share their appreciation for their colleagues’ efforts.

How do you balance business goals with heartfelt appreciation?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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