How to Create a Successful Recognition Program

January 26, 2021

In Employee Engagement

Recognition Program

Would you like to establish a recognition program that ensures your employees feel appreciated, engaged, and motivated to reach their full potential? Do you want to create an initiative that will have a tangible impact on your company’s outcomes, but don’t know where to start? Would you like to understand what elements make a recognition program successful rather than a failure?

This article will answer all these questions. You will discover a 4-step formula for creating an effective recognition program that has a real impact on your employees. Let’s get started!

1. Define a Strategy For a Successful Recognition Program


Before building your recognition program, you must define your ‘why.’ What are the reasons driving you to embark on this type of project? What are the objectives you wish to achieve? Do you want to increase engagement? Strengthen your company’s values? Enhance productivity? Boost the retention of your top talents?

A recognition program is a way of communicating with your employees. Your program’s objectives will tell your employees what your values and aspirations are. Determine (1) your objectives, (2) the operational and financial resources required to achieve them, and (3) the performance indicators to measure its effectiveness.


Some tips for a successful strategy:

  • Align your recognition approach with the company’s objectives. What behaviors will impact the results? What metrics will change thanks to your program?
  • Organize small discussion groups to evaluate your current recognition practices. What is working? What would employees like to see changed?
  • Consider the impact of your strategy on talent management. How could recognition complement performance evaluations, recruitment efforts, and benefits? Will there be conflicts with other ongoing programs?
  • Involve people from all departments, such as HR, accounting, legal, and marketing when developing your strategy. Since rewards can impact multiple departments, you can benefit from everyone’s expertise for your project. For example, if you decide to offer vacations as a reward, managers as well as HR/accounting should be informed. If you offer tangible rewards, accounting and the legal department should be consulted to understand the tax implications.
  • Establish the budget to invest in the program. RPI recommends that companies invest between 0.5% and 3% of employees’ annual pay in a recognition and rewards program. According to SHRM, companies that invest 1% or more of salaries in values-based recognition and rewards are 3 times more likely to evaluate their program as excellent.

Organizations employ a variety of recognition programs, from formal (structured programs) to informal (spontaneous acts of appreciation). Which ones are the most common?

According to a study by WorldatWork, here is the top 5:

  • Service Anniversaries – 72%
  • Performance – 62%
  • Spontaneous Recognition – 55%
  • Retirement – 46%
  • Customer Service – 34%

Remember that recognition is not the same for everyone. When you consider what suits your company, make sure your program is rooted in your mission and culture. What sets you apart as a company? This will help guide your approach.


2. Structuring Your Recognition Program


Now that you have established your objectives, examine the various design elements that will support your program.

Define the Criteria

This element is essential for the success of your recognition program! Being extremely clear about the criteria to be met for admission ensures fairness and transparency in your program. You can choose to recognize based on employee performance, behavior, and/or seniority.

Select Participants

Who will be eligible to participate in the recognition program? Will the program apply to all regions and departments? Is it strictly internal, or will external parties (such as clients) be involved? What direction of recognition will be offered – downward (from boss to employee), peer-to-peer, upward (from employee to boss), or a combination?

Assign Roles

Decide who will administer the program. Will you allocate an internal employee, such as an HR coordinator, to manage it, or will you hire an external person? Who will ensure protocol compliance? Who will be the main point of contact for employees? All of these questions should be answered in advance.

Determine the Visibility of Recognitions

Decide whether public or private recognition is best suited for your organization. Recognition preferences may vary among teams and individuals. Some team members may appreciate receiving praise on a public platform like “Celebration,” while others may prefer a private email to highlight their success. Successful programs allow flexibility and choice for participants.

Define the Types of Recognition and Rewards

As mentioned above, both formal and informal approaches should be evaluated, as well as various types of rewards. You can choose to offer simple yet effective rewards such as certificates, trophies, lunches, points, extra days off, or gifts.

Keep in mind that financial rewards may not always have the most significant impact, so consider a mix. Sincere words about a person’s value can be perceived as even more meaningful in the long term than money.

3. Launch Your Recognition Program


The way you communicate and implement your new recognition program within your organization will play a significant role in its adoption. Clarity, creativity, and visibility are essential. The goal is to ensure that your team has a complete understanding of every aspect of your program (the who, what, where, how, and why), as well as how to access the necessary resources. The launch is an opportunity to make an impression on your organization. Will this impression go unnoticed, or will it be inspiring?

When executed well, the rollout generates enthusiasm and encourages team participation. When launching your recognition program, consider these guidelines:

Be Transparent

The desired outcomes you identified in step 1 will be beneficial not only to the organization but also to the team members themselves. Be clear and open about why you are launching this new initiative and inform your employees about your objectives. Use the “What’s in it for me” idea to create a strategy of approval and connection to individual benefits. Share the criteria you defined in step 2: clearly describe the behaviors that will be recognized and why.

Prioritize Simplicity

Few people have the time or patience to read lengthy instructions, especially if they raise more questions. Create clear and easy-to-understand documents about how the program works. Try testing these references with a small group to ensure they are intuitive and understandable for the entire group.

Ensure Information Visibility

What people see repeatedly, they will remember. When sharing documents, think about where and how team members most often interact. Which shared sites/documents do they frequently access? Consider how to integrate the new initiative into your culture and daily life.

Develop a Brand for Your Program

Collaborate with your marketing/communication team to give the program its own identity within your company. Whether it’s a creative name, a memorable logo, or a unique communication style, leverage your collective creativity. You can decide to host a launch event, organize a poster design contest, or select a theme song. Strive to create a positive and exciting association with this new brand.

Train Your Managers on Recognition

Sincerity, personalization, accuracy, and structure make the difference between resonance and dissonance when offering appreciation or praise. Recognition is quickly weakened (along with trust) if it is not delivered in the right way, and the path to regain that trust is long and challenging. Train your managers and your team in recognition strategies, such as those offered in the Orange program.

Create Champions

Think about how managers and influencers can generate enthusiasm around the program. Who are the leaders/team members at the core of your culture? Who shows immediate interest and knowledge of the program? Are they accustomed to positively influencing their peers in change management? Turn to these champions to promote the program. Celebrate and make those honored in your new program known and organically build a team of supporters.

4. Measure the Performance of Your Recognition Program


Measuring the program’s performance against the objectives you defined in step 1 is essential to determine your return on investment and inspire confidence in the program. The goal in this final step is to identify how to assess the program’s success through tangible performance indicators.

Examine Traction and Participation

The first indicator to evaluate financial results is the level of people’s involvement in your program. Make sure you have a way to track both qualitative and quantitative recognition measures. Here are 10 examples:

  1. # of people that make a recognition over a period
  2. # of recognized people
  3. # of recognitions
  4. # of voters (awards program)
  5. # of departments recognized
  6. # of points/rewards awarded
  7. % of managers involved (e.g. number of managers who recognized last month/total managers)
  8. Quality of recognition (“Good work” vs. noting action + benefit)
  9. Reasons of recognition
  10. Program satisfaction rating (based on employee comments below)

Determine the appropriate tool for your recognition program

When establishing the strategy in step 1, identify the most effective way to measure the desired outcomes. For instance, if your goal for recognition is to improve customer service, you can use the Net Promoter Score as one of your tools. Other measures may include employee engagement scores, staff turnover, or trends in employee performance evaluations.

Evaluate your program’s performance and tailor it to the needs

Metrics provide insights, just like direct feedback from your employees. Seize the opportunity to blend numbers with real conversations by asking your employees for their thoughts on your new recognition program. Conduct surveys, host focus groups, and engage in discussions about the feedback received. What do they like and appreciate? What can be improved? Adjust your program based on the gathered information.

Creating a powerful recognition program is not a matter of chance. It is the result of thoughtful decision-making with the right plan. By following the formula above, you have a guide on how to approach a winning design and a vision of how recognition elements fit together. Now, it’s time to create something awesome!

The Author

Annie Breton,CRP

Senior Account Executive, Recognition Solutions

Armed with a marketing degree, Annie became part of the Altrum team three decades ago, progressing through various roles throughout the years. Her ability to connect with people, her passion for her work and her authenticity led her to specialize in recognition solutions over the past decade. Annie is recognized for her in-depth expertise in best practices and her proactivity in meeting customer requirements.

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