Today I want to talk about recognition. In previous blogs, we have talked about how many aspects of formal feedback lack credibility and meaning due to a lack of informal feedback or regular casual conversations, and unfortunately, most recognition programs are no different. This is a shame, because recognition is one of your most powerful mechanisms to reinforce your culture and elevate your employee experience.

The problem with many recognition programs is that they have become a mandated task where managers just pick the “next person” up, those who have been around longest, or their favorites. It’s not about performance, nor is it about objectives. As a result, we see companies spending a lot of money on recognition without the enjoying the desired outcomes.

We know recognition, when done right, works to improve morale, engagement, and performance – and so do our employees. In a recent study, when staff were asked how leaders could do more to improve engagement, 58% said that giving recognition was the key. Let’s consider what needs to happen to make recognition a priority.

First, recognition, like all formal feedback mechanisms, needs to be grounded in regular informal feedback. Remember – informal feedback should not just be reserved for negative comments, or feedback for improvement. Your people need to know when they’ve done a great job, so that they can continue to work hard and improve. Consider using the conversational feedback model we overviewed in a previous blog to ensure your people hear regular positive reinforcement.

Ensure recognition is tied to established performance goals and results delivered, while also being aligned with the values of the organization. If recognition is tied to tenure or becomes just a passing of the baton, organizational values become less and less important, and lose much of their credibility in the workplace. Tying recognition to both performance and values reinforce the validity and importance of both with your staff.

Have both individual and team recognition, with both tied in to goals and performance. Individual recognition can be incredibly motivating for some people, but giving teams the chance to work toward something together can have a synergistic effect, creating even higher performance from your already strong teams, and elevating the drive and performance of those that tend to struggle. I find that giving teams the chance to do an activity or to present something together can be quite effective.

Rewards must matter – know that individuals and teams will all be different in what they value. Offer choices, give options, and let your people select their rewards. A strategy we use in my own company is to sit down with each employee during their 30-day check in and review the types of recognition that they feel are most effective for them. You’d be surprised how meaningful that conversation can be. As part of this conversation, make sure you take note of how your staff want to be recognized. Some staff members would be embarrassed to be called out and praised in front of the whole team, while others would feel slighted if the recognition was done in private.

Ensure your staff have the opportunity to recognize each other. It is often meaningful to be recognized by a peer in addition to a manager. Many of the companies I’ve worked with in the past have made the commitment to encouraging staff to recognize each other, and the results have been astounding – according to a recent Globoforce study, 41% of companies that use peer-to-peer recognition have seen positive increases in customer satisfaction. How can you go about implementing an effective program? Technology can be a great tool.

Be consistent. Ensure your recognition program can be sustained over time and not removed as soon as budgets get tight. Remember, rewards do not need to cost a lot. Allowing a team to work a half-day – when possible – or providing an in-office lunch are some great and relatively cost-effective options.

And finally, keep in mind that the most effective form of recognition is still the personal thank you, in form of words or a note. As Sam Walton said, “Nothing else can quite substitute a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise.”

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to check out the previous Culture Hacker blogs to learn more about how to elevate the habits and abilities of your front-line staff. And, if you like what we’ve discussed here, check out my new book, Culture Hacker, available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites.