Today, I want to talk about recognition. In previous blogs, we have analyzed how many aspects of formal feedback lack credibility and meaning because employees do not receive informal feedback or regular, casual conversations regarding their performance. Unfortunately, most recognition programs are equally ineffective; however, recognition is one of your most powerful mechanisms to reinforce your culture and elevate your team’s 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. In fact, research suggests that 87% of recognition programs are based solely on tenure. As a result, many employee awards are not focused on performance or achieving objectives. In the end, we see companies spending a lot of money on recognition (approximately $77 billion spent annually by US companies) without enjoying the desired outcomes.

When facilitated correctly, recognition can improve morale, engagement, and performance. Research suggests, “recognition is the second most powerful source of employee satisfaction, only behind personal achievements in the workplace.” Let’s consider what needs to happen to make recognition a priority:

Recognize Often

Recognition, like all formal feedback mechanisms, needs to be grounded in regular informal feedback. Informal feedback should not be reserved for only 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 diligently and improve. Research from Gallup explains that only one in three employees receive positive recognition on a weekly basis. Consider using the conversational feedback model we overviewed in a previous blog to ensure your employees regularly hear positive reinforcement.

Tie Recognition to Performance and Results

Ensure that recognition is offered when performance goals are met, the desired results are delivered, and an employee is aligned with the values of the organization. If recognition is tied to tenure or becomes just a passing of the baton, organizational values become increasingly less relevant, consequentially losing their credibility in the workplace. Tying recognition to both performance and values reinforces the validity and importance of both to your staff.

Recognize Individuals and Teams

Recognize both individuals and teams and tie it to goals and performance. Individual recognition can be incredibly motivating for some people but giving teams the chance to work towards something together can have a synergistic effect. By creating opportunities for your teams to succeed, it increases performance from your already strong teams and elevates the drive and performance of those who tend to struggle. I find that giving teams the chance to do an activity or to present something together can be quite effective.

Make Rewards Relevant

Rewards must matter. When rewarding your employees, you must realize that individuals and teams will respond differently to what is offered. Provide choices, give options, and let your people select their rewards. At my company, we sit down with each employee during their 30-day check-in and review the types of recognition that they feel are most useful. You’d be surprised how meaningful that conversation can be. As part of this conversation, make sure you take note of how your staff wants 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.

Support Recognition from Peers

Ensure your staff has the opportunity to recognize each other. Recognition from a peer and a manager can be meaningful and powerful. Many of the companies I’ve worked with in the past have committed to encouraging staff to recognize each other, and the results have been astounding. Employees perceive peer-to-peer recognition to be powerful, pertinent, authentic, and inclusive. How can you go about implementing an effective program? Technology can be an effective tool.

Remain Committed

Ensure your recognition program can be sustained over time and not removed as soon as budgets get tight. Rewards do not need to cost a lot. Allowing a team member to work a half-day when possible, or providing an in-office lunch can be beneficial and relatively cost-effective options.

Remember, intrinsic rewards, such as feeling appreciated, are the most powerful motivators for your employees. So, create a habit of saying “thank you,” whether verbally or with a note. As Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club, stated, “Nothing else can quite substitute a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise.”

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to check out my book, Culture Hacker, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also check out Season 2 of the Culture Hacker Podcast, available on SoundCloud and iTunes.