Welcome back to the Culture Hacker blog series. Today we will continue to discuss performance enablement. One of the most powerful opportunities that managers have in terms of enhancing performance and reinforcing company culture is the recognition program. Unfortunately, in many organizations, the program has little integrity and has become a mandated task where leaders mindlessly look for the next person to thank. You know it, and the employees definitely know it.


It’s time to reinvigorate the recognition program and ensure that it does what it is meant to do – identify those who are performing well and reinforce the idea that high performance is good.  It’s annoying when managers seem reluctant to make a big deal about their best people because they do not want others to feel left out. Today we are raising our children with the idea that everyone contributes and everyone should feel like a winner, but we need to stop doing this in the workplace. We are reinforcing mediocrity.

We might cut our children some slack as we try to grow their confidence, because, well, they are children; but let’s stop treating our employees that way and being so sensitive when recognizing performance. It is very simple; if managers are not recognizing the performance of their best people, then they will leave, and even worse, the 75% of the staff who might aspire to perform at a higher level never will, because there just isn’t any incentive to do so.


In a previous blog, we mentioned that if leaders are not providing informal feedback and recognition, then any formal program has very little credibility, so it is important that managers are consistently providing the every day thanks and high fives. Remember that a simple and sincere thank you is still recognized as one of the best and most valuable forms of recognition.

When developing a formal recognition program, there are three main elements to keep in mind:

  • Ensure that the recognition is for going beyond performance expectations. Let’s stop recognizing average.
  • Ensure any individual recognition has meaning to the individual.
  • Create a culture of recognition by making it easy for employees to recognize each other and for teams to be rewarded, too.

As we have discussed in previous blogs, leaders need to have a clear understanding of what performance is, such as the results to be achieved and the way in which they are achieved. Recognition should be given when employees exceed those goals or exemplify the values of the organization.


Next, ensure that there is individualized recognition within the program that provides rewards that matter to each employee. Know what is important to them, whether it’s time off with the family, extra money for an upcoming vacation, experiences to which they might not normally have access, or opportunities to grow and be challenged. Everyone is different, so spend some time working to understand what each employee values the most. At SGEi, we have created a simple recognition survey that can be given to staff to get insights into how they would like to be recognized and what sort of rewards are most meaningful to them. We encourage other leaders to do the same. For smaller groups, take the time to sit with each person and get to know them and their recognition needs.

Create a culture of recognition whereby staff can recognize their peers. Think about it – why should the recognition be left up to the managers when they have staff who would gladly fulfil this role? There are a number of recognition tools and software that help facilitate this process easily and with integrity. Also, ensure that there are opportunities for team rewards. Offering a team reward for the achievement of some goal is a great way to promote teamwork. J.W. Marriott, in his book, The Spirit to Serve wrote, “The best way to develop strong teamwork is to create an environment where the reward of working together outweighs that of working for individual interests.”


Finally, try to extend the recognition beyond the workplace. When recognizing someone at work or looking for a meaningful way to say thank you, consider sending it home. Sending a thank you note or recognition to partners, families, or even children is a great way to reinforce the culture and sense of relationship. It can be very rewarding to send notes and gifts home to employees’ families to thank them for allowing us (at work) to take up so much of their time and energy. It works and really makes a difference.

Remember that the formal recognition program is one of the best ways to socialize and to direct the staff to achieve the type of performance that is desired. So, make it meaningful and fun.