Building a Better Recognition Program

It’s no secret that recognition is key to retaining your top talent, keeping employees motivated and getting the best work from your organization’s staff. Instituting a formal recognition program used to be as simple as creating an employee-of-the-month award or offering a bonus to top performers. While these tried and true methods still work well, they’re just the start of a larger and more complex recognition program. Learn how to use your recognition program to get the best from everyone in your organization while keeping company expenses low.

Help Them Make a Difference

When asked what they liked best about their work, employees who scored high on job satisfaction surveys said it was a sense of meaning to their work. Everyone likes to know that what he or she does matters, so consider looking for ways to give back while giving recognition. Donating to or starting a contribution fund in an employee’s name can often go a longer way toward fulfilling recognition than the same amount of money would as a reward, particularly for small companies that can’t yet afford large performance bonuses.

Go Public

Announcing an employee’s outstanding work to a larger audience amplifies the positive message. Remember those employee-of-the-month programs? There’s a reason restaurants that use them put up a plaque with employees’ names and photos on them: It makes a more lasting impression to get visible, public praise. Make the recognition match the accomplishment and take an ad in the local paper or write a press release for huge news; for more everyday accomplishments, send a company-wide memo and a tweet or two.

Be Practical

You know your company’s personnel well, so you probably have a good idea of who would get the most mileage out of a coffee shop gift card, who might prefer a gas card and who’d rather have a subscription to a favorite magazine. As with any gift, giving something that takes the recipient’s taste into account is always welcome. Accompanying official recognition with a reward that’s personally chosen makes the event an even more thoughtful and meaningful gesture. With the rise of e-commerce and online gift cards, choosing a relevant and easily used reward is easier than ever.


Anyone can sign a card. Instead, make personalized statements of thanks or praise part of your company’s recognition program. By creating a culture in which it’s normal for the CEO to write a personal note recognizing great work, you encourage everyone to be more proactive with praise, which in turn creates a more positive work environment for everyone. Any office is a better place to be when the people who work there never let a compliment go unspoken, but it starts at the top. Work with your fellow executives and department heads to get them to offer personal encouragement for stellar work.

Note Milestones

When someone’s been with the company for a decade, gets a promotion or passes the million-dollar mark in sales, make the accomplishment noteworthy. Recognition of these events gives employees who are approaching them something to look forward to. For many people, watching the odometer click over on another year with the company is an important motivator; these anniversaries deserve recognition from the company too. Go ahead and throw a party for the large milestones, but don’t forget the smaller ones; someone who’s been with the company a year might not get a company-wide party just yet, but treating the employee to lunch is a thoughtful gesture.

Recognition programs are more than just afterthoughts; they’re meaningful motivators and sources of pride. Congratulating people is one of the best parts of being an HR director, so make the most of it with a comprehensive employee recognition program that goes beyond a word or two at the next monthly meeting.

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