Is your recognition program actually motivating your employees?

Five things you need to know to keep your employees motivated and on track

Recognition program

Employee recognition is a topic that doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves in the HR blogosphere. A well-structured (and executed) employee recognition program is a critical piece of an effective talent management strategy. But too often businesses think of employee recognition as a formal and expensive HR only activity.

In my experience, doing employee recognition well definitely doesn’t have to mean expensive. And it also doesn’t have to mean gold watches. So to help you out, I’ve put together my employee recognition cheat sheet. Here are the top five things that I think you need to know about employee recognition.

1. You don’t give as much recognition as you think you do.

Studies have shown there’s a big disparity between how much recognition managers think they give employees and how much recognition is actually delivered. This research from Bersin showed that “Nearly 80 percent of senior leaders believe employees are recognized at least on a monthly basis… [whereas only] 40 percent of managers and only 22 percent of individual contributors report that their peers are recognized monthly or more often.”

It’s easy to let recognition slip. Things get busy or something urgent pops up. And saying thankyou for something that’s already been ticked off can always be done a little bit later. But if you let recognition fall through the cracks, your employees will feel like they have too.

2. Any form of recognition can be effective, as long as it’s timely.

The best time to give recognition is as close to the deed you’re trying to recognise as possible. Waiting to deliver feedback or recognition diminishes its value. This has been shown through a bunch of academic studies (There’s a great collection of supporting research listed here)

It’s important that you give feedback on your employees’ work as they do it, whether it’s good or bad. If an employee isn’t performing up to your standards, you don’t wait until their performance review to deliver this feedback. It’s got to be the same with an employee doing outstanding work.

Praising an employee for a job well done is more effective at the completion of the job, rather than six months down the track. It locks into everyone’s mind what standard of work is expected and rewarded in your organisation.

3. Informal recognition beats the gold watch every time.

You might have a recognition program of gold watches, plaques and pens. But are they really effective in driving discretionary effort from your workforce?

The biggest problem with these reward systems is they’re all tenure based. And research shows tenure based reward systems have little to no impact on performance.

Just how ineffective tenure-based recognition programs are is easy to understand from your own personal experience. Have you ever stuck around in a job for a few more years just to get a gold watch? Of course you haven’t.

The most effective form of feedback is informal, timely and genuine. You don’t need to put someone’s picture on the wall to say thanks for a job well done.

4. Reserve significant recognition for exceeding expectations, not meeting them.

If an employee submits a report to you on time, that’s meeting expectations. If a team brings a project in early and under budget, that’s performing beyond the call of duty.

Talk to your employees about their performance every day. But be sure to only give out the most significant recognition when it’s deserved. Whilst it’s important to give out recognition frequently, it’s also critical to keep your recognition meaningful. Give out too much recognition and it will carry little or no value. Give out too little and it will seem unattainable, and won’t become a motivating factor for your employees.

As this German research study shows, Employees will work harder as long as your positive feedback feels attainable and carries value.

5. Make sure the connection between your business goals and your recognition program is clear

One final word of warning: It’s critical that your recognition program is clearly tied back to the goals of your business. If you’re not rewarding behaviours that drive the business forward, you’re not rewarding the right behaviours (full stop).

At Cognology, we want to deliver talent management software that powers the future of work. That means I place a premium on innovation. It means making the effort to publicly call out employees that think outside the box. And it means constantly tying back performance and remuneration reviews to our ability to deliver software that works for our clients both today and tomorrow.

Business goals are really easy to talk about in the abstract. But they’re much harder to consistently reward and recognize. That’s why it’s so powerful when your reward system reinforces your long-term business goals – everyone’s incentives are completely aligned.

What’s the most effective form of recognition at your workplace? I’d love you to jump into the comments below and let us know your view.

Jon Windust

Jon Windust is the CEO at Cognology – Talent management software for the future of work. Over 250 Australian businesses use Cognology to power cutting-edge talent strategy. You can follow Jon on Twitter or LinkedIn.