September 18, 2011

Creating a Culture of Recognition

With the Emmy Awards on TV last night, it got me to thinking about recognition and celebration.  Something that in today's workplace isn't always top of mind.  In many cases, these things are either not done, glossed over or done in such a routinized way that any benefit of doing it is lost in the cynicism of an inauthentic action (which employees can smell a mile away, but that is a blog topic for another day!).

How do you create a culture of recognition, you ask? Well, first you need to understand why you would do it.  Once you understand the why behind something it, it is easier to buy in and commit to the cause, so to speak.  There are really two "whys" behind an employee recognition program.  There is the business why or the business imperative. Similar to the saying "happy wife, happy life", "happy employees, happy bottom line" (I know it doesn't rhyme, but you get the idea).  But that seems to simple, so let's go through a more detailed list of the benefits of employee recognition.

Strategic employee recognition is the stepping stone to a great deal more:
  • improved sense of job satisfaction leading to increased employee engagement
  • increased employee engagement leading to increased retention of employees
  • increased retention leading to increased customer satisfaction
  • increased customer satisfaction leading to increased productivity 
  • increased productivity leading to higher profits 

All in all, a pretty powerful list of business reasons and that is just a sampling!  The second reason why, well, that is a personal reason. There is nothing that feels as good as giving to someone else! Try it - do something for someone without an expectation of anything in return and see how it feels. It is actually a selfish act and it feels great and the more you do it the more you want to do it!  One thing about employee recognition programs that I would encourage is to do some of it yourself. Don't hand it over to HR and have them reap all the rewards!  As a manager, a CEO, a co-worker - get involved!  Feel some of the love and do something for someone else at work in the form of recognition.

Having said that, let's get down to brass tacks - what does a culture of recognition really mean? In my experience, it means that recognition is embedded in everything you do and all of your employees are living and breathing it.  It means that the mission and values of your organization are aligned to your belief in recognizing people for their contribution.

When walking around your workplace, you are seeing evidence of thanks. This might be a white board in the hallway that allows people to make comment about a co-worker's contribution. Or maybe people's cubicles are decorated with thank you cards from customers. Perhaps the kitchen has leftover cake from a recent celebration of a project launch, or from the welcome lunch to new employees who started that month.  And when stopped in the hall and asked "When was the last time you were recognized for your contribution to this company?", the employee doesn't frown and say "hmmmm, I can't really remember but maybe at my review last year?"  They smile and say "Well I just came from my Manager's office where we discussed my latest project status and as I was leaving he smiled at me and told me I was doing a great job."  and off they go to enjoy some of the cake in the kitchen.  Now that is a culture of recognition!

Stay tuned and in my next blog post, I will share tools, techniques and resources for incorporating both structured incentive programs and informal recognition strategies into your people management practices.


  1. Great article Denise! Simple appreciation & cake can go a long way : ) I came across this company a while ago: They provide a Groupon-like employee discount benefit that can be earned. I thought is was a cool idea. I wonder if it will catch on?

  2. Mmm I always love cake. I think it's important for recognition to be embedded in the way people relate to each other. Simply saying "thank you for doing your job well" may catch people off-guard but if it's sincerely meant, it can touch someone's heart.

    Recognition is different from rewards, too... I'm glad your post focused on the intrinsic recognition! I could rant for hours about financial rewards programs in place of sincere gratitude!!

  3. Thanks for your comments Juhli and Susan! I think you represent everyone I have worked with - everyone loves cake! And without a doubt, the power of the words Thank You can't be underestimated. I do think however that recognition is a multifaceted aspect of working with people and I explore this more in my next post. Thanks for reading!