All humans crave recognition.
It’s a universal need. Whether you’re a manager
in Atlanta or a mechanic in Baltimore, you want others to
notice your efforts. Simply put, getting recognized feels
good. We’re all aware that employees benefit from
recognition, but we tend to forget that organizations benefit
just as much from recognizing their employees. What are
some of the benefits to both employees and their companies?
Let’s take an inventory:
Employees receive unequivocal feedback on their performance.
Employees understand that their efforts make a difference.
Employees’ pride and self-esteem are reinforced.
Organizations receive greater motivation and effort from
Employees see that their organization values its people
and cares about their success.
Employee performance increases as personnel strive to perform
in a way that receives recognition.
mployees feel more loyal to their organization. They begin
to feel that they are part of the organization, as opposed
to simply being employed by it.
Employees are willing to work harder and better in a way
that money can’t buy.
Organizations increase their advantages over competitors.
Clearly, recognizing employees makes good business sense,
but it can be a complicated issue. With the best of intentions,
organizations often implement recognition systems that backfire
and create effects exactly opposite to those intended. Embracing
the following principles will ensure that recognition achieves
the desired results.
Recognition should be:
Public. It must be done in front of the larger
organization. This might constitute a department, division,
facility or the entire corporation. The type of recognition
will obviously influence the context within which it’s
presented, but it’s important to do so in front of
a group. Recognition’s public nature reinforces its
significance for both the recipient and the rest of the
organization. A public event also means that the recognition
is done in person, not via telephone, e-mail, fax or some
other remote means.
Available to everyone. In order for it to have
a positive effect on organizational culture, recognition
must be available to anyone. Many companies implement recognition
policies but limit them to certain employees (e.g., production
or hourly personnel). The rationale, apparently, is that
recognition is important only to people in certain parts
of the organization. This is absurd, of course. Make sure
your organization rewards the efforts of all personnel,
not just certain segments.
Dignified. It must fuel a feeling of dignity in
the person who receives it. This can be achieved by building
a ceremony, such as a company meeting or holiday dinner,
around the recognition. A degree of seriousness and formality
is also helpful. This doesn’t mean everyone must be
stiff, humorless and dressed in uncomfortable clothes, but
the ceremony should be serious enough so all personnel realize
that special contributions are valued.
Symbolic. It must have symbolic value, something
that lasts and can remind the recipient of the performance
being recognized. Keepsakes such as letters, certificates,
plaques, trophies and paperweights are very effective in
this regard. They provide motivation long after the recognition
ceremony itself has passed. My wife still displays her “East
Ridge Hospital Nurse of Excellence” plaque on our
bedroom wall, more than 10 years after she received it.
I once asked her why she still displays the plaque. “Because
it makes me proud,” she responded. “It means
I can succeed at anything.” Years later, the symbolic
recognition continues to inspire not just motivation but
pride as well.
Nonmonetary. Are people motivated by money? Of
course they are; that’s why most people work. But
exceptional performances are often motivated by something
much more complex and mysterious. Offering money as part
of your recognition policy cheapens it by attempting to
affix a monetary value onto something extraordinary. Not
every effort, contribution, idea or suggestion can be quantified.
Organizations must recognize this fact and simply provide
honest, symbolic recognition. Issues of fairness also arise
when money becomes part of the equation. Instead of inspiring
a culture of continual improvement, monetary recognition
often creates resentment and rancor. Money can be an effective
part of the recognition formula only when it’s purely
Of course, sustained, outstanding performance should be
matched with increased compensation and promotions. If an
organization has the resources to increase its star performers’
pay, then it’s wise to do so. But this is different
from a day-to-day recognition system. Keep it free of monetary
awards and you’ll have far fewer headaches.
Presented by top management. This sends the message
that top management is aware of everyone’s contributions
and is thankful for outstanding efforts that lead to the
organization’s success. Especially in larger organizations,
executives are somewhat removed from individual performances.
However, when an executive recognizes the individual, it
enhances the event’s significance and symbolism--and
it also helps to humanize the executive.
Prompted by a variety of actions. Objective, data-oriented
criteria usually offer the best means to make decisions,
but this isn’t necessarily the case with recognition.
Superior performances take many forms; ensure your recognition
system can capture the full range of actions and performances
that deserve recognition. Don’t restrict its scope
by declaring, “Here are the three things that will
trigger recognition.” Inevitably, a policy of this
sort will prevent you from recognizing someone who really
deserves it, simply because his or her performance doesn’t
meet the predetermined criteria. Give your system plenty
of flexibility and discretion.
Unscheduled. You’ve seen the awards countless
times: “Employee of the Month,” “Employee
of the Quarter” and so forth. With timeframes of this
sort, recognition becomes predictable and routine. There
might not even be any particularly outstanding performance
during the month, but it’s that time again…
heck, just pick someone. Forced decisions like this degrade
recognition systems. In reality, organizations might go
months without identifying performance worthy of special
recognition, only to later run across half a dozen in one
week. Recognize personnel when performance, rather than
the calendar, dictates it.
Now that we’ve considered how people should be recognized,
we must determine who will be recognized. What process can
be used? Many organizations form a management committee
representing a cross-section of the company. Generally,
I oppose decision making by committee, but this is a workable
way to do it. A reasonably small committee of managers--no
more than 10 people--meets regularly to discuss the special
achievements of personnel in their areas and agree on persons
However, even better than having a management committee
decide is to let personnel do it. People who answer phones,
package products, troubleshoot equipment and service customers
quickly spot which performances are worthy of recognition.
An easy way to capture their perspectives is through a card
system of some sort. Organizations put catchy titles such
as, “We’re writing you up… for being excellent.”
on the cards, and provide adequate space for relevant details.
The cards are placed throughout the facility or are available
electronically. Anybody is authorized to complete one, detailing
the person to be recognized and what he or she did that
was outstanding. Completed cards are displayed on a wall
or bulletin board, and all those who were “written
up” receive formal recognition according to the guidelines
already mentioned. Using the entire workforce to identify
outstanding performances offers a number of advantages.
Among other things, it:
Quickly builds an environment that is supportive and team-oriented
Accurately identifies outstanding contributions because
those who submit names have first-hand experience with the
Results in more evenly distributed recognition, including
people who work within the less visible functions
Addresses people’s need to feel involved and have
their voices heard
Disproves the notion that management plays favorites when
personnel are recognized
Displaying completed cards serves as a constant reminder
not only of the personnel who are recognized but also the
system’s democratic nature. The message is, “We
support one another in our jobs and take the time to provide
recognition when it’s deserved.”
Few systems are as powerful as an effective recognition
system. Because its effect on organizational culture is
significant and immediate, the time and effort spent establishing
such a policy for your company will be repaid tenfold.
Craig Cochran is a project manager with the Center
for International Standards & Quality, part of Georgia
Tech’s Economic Development Institute. He’s
an RAB-certified QMS lead auditor and the author of Customer
Satisfaction: Tools, Techniques and Formulas for Success
and the soon-to-be-released The Continual Improvement Process:
From Strategy to the Bottom Line, both available from Paton
CISQ can be reached at (800) 859-0968 or on the Web
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