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Employee Recognition: Create Celebration & Accomplishment

Updated: Mar 11, 2021

Employee recognition has become more important now than ever before. Survey data routinely shows that leaders aren’t good at providing appropriate recognition to their employees. Yet nothing has more impact on great performance than recognition—and the payoff is much higher than for compensation alone.

When done well, recognition is part of a strategic program that includes awards, acknowledgments, kudos, and fun. It usually takes a team of people who are naturally gifted in the area to accomplish it most effectively.

A Recognition Culture

Employee recognition should happen on a pretty regular basis, not just at the end of the year. Creating a culture of recognition allows your employees to feel valued and accomplished for their hard work. Here are some efforts to be on the lookout for to recognize.

  • Recognize the team effort—Look for what went well and recognize those accomplishments. Acknowledging the victories, no matter how small, helps set up the new goals for the following year.

  • Recognize the high contributors—Even when the bull’s eye is missed, there’s always someone who’s done exceptional work and is deserving of special recognition. By recognizing your people and clearly communicating your appreciation, you show them that their efforts were worthwhile—even when the team misses the mark. People will contribute more going forward and work even harder toward the next goal if their previous contributions were recognized and valued.

More than Just the Pay

You may be thinking that you pay your people well, and that’s enough. Don’t be fooled. A good compensation system does not substitute for recognition. Compensation and recognition address different human needs.

Remember college psychology 101 and Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs? Chip Conley, the founder of JDV Hotels, adapted Maslow’s famous pyramid for his business. His hierarchy for employees shows that compensation meets a base need or expectation. In other words, people expect to be paid fairly for the work they do and the results they achieve.

Recognition begins to meet the second-level need of self-esteem and self-worth; it’s not expected—it’s appreciated. It’s personal and important, and it is what people remember and share with others. When you fill this need, your people won’t quit and go work somewhere else just because they were offered more pay.

If you want to create a “sticky” retention structure, the third and highest level of Conley’s employee pyramid is to give people something they didn’t even know they wanted: allow them to feel part of something bigger than themselves.

Part of Something Bigger

Some companies find ways to make giving back part of their fundamental business model. Tom’s Shoes donates millions of pairs of shoes to the less fortunate around the world. Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company, donates 1 percent of profits to benefit the outdoor areas that their customers frequent and love.

Other companies create such tight corporate cultures that people can’t imagine leaving because it would upset their whole social structure. FedEx and are two examples. Employees of these companies, which resonate with a fraternal feel, become close friends with each other.

Still, others use ownership to accomplish the feeling of being part of something bigger than oneself. Companies with an employee stock ownership program (ESOP), like Jack Stack’s companies in Springfield, Missouri, come to mind. In this structure, the company is owned by the employees, who have a vested interest in the company’s success.

Low Cost, High Impact

Never overestimate the importance of giving recognition to get results or, if you prefer, praise for the performance. To get repeated results, recognition must be consistent. When you highlight employees’ hard work, they become motived to keep up the good work and receive more praise. It’s an ongoing cycle of perform → praise → perform → praise → perform. This cycle helps your company succeed and keeps your employees feeling happy and appreciated.

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