Common mistakes in employee recognition plans

Daniel Strode outlines four areas where organisations tend to fall down when it comes to reward and recognition and offers practical tips on how to rectify them

Daniel Strode, author of The Culture Advantage

Think of a time when you were recognised or were recognising someone who worked for you. I bet you can imagine it and remember it vividly. Think about how it made you feel, and the impact it had on your work for the coming days. These are the moments which matter in the employee life cycle. These are the moments which bring humanity to the workplace. 

Working in a company where your efforts are recognised and appreciated, is important, if not vital. Research shows that recognition of good behaviours and practices leads to up to four times higher levels of engagement, which in turn boosts your company’s chances of success. We know it makes people feel valued, and there are many ways to do this successfully – often without breaking the bank. Simple acts like saying ‘well done’ in town hall events, or other company meetings can do the trick, as can giving out non-monetary recognitions, such as trophies or certificates, and using peer-to-peer recognition so colleagues recognise each other. Companies need not spend huge sums of money on recognition programmes in order to reap the benefits. 

However, these recognition efforts are not without their pitfalls, and there seems to me four main issues which many companies fall into.

1. Lack of consistency 

The biggest mistake employers make is not providing regular, or consistent recognition to their employees. What gets recognised gets repeated. Recognition efforts tend to fail when they are one off and irregular in nature, and unfortunately companies are not generally giving enough recognition – with just 23 per cent of Gallup surveyed employees saying they strongly agree that they receive enough recognition. There is no such thing as too much recognition, with some employees even preferring to receive daily recognition. And while you may baulk at the idea of daily recognition, don’t dismiss it out of hand, and at the least try to increase the frequency (or availability of) recognition inside your companies. 

2. Lack of personalisation

A lack of personalisation is a common trap that employers fall into. A one-size-fits-all approach typically isn’t going to work well. According to a survey by Deloitte, personalised recognition has twice as much impact as generic recognition. Employees are more likely to feel valued and appreciated when recognition is tailored to their preferences and needs. We shouldn’t lose the chance to have a great personal touch here, and a little bit of extra effort goes a long way. If we take the example of saying ‘well done’ in a town hall meeting, the recognition will always be best if the message is accompanied by some detail and context of what is being recognised. It also sends a signal to the rest of the company about what behaviours are truly valued – which helps others to copy and repeat. 

3. Lack of safety

Companies that only focus on recognition for results are missing a key opportunity to build psychological safety, and enhanced participation in their businesses. When you only focus on recognising those who have delivered a sterling performance you run the risk of creating a very sharp and cut-throat culture, which can be detrimental to morale and teamwork. Instead, as backed up by Harvard Business Review research, it can be important to also focus on recognising those who have tried things and failed, but learned from these experiences. The best companies take this approach and celebrate learning instead. Many successful companies have implemented ‘failure Fridays’ in their company-wide meetings where they highlight and thank employees who tried something, failed, and learned – while more likely being successful on the next attempt. 

4. Lack of cultural link

As recognition is about repeating specific behaviours and ways of working that you value as a company, it makes sense to tie it into a company’s values, or culture. When recognition is tied to the culture, the employees feel more connected to the company’s mission and goals; they can see and understand the linkage. Evidence suggests that cultural-based recognition programmes help to reinforce company values. Those whose recognition schemes are aligned to other things, or perhaps random or abstract measures, are missing a critical opportunity to reinforce the culture and” the way we do things around here. 

And so, who will you send a note of recognition to today? A short email to someone in your team, recognising their great work, and importantly calling out the behaviours they have displayed, is likely to work wonders for their morale, the teams, and yours. 

Daniel Strode is global director of culture and strategy at Santander and author of The Culture Advantage