3 Principles for Building and Sustaining a Successful Employee Recognition Program

March 16, 2017 Achievers Marketing

3 Principles for Building and Sustaining a Successful Employee Recognition Program

Culture can be distilled down into the actions, habits, and routines of a group of people. Culture at work is powerful, whether it’s intentionally designed or not. You see it tucked into job descriptions and company career pages all the time. Like this one, from a learning technology platform: “Our company culture prizes learning, growth, and accountability.” But how do we get from “Here’s what we say we are,” to “Here’s who we are”? HR leaders recognize that fostering the desired culture requires broad-based participation, and there are any number of tools and strategies to steer people towards cultural nirvana, but it’s getting people to use those tools willingly that poses a challenge.

“We’re trying to build a culture of recognition.” We hear this all the time at Achievers. The thinking is, if people recognize each other for great work, their behaviors shift towards actions that drive value for the business. And that makes sense – what gets recognized gets repeated. Where companies tend to struggle is with adoption, consistency, and tracking and measuring ROI. But for the sake of this post, I’m going to focus on consistency, and on the importance of making recognition a habit through the use of a powerful psychological tool – triggers.

If you’ve read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg, triggers will sound familiar. They are a key part of the virtuous cycle that goes in to creating habits that stick.

Virtuous cycle

Triggers can come in many forms, and some are more powerful than others. Jonah Berger, author of “Contagious; Why Things Catch On,” dedicates a whole chapter to triggers and how some can be more powerful than others. Berger’s concepts can be summarized by his closing remark, “the more something is triggered, the more it will be top of mind, and the more successful it will become.”

So if frequency of recognition is the best way to measure the success of this new culture of recognition, it should be no surprise that it is the types and frequency of the triggers we choose that end up serving as catalysts of that success. If employees send/receive 1-2 recognitions per year, we would hardly categorize that as successful; research suggests we need to see 12x that amount in order for a company to see impact. As far as enterprise software adoption goes, ensuring high levels of monthly program engagement is rarely easy. And with adoption and frequency of use as the measuring stick, it’s no wonder that so many companies struggle to achieve success with their recognition programs. But when you apply the right triggers and do so in a consistent and strategic manner, you can achieve the desired results.

Laying the Foundations of Success

You probably work with a number of hard-working, dedicated individuals. If you asked them, they’d probably stay late, help you build a complicated report in excel, act as a sounding board for a presentation you’re pulling together, or any number of selfless tasks that deserve appreciation. Your day is no doubt also busy, and while you surely intend to send them a nice note of appreciation for their efforts, it’s likely to slip your mind.

With that scenario as a backdrop, Let’s adapt Berger’s framework for triggers and apply his principles to building and sustaining a successful recognition program:

1. When a trigger happens matters

Be consistent with the timing of your triggers and design them to occur at times that are most likely to activate the desired behavior. This might be as simple as setting email or push notification reminders to managers at the end of the week every Friday at 9am.

Recognition Notification

Achievers has seen success designing a campaign that notified managers at the 30, 60 and 90 day milestones of new hires. Simply acknowledging an employee’s positive progress through the on-boarding process has seen new hire retention increase by 11%.

2. Frequency and strength of triggers matter

With the knowledge that frequency and strength of triggers matter, Achievers has designed numerous omni-channel communications campaigns and strategies designed to keep recognition top of mind. Employee Appreciation Day, Thanksgiving, seasonal busy times – there are a host of topical themes and events that can help keep recognition top of mind. Companies that see high levels of program engagement leverage strong, frequent triggers to keep a program fresh and highly visible throughout the year.

fun employee cards

3. Pick triggers that happen near where the desired behavior is taking place

Achievers has designed its technology to put opportunities for recognition in front of employees in such a way that these triggers don’t get missed. Through our open API and by integrating with a number of commonly used communications platforms and business applications, Achievers allows recognitions to be shared on TV’s in break-rooms and lobbies, via email, over corporate intranets, and through collaboration tools like Slack and Jive. We call this “recognition in the flow of work,” in acknowledgment of the fact that there are a number of places a recognition program can be embedded into an employee’s day.

Achievers ASPIRE platform

In this way, as employees go about their day, reminders to jump into the program and take two-minutes to recognize someone for their hard work are practically unavoidable.

If you already have a recognition program in place, you might think about leveraging API integrations to trigger recognition moments to happen automatically when certain criteria are met. Completing a wellness challenge, finishing a learning module, or submitting a qualified referral, are all examples of how integrations with existing systems can automatically trigger recognition moments. This immediate reinforcement of desired behavior increases the likelihood that they’ll be repeated. And that is what it’s all about.

The measure of a recognition platform should be its impact. How we create impact is through frequent usage. At Achievers, our primary focus is program adoption, and ultimately, recognition frequency. Triggers can be a powerful driver of both program adoption and recognition frequency and calibrated just right, can be the difference between having an under-performing, under-utilized recognition program, and a mission-critical business strategy.

Check out another blog post by Justin Rutherford on To the Point: How Achievers Builds Alignment Across the Organization.

About the Author
Justin Rutherford has been working for Achievers for 4 years and loves being a part of the company’s journey. “Try and create more value than you consume” is a mantra that continuously inspires him when he has writer’s block. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @JustinBuud.




Previous Article
18 Ways: How to Find your Dream Candidate for 2017
18 Ways: How to Find your Dream Candidate for 2017

“Whatever your life’s work is, do it well. A man should do his job so well that the living, the dead, and ...

Next Article
Customer Service: Do it Right the First Time!
Customer Service: Do it Right the First Time!

We have all experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of customer service. Often, customer service tends t...