Commentary: Recognition’s “big shift” continues. While recognition programs have long been a part of organizational strategies and operations, they’ve seen their fair share of changes over the past decade. Once considered a tool primarily for employee motivation – think the team lunch or years of service awards – recognition has shifted to become a far more sophisticated tool for leading companies around the world. 

The reason is clear. Studies show that when companies include employee recognition as a line-item, employee behavior increases across engagement, productivity, retention, customer service, and morale. For 2016, expect to see even more investment on employee recognition programs with the following trends embraced and implemented:

1. Recognition continues growth as a critical business process. Employee recognition initiatives continue to become a vital part of company’s “people strategy.” Leaders look at recognition as a way to go beyond simply motivating a team but rather identify the behaviors that drive success. With this purpose, recognition becomes a way to coach and reinforce positive behaviors which influence performances that lead to increases in sales, customer experience and client loyalty.

Also see:Values-based employee recognition programs gaining favor.”

2. Look and listen for “culture” to become the new buzzword. Corporate culture is on the rise in terms of organizational importance. As more and more baby boomers move out of the workforce, the resulting talent gap means a battle will be brewing for the best employees. Many of them will choose employers based on specific corporate cultures – cultures in which recognition is perfectly positioned to establish and grow. Organizations whose cultures demonstrably value innovation, people development and big thinking attract better employees. Smart organizations use recognition as a way to consistently promote the elements that make up a strong culture.

3. Social recognition means frequent recognition. The best organizational programs don’t save recognition for only special occasions such as end of quarter or end of year. Here’s why. When an organization is working toward changing behaviors, the most effective recognition becomes everyday recognition. But to be really effective, this ongoing and persistent recognition (thanks for a job well done communicated in a meaningful way) must come from both managers and peers. Recognition platforms that mimic social media apps like Facebook and LinkedIn – with status updates and the ability to comment on those updates – make it easier for employees to recognize each other and reinforce the behaviors that make the difference.

4. Mobile recognition enables social recognition.  Whether an employee is in retail or on a nursing floor, the best time to recognize them is when you see something worthy of recognition. Recognition platforms continue to migrate to the mobile space, making it faster and easier to tap-tap-tap to recognize an outstanding performance. Mobile apps are now entering the 2.0 phase, with more robust features that are convenient to use including easy look up for employees you want to recognize and the ability to personalize the message.

Also see:5 employee appreciation mistakes to avoid.”

5. Companies start to “market” their recognition programs internally. Making recognition part of the corporate culture means convincing employees that recognition is an important part of daily operations. That requires more than an occasional communication, which is why program stewards are developing marketing strategies complete with clear benchmarks, listings of channels and benchmarks. A year-long program can define the conversation and ensure employees perceive and use the program the right way.

6. Measurement drives the conversation. Historically, one of the biggest barriers toward credibility for employee recognition programs has been the lack of mature measurement tools. How do organizations know recognition is effective? How can they connect employee attitudes and improved performance with increased sales, customer service, higher productivity and on-time deliverables? For 2016, the measurement factor is stronger with the introduction of tested and integrated tools that demonstrate the power of recognition in relation to metrics such as employee performance, retention and engagement.

For 2016, the shift is on with employee recognition becoming mission-critical for organizations across all workforce demographics. Saying “thanks” for a job well done no longer serves as a “nice thing” for managers to do but actually becomes an essential communication that drives business success.

Kathy Stark is the incoming 2016 president of the board for Recognition Professionals International, a professional association focused solely on employee recognition best practices and education as a systematic method for improvements in the workplace.

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