Topic: Employee Recognition

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How To Refresh and Update Your Employee Recognition Program

Insights from
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Updated on 

April 4, 2024

Have you ever felt like you were stuck in a rut? Like you were just spinning your wheels or losing your creativity as your energy and excitement slowly drained away? Well, guess what? Organizations can also fall into ruts with their people and programs. Your recognition program is not exempt.

Your organization’s employee recognition program does more than give a shout out to employees who do great work. It helps build a thriving workplace culture and boost employee engagement—tangibles that can lead to measurable benefits like keeping employees longer, producing better work, and contributing to bottom-line financial results.

Recognition programs can become stale and lose their effectiveness—or they may fail to deliver the desired impact on employee engagement, performance, and retention.

Some programs simply lack the innovative experiences, features, and integrations to keep employees engaged and connected to a vibrant work culture. 

In this article, we’ll discuss how to refresh an employee recognition program that is no longer performing up to expectations. In some cases, it might warrant switching to a new vendor or software platform.

The key to a successful employee recognition program is to continually provide frequent, meaningful appreciation moments for a variety of accomplishments and milestones.

For great ideas on how to refresh your employee recognition program and get out of a recognition rut, read on.

Assess your employee recognition program

If your program features reporting on usage and engagement, start there. You’ll find out whether people are using the program to its potential.

Next, you may want to gather additional feedback from employees and managers through surveys or interviews. Make sure to get a good representation of a variety of employees from different departments and roles.

Your audit may show how many employees are participating, whether engagement has dropped, specific challenges facing your current program, whether it’s meeting stated goals, and other indicators the program may have lost traction.

Set objectives for a new or upgraded program

The next step is to define the objectives for your employee rewards and recognition program. Your organization is unique. So think about what you really want your program to accomplish.

For example, IAG wanted to redesign their employee recognition program so it would have a more positive impact on employee pride, motivation, and performance. The company also wanted to increase the likelihood employees would recommend it as a great place to work.

IAG worked with O.C. Tanner—their recognition partner since 2004—to help them better connect their strategy to their new cultural direction.

For new clients, O.C. Tanner walks through a specific set of questions to truly identify goals and priorities. The article, Prioritize Your Employee Recognition Goals, starts by asking three questions:

  • What do you hope to accomplish with a recognition solution?
  • What areas of your business do you plan to impact? 
  • What metrics do you want to improve?  

Even if you’re a seasoned pro with a long-running program, don’t skip this step. It’s an invaluable exercise to help you choose the right recognition partner and tools for your program.

Recognition programs can become stale and lose their effectiveness, or they may fail to deliver the desired impact

Choose a partner with the technology you’ll need

Let’s face it, whatever you want to accomplish with your recognition program, you’ll need an employee recognition software that’s up to the task. You’ll find there are many features that modern organizations simply can’t do without.

Plus, not every vendor can offer the additional bells and whistles you may prefer.

Ultimately, you’ll want to select a vendor and platform with the features, tools, and capabilities to support your organization’s mission and goals.

To read about specific features you should consider when choosing a recognition program, see our guide to Modern Employee Recognition Software
Manufacturing workers celebrating together

Prioritize inclusion and diversity

How do you make sure your program is widely used and effective? A good starting point is to design a program that’s equally accessible to all employees.

This includes reaching employees in different geographical locations, those with diverse backgrounds and beliefs, and those who may not work at a computer all day.

A company culture of belonging is best achieved when leaders build inclusion into multiple aspects of the employee experience. This includes designing programs, such as an employee recognition program, so that all employees enjoy equal access and benefits from the program.

Recognition programs should allow your organization to acknowledge and celebrate diverse achievements and contributions.

And when you need to recognize all employees, such as celebrating Employee Appreciation Day, be sure to show appreciation to all employees despite their role, geography, or background.

Recognition programs should allow your organization to acknowledge and celebrate diverse achievements and contributions.

Expand your recognition experiences

After completing your assessment and setting new objectives, you may quickly identify recognition experiences you want to add or enhance.

For example, you may consider including peer-to-peer recognition, creating more social recognition experiences, bolstering your remote/virtual recognition moments, or integrating service milestones into your program.

Consider the latest recognition experiences that top organizations are using to help build a more robust program. Here are a few ideas to consider:

1. Add peer-to-peer recognition

Recognition from peers builds connection and belonging in several ways. That’s why we recommend a peer-to-peer recognition option as a best practice for any program.

Studies show a 26% increase in engagement scores when employees give recognition to each other. Acknowledgement from co-workers can also improve performance and reduce turnover.

According to O.C. Tanner's Global Culture Report, employees are three times more likely to remember a recognition experience when it includes a symbolic award.

2. Integrate symbolic awards

Another popular strategy for adding new life to a stale recognition program: Incorporating physical symbolic awards.

According to our Global Culture Report, employees are three times more likely to remember a recognition experience when it includes a symbolic award. The report also notes that a symbolic award can lead to great work and improve individual performance by as much as 12%.

A symbolic award is most effective when paired with a meaningful recognition moment, so consider adding symbolic awards to special award nominations, work anniversary milestones, and large project celebrations.

3. Celebrate team wins

Your program may be effective at helping direct reports and co-workers feel appreciated for their work. But what about teams? The ability for teams to celebrate wins and accomplish great things can also be integrated into your program.

Team recognition can help team members set goals and succeed together and lead to a greater culture of recognition throughout the organization.

O.C. Tanner’s Culture Cloud software includes a team “Initiatives” feature that allows managers to help their people set and achieve goals at the team level. And that’s in addition to all of the recognition tools and experiences provided for individual accomplishments.

4. Reach more employees

Our latest Global Culture Report reveals that 80% of the world’s workforce does not work at a desk. These are the offline, frontline, and other essential workers who may not have constant access to technology. 

Data from our report show that this group feels unseen by their organizations, so it’s important to include new ways to reach all of your employees with your recognition efforts.

For example, some employee recognition moments will be more effective if delivered in person or to the recipient’s home—instead of just an email.

5. Make recognition personal

Be sure to identify ways to better personalize your recognition. You can accomplish this through both monetary and non-monetary experiences. 

In addition to rewards points or merchandise, you can offer employees their choice of learning/training opportunities, allow teams to choose an employee-of-the-month, or reward employees with special projects they prefer to work on. 

For more ideas, read our list of creative ways to appreciate your employees.

Build a communication and engagement plan

Adopting a new employee recognition program—or adding features to your existing program—is only part of the process of reviving an ailing program.

The other part is to develop a comprehensive communication plan to promote the refreshed program, integrate it into your workplace culture, and educate employees and managers on how to use it.

Before rolling out your program, provide adequate training for managers so they can effectively introduce the refreshed program with their teams. This is also a good time to address any potential questions or challenges from these leaders.

You may want to encourage employee participation by creating a launch or refresh campaign, perhaps offering points or prizes to those who participate the most during the rollout period.

Another great way for managers to get more employees engaging with the new program is by sharing early success stories and examples of how the program is being used.

Roll out your new program

If you’ve made it this far, you’re ready to jump start your recognition program and introduce more meaningful recognition experiences to your employees.

Follow your plan for rolling out the refreshed program, assigning tasks and responsibilities—as well as a timelines—to team members for implementation.

Your official rollout will help educate your workforce on how to use new features or changes in the program.

Monitor results and fine tune regularly

As part of your ongoing maintenance, establish metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure your program's success—such as employee engagement or employee retention goals. Regularly monitoring and evaluating the program's effectiveness will help you ensure your program doesn’t fall into a recognition rut.

For more on measuring a program, read Sustaining a Recognition Program for Continued Success. In this article, you’ll learn how CIBC employees felt the impact of their new recognition program and how quickly the organization saw results. Within a year of launch, the bank recorded a huge shift in its recognition culture, including:

  • Over 215,000 recognition moments
  • Over 70% of employees received individual recognition
  • 88% of employees logged into the system
  • eCard usage increased 5x over the previous program
  • Award nominations increased 9x over the previous program

In addition to monitoring built-in reporting and dashboards, seek feedback from managers and employees. Then make any necessary adjustments to your program’s settings and parameters.

For more on measuring a program, read Sustaining a Recognition Program for Continued Success.

Get your employee recognition program out of a rut

Refreshing your employee recognition program can go a long way when it comes to retaining employees, keeping them engaged, and helping them produce great work. It’s a worthwhile investment that can pay huge dividends over time.

Work cultures change, and so does the effectiveness of your employee recognition experiences.

That’s why it’s important for HR leaders to keep employee recognition fresh and seek out new strategies that will ensure every recognition moment is living up to the standards you set.

To learn more about building or enhancing employee recognition programs that create meaningful recognition moments, read about Culture Cloud Recognition from O.C. Tanner. 

For help with design, implementation, and measurement of your recognition program, contact our Culture By Design® team.

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