Skip to main content

How You Know When Your Employee Recognition Program is Working

by Cord Himelstein
Happy about new sales incentive program

Companies continue to struggle with measuring the ROI of employee recognition and the intangibles that can tell when a program is working, but there are four simple yet powerful indicators to look out for.

Over the last few decades it has become increasingly clear that employee satisfaction and engagement have less to do with material gifts, and much more to do with the quality of the work culture. Everyone enjoys receiving a gift, but if there is no sincere connection between the giver and receiver it becomes an empty gesture. That intangible connection is what many HR departments are chasing when they field companywide employee recognition programs.

Recognition, reward and incentive programs have evolved into enterprise-wide systems with specific performance management goals. Often these programs aim to build an entire employee experience from hire to retire, regularly communicating organizational goals and values along the way. The idea is to create timeless insoluble personal bonds with employees that transcend material gifts. Simple, right?

Anyone who has managed a group of people knows that this is easier said than done. Each person has their own unique experiences and perspectives that don’t always conveniently align with company goals. Intangible qualities like engagement and job satisfaction are notoriously difficult to measure, as they are usually the sum of many contributing factors.

It can be tricky to know what to look for and which questions to ask to ensure your employee recognition program is working for you and not against you in your engagement endeavors. Fortunately, there are some undeniable indicators of success to keep an eye out for:  

High Employee Recognition Program Participation

To the surprise of no one, the more employees are using the recognition program, the better it holds their attention, giving you more opportunities to communicate and demonstrate the culture you desire via its channels. Program participation rates such as system logins, gift redemptions, and award nominations are the first step to understanding how and why your recognition program is successful or not.

From these simple statistics you can start asking the right questions about what’s working for employees and where things can be improved. The most engaging programs come from several fine adjustments over time. Find the sweet spot that suits your unique culture, allowing you to mold and amplify its characteristics.

Positive Employee Feedback

Anecdotal evidence in the form of employee surveys are the most reliable method of gauging the ground-level success of your recognition program. A recent IRF Voice of the Market survey found that universal programs meant to increase morale or build culture “often have no KPIs assigned,” and instead rely on anecdotal measurements like engagement surveys, roundtables, and focus groups.

Recognition is an ongoing aspect of performance management that requires regular participation, feedback, and maintenance. Gallup has known for a while that their Q12 Survey item “In the last seven days, I have received recognition and praise for good work” is correlated to a 10-20 percent difference in revenue and productivity.

Performance-based programs like sales and/or channel incentives, safety, and daily productivity rewards typically target specific metrics that are measured in a more straightforward fashion. But if building culture is your thing, surveys are the keys to the kingdom. If a program is successful in motivating them, it will be clearly shown in the results, and vice-versa.

Strategic Goal Setting

If you don’t have specific goals in mind from the start of your recognition program, you’re going to have a harder time when it comes to measuring success. As we like to say, recognition isn’t a “set-it-and-forget-it” initiative. It only works if you work it! See recognition as a strategic lever and have specific company goals in mind going into it, and you’re going to have an easier time measuring success.

Recognition programs build the culture that further enables you to reach those larger company goals, so use the program to work towards them, and report on them. Maybe you want to increase retention companywide, motivate sales in one area, rally employees after a merger, or build a reputation of kindness – any way you slice it, thoughtful program goals are more measurable and relatable back to the bottom line. Apply the principles of recognition in good faith and support it from the top down, and the results will come.

Manager Participation and Engagement

Managers are the most influential recognizers, as they represent the company image in the eyes of frontline employees. They also spend the most time day-to-day with frontline employees, making them ambassadors of the recognition culture. In fact, the manager-employee relationship is a top influencer of job satisfaction, accounting for up to 70% variance in engagement levels.

Measuring how often managers recognize employees is useful in determining how well they are communicating the desired culture and creating the daily experience for their teams. It is also helpful to have regular conversations with managers about the workplace morale and addressing their needs to improve it.

Furthermore, as managers do the bulk of the ground-level work when it comes to employee recognition programs, make sure they are being consistently recognized along with their peers. Managers are often overlooked when it comes to getting recognized, so don’t forget to let them know how valuable they are to the process.

Nurture Recognition for Continuous Success

High program participation, positive employee feedback, strategic goal setting and manager participation: these are the four big indicators of whether an employee recognition program is working the way it’s supposed to, permeating and infusing your culture with sincere vibes of kindness and appreciation. But don’t stop there. Your program is as unique as your own corporate identity and goals. You have all the power and agency to zero in on program activity and create your own benchmarks for success.

Engagement and employee satisfaction are always moving targets. But if you keep a keen eye out for these green flags and nurture them along with your own observations and improvements, a solid employee recognition program can greatly improve your aim.

This article was originally published by Workspan/WorldatWork

About the author

Cord Himelstein

Cord Himelstein

Vice President of Digital Marketing

A dynamic B2B marketer with 20+ years of proven experience connecting people and brands, Cord posts regularly on the HALO blog and contributes to the Forbes Communications Council. His work offers unique insights into the employee experience, brand building and has been featured in leading industry publications including Entrepreneur, SmartBrief, Ragan and Incentive Magazine.