In recent years, employee engagement evolved from what was largely considered an ‘HR issue,’ to become a crucial element of the broader business conversation in many organizations.
CEOs and senior leadership of all stripes adopt engagement as a valuable strategic initiative because while its potential for impact on areas like employee retention is clear, we’re beginning to see more evidence of engagement’s influence on important areas, from productivity to customer satisfaction, and even shareholder value.
Here’s the problem: While employee engagement is a prominent topic in conference rooms and auditoriums across the world, global statistics still suggest that most organizations are missing one or more of the factors that drive it.
According to Gallup research, “many companies are attempting to increase engagement by focusing on problems that may not affect engagement or by tackling problems in the wrong order.”
So let’s get a grasp on it, and tackle one of the most impactful factors head-on. Experts agree that recognition is one of those crucial engagement factors, but the framework in which it’s delivered dramatically impacts the outcome. Although most managers you ask will say they have a recognition program in place, only one in three workers in the U.S. strongly agree that they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days.
That’s a big problem, it’s worth fixing, and fixing it is probably easier than you think.
Like any other strategic initiative, it helps to have a framework to approach recognition from. I want to share the recipe for more impactful recognition that we’ve learned through research, our own experience, and the experiences our customers have shared.
Here are seven simple and cost-effective steps you can take right now to help support a recognition-rich organizational culture, and inspire a more employee engagement.
#1 – Define Your Culture
Start by codifying your organization’s mission, its goals, and its culture. If you haven’t done this already, you may find that there are already multiple perspectives on this topic – some of which differ greatly from your own.
Why it’s important: You need to have something for your team to engage with, and authenticity is key to presenting them with something worth their emotional commitment. It’s next to impossible for most people to dedicate themselves to a half-baked mission, or values they know are false.
Putting it into practice: Identify the fundamental values that have motivated you and your organization throughout the years, and the mission you’re working to achieve. Share those values and that mission with your team and the outside world.
#2 – Alignment
Recognition aligned with your organization’s overarching goals, purpose, and core values is powerful, and that alignment helps to unlock its impact on employee engagement.
Why it’s important: Each piece of recognition given is an opportunity to reinforce the connection between your organizational values, your overarching objectives, and the person making individual contributions toward them. When someone does something that furthers those goals or exemplifies those values, it’s important they’re aware of the impact their contribution made.
Putting it into practice: Most recognition programs are based on tenure, yet you can be sure tenure isn’t listed as a core value on most companies’ ‘about us’ page. Recognize and reward behaviors that truly align with your organizational culture, values, and mission. If you care deeply about delighting your customers, make sure to recognize your colleagues when they make contributions your team makes that help further that goal.
#3 – Specificity
Telling someone they’re great at their job, or that they’re valued is a step in the right direction, but in order to transcend the fluff chasm, recognition needs to be specific.
Why it’s important: Everyone (even senior leadership) needs to know exactly what it is that makes them great at their job, and why they’re so valuable. That’s crucial information that can help them lean into those areas and make more, and increasingly valuable contributions.
Putting it into practice: Recognize someone for a contribution they’ve made, but focus on being specific about what made it so valuable.
You could tell Erica “Nice work,” when the bug she found during a code review saved you from a major service interruption, or you could tell Erica “Great job catching that bug. We just had another customer mention our rock-solid reliability in a review. Thanks for all the effort you put into delighting our customers — it’s key to our ongoing success.”
While the first example is still much better than nothing, the second example shows your appreciation for the work itself, and the positive impact that work has on the team, the organization, and the outside world.
#4 – Visibility
The more visible the recognition you’re giving, the greater impact it can have on individual and organizational engagement.
Why it’s important: Visible recognition isn’t only a powerful motivator for the individual receiving it. It’s a great way to give the rest of the team some crucial insight into the value each of their colleagues is bringing to the table. It’s also a salient example of the types of contributions that push the team and the organization forward, and an opportunity to show that in your team, meaningful contributions are recognized and valued.
Putting it into practice: Recognize your contributors in a public format. There are a lot of easy ways to accomplish this, whether it’s praising them in an all-hands meeting, on a big screen, or on the main channel of a communication tool like Slack, or HipChat.
#5 – Frequency
Recognition cannot be a yearly, monthly, or even weekly exercise if you want it to be a strong employee engagement driver. For it to achieve its greatest potential, recognition needs to happen frequently, and in the moment.
Why it’s important: If you wait to recognize someone until the end of the year, the holiday party, their employment anniversary, or worst of all, their performance review, all the aforementioned efforts lose a great deal of their punch.
Modern employees expect a much tighter feedback cycle, and want to know right away if the effort they’re putting in is valued. A manager (or even a team of managers) can’t be expected to witness, recognize, and reward every valuable contribution made in a given day.
Putting it into practice: One of the easiest ways to make sure your colleagues are being recognized frequently enough is to empower and encourage everyone, from the new hire to the CEO to participate in giving and receiving recognition. Encourage recognizing colleagues for their great work as a natural part of daily life in your organization.
#6 – Global Participation
Why it’s important: When talking about recognition and employee engagement, it’s common to forget managers and senior leadership. These key individuals shouldn’t only be involved in your engagement strategy as a means of executing its strategic goals — their own engagement should be one of those goals.
The data in this Gallup research revealed that there is no single, ultimate source for the most powerful or memorable instances of recognition. For recognition to make the greatest impact on the largest number of people, it needs to come from all around.
Putting it into practice: Just like frequency, getting this element right is easiest if you’re empowering and encouraging everyone to show appreciation for their colleagues’ contributions. You’ll likely find that providing the team with autonomy around who they’re recognizing and why will inspire greater participation than a prescriptive approach.
#7 – Simplicity
Simplicity is the final factor we’re going to cover here, but it’s one of the most important. As engagement expert Josh Bersin put it so eloquently in his recent Forbes article, “Make it trivially simple for employees to recognize each other.”
Why it’s important: You can have all these other key factors in place, but if people still find it difficult to recognize someone, you won’t find many willing participants. However, the easier you make it for people to show their appreciation, the more often you’re likely to see that behavior.
Putting it into practice: There are a lot of great tools out there designed to make recognition easy to participate in, and easy to implement.
In just a couple clicks, Zenefits’ Bonusly integration can get you and your team on the road to a more impactful recognition program that helps strengthen engagement.
There are a lot of other useful tools to help with measuring, boosting, and inspiring employee engagement, and Zenefits curated a great toolbox of integrated apps you can easily activate to help make your engagement initiative successful.
In Conclusion: Recognition is a natural, cost effective, and impactful way to strengthen engagement. If you haven’t already, make a colleague’s day by thanking them for their hard work, and for the impact it made.
Need help with employee engagement and other HR efforts? See how Zenefits can help you get HR expertise on-demand.