A key element to a positive employee experience is employee recognition. After all, if an employee feels that they are valued and recognized, there is a very small chance they will become disengaged. However, the truth is, most organisations get this wrong and their attempts at employee recognition fail. I have lost count of how many business or HR leaders have told me that their employee recognition programmes never took hold. Ever wonder why many formal employee recognition programs fail? It’s because employees see them as a box ticking exercise that is not authentic. There is no better way to indicate that praise is inauthentic than by having organized praise. It is the exact same reason everyone hates organized company fun.

Real time recognition

One of the key reasons official recognition programs fail is because the entire process is manufactured. Think about this logically from an employee’s point of view. They worked hard and won a new client or streamlined a process. Then at some point a few weeks or months later they have it acknowledged with a certificate, or an email, or everyone clapping at the next town hall. It’s just so fake. If you had a child and they did a cartwheel for the first time or got top marks in an exam, would you wait until their next birthday, or the next public holiday before congratulating them on the achievement? Of course not! Employees are no different. They want to be recognized in real time for the work they have done. This does not mean, you should not also have the formal recognition events, but it should be combined with real time recognition.

Peer pressure can be good

Praising employees is one of the fastest ways to create a high-performance culture. If you start to consistently highlight individuals that are doing a good job, others are going to start doing the same thing. Most humans crave acknowledgement and recognition, it is human nature. Natural competitiveness and peer pressure will drive performance in pursuit of recognition. If you congratulate Team A for beating Team B in sales last month. Team B are going to work twice as hard to ensure they do not lose the following month. At the same time Team A are not going to want to lose their top spot. Also note, I have said Praise Team A and I did not say criticize Team B, that is a key difference. 

Ensure praise is deserved

Conversely one of the fastest ways to create a non-performance culture is to start praising employees who do not deserve it. If you get a trophy or an award whether you finish first or last, then what is the point in trying to be first? You do not need to work hard to be rewarded. Organisations need to ensure that they are only praising behaviour and outcomes that deserve to be praised. If you praise an employee because they had 100% attendance, what kind of culture are you reinforcing? One where people deserve an award just for turning up for work! Praise reinforces standards, over time those standards become the expected norm and once they become the norm, you should raise the bar to the next level.

Employees are unique

Finally, it is important to remember that employees have different personality types. If you have a top performer who is introverted, making them stand up in front of the entire company, collect an award and give a speech is not going to make them feel good. The same is likely to even be true, in a small team meeting. So, it may be better to recognize them privately and if something big is planned factor this in. Likewise, if you have an extrovert who likes to be the centre of attention, they may not value the recognition if it is quiet and discreet. Therefore, a one size fits all recognition process have their limitations. A good organisation will adapt their approach in order to meet the needs of each employee.