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Better performance through recognition: 8 steps

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in Employee Benefits Program,Human Resources

Employee recognition programs aren’t quite as popular as they once were. Slower economies tend to reduce employers’ incentives to say “thank you,” either with pay, perks or actions.

Still, a 3% dip in the percentage of companies using recognition programs since 2008 doesn’t suggest a permanent decline, according to a 2011 survey by trade group WorldatWork.

“The data suggest that, even with a recession, recognition programs remain an important component of employee rewards,” says Alison Avalos, WorldatWork research manager.

One notable change since 2008: As with performance pay, more organizations are using incentives and recognition to motivate specific behaviors or achieving specific goals.

Here are eight tips to create a recognition program that drives performance:

1. Avoid ad hoc recognition. The most successful recognition programs have a written strategy. Typically, their plans set goals that advance the organization’s objectives, establish a budget for incentives and outline the kinds of formal and informal recognition programs managers may tap.

2. Communicate it to employees. Letting staff know which incentives are available and how they can earn them will boost participation.

Use bulletin boards, posters, videos, the company intranet, websites, email, social media, manager memos and em­­ployee handbooks to spread the word about upcoming programs.

Tip: Saying “thanks” doesn’t come naturally to every manager, so it’s im­­portant to teach execs and even employees how to give recognition and why it’s important. Trend: Most organizations don’t provide managers with any training on incentive programs, says the WorldatWork report.

3. Measure success. The only way to be sure incentives and recognition are working is to collect data to prove it.

Measure employee satisfaction both with the programs and with their jobs once they have participated in a program. Track retention and productivity among employees who are eligible for the programs and those who aren’t.

The best way to find out if your em­­ployees think the incentives you offer are worth working for is to ask them.

Take surveys, invite feedback and start conversations about your organization’s incentives and recognition programs so you’ll know if you’re giving employees meaningful awards.

4. Use social media like Facebook to publicly recognize staff. It’s especially important to younger workers.

Still, don’t overlook the tried and true. Organizations hand out certificates and plaques more than any other recognition award, followed by cash and gift cards, says WorldatWork.

5. Create peer-to-peer rewards programs that let colleagues either nominate each other for awards or even hand them out to each other.

Peer rewards encourage workers to acknowledge each other’s achievements, especially among team members.

6. Focus on individuals. Several researchers say group incentives—those that go to the whole team if it reaches its goal—don’t moti­­vate as well as individual prizes. Al­­though everyone might have contributed to the win, not everyone did so equally, so the superstars feel their rewards should be greater.

Tip: Celebrate success as a team, but hand out individual incentives to those whose extra effort was most instrumental.

7. Switch it up. Employee tastes and company goals change over time, so your organization’s recognition and incentive programs should, too.

Tip: Devise a strategy that’s flexible enough to change when something’s not working or if something better comes along.

8. Give the gift of time. Many em­­ployees will go the extra mile in exchange for flexible schedules or the chance to telework.

Tip: Offer flex as a reward to boost productivity for those who want to set their own work hours.

Fact: U.S. organizations spend on average 2% of payroll on employee recognition programs. Only 14% of firms feature those programs when recruiting.—WorldatWork

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