Do you recognize employee achievement as part of your culture?

As the old year ends and a new year begins, it’s a good time to look back—and forward—at the achievements of your employees. Do you formally recognize their accomplishments? If so, which ones? How do you recognize their achievement, and how often?

Business publications are chock-full of tips on effective employee recognition. There’s some good stuff out there. But an important factor is usually missing. Here’s how you can begin to recognize employee achievement, and the missing link to make sure it builds your culture.

What form should recognition take in your organization?

Effective acknowledgment of employee achievement can take many forms: personal thanks, shout-outs at meetings, achievement awards, and material rewards (monetary or other perks). Recognition can be regular (monthly, quarterly, annual) or impromptu (a quick conversation in the hallway, a hand-written note). Regardless of the form, recognition should be timely, direct, personal, and specific. And it must be genuine, not forced or perfunctory.

Consider how storytelling could motivate employee recognition in your organization. When leaders create ways for their employees to create a narrative around their—or their organization’s—success, it inspires achievement, improves satisfaction, and helps employees feel that their opinions matter and their voices are being heard.

Depending on the culture of your organization, you may find that friendly competition helps boost morale and keeps energy up in the office. When you hold challenges with incentives and recognition, it gives your employees something to aim for, and a built-in recognition system for when they achieve it.

Don’t hide employee achievements or your gratitude under a barrel. While in-person, in-private thanks are valuable, public acknowledgment of employee contributions is also important.

What best motivates your workforce?

Acknowledgments of employee achievement should take into account individual personalities and the variety of motivations we have for working, and working hard. Bonus checks, free lunches, and tickets to special events all have their place, but they’re not the whole picture. Most of us work—and work hard—for reasons beyond the financial benefits. Recognition (not always public—some people are embarrassed by the attention), personal satisfaction, and “making a difference” are just three.

After a wildly successful career spanning vaudeville, television, and film, actor-comedian George Burns was still making movies in his nineties. A curious reporter asked him why, with all his financial success, he kept working at such an advanced age. “I don’t need the money,” Burns replied, “I need the work.”

The Missing Link

So how do you decide when and how to recognize employee achievement? There is no “one-size fits all” answer, of course. But there is a “one factor applies to all” principle that is often overlooked: You should always acknowledge employee achievements that actively support your company’s mission, goals, and values. Not all employee achievements are created equal. Your organization has a raison d’être, so you should recognize employee accomplishments that contribute to it. Make the connection between the achievement and the “big picture” explicit. This incentivizes your employees to further your organization’s purpose.

If you build it…

Recognition of employee achievements should be part of the fabric of your culture. Though it may be impromptu, it should not be haphazard. You should build it in as a regular part of your systems, calendar, and mindset. When employee recognition becomes a habit, it becomes part of your culture.

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