Recognizing more than just results

Programs targeting particular behaviours on the rise: Survey
By Alison Avalos
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/10/2012

Telling people what to do and what not to do can work, but often what has the greatest impact is the recognition they receive after making the right choice or exhibiting the most productive behaviour.

Employee recognition programs have traditionally focused on tenure, above-and-beyond performance and overall results. And while the goal of reinforcing desired behaviours is not a new concept, recognition programs designed to impact specific employee behaviours are newer to the scene.

Prevalence of recognition programs

In the past decade, WorldatWork, a non-profit compensation, benefits and total rewards association based in Scottsdale, Ariz., has found recognition programs continue to hold their place in the total rewards tool kit. Most organizations (86 per cent) have recognition programs and 70 per cent of those offer between three and six different programs, according to WorldatWork’s 2011 Trends in Employee Recognition Survey.

Many employers are using length-of-service (90 per cent) or above-and-beyond performance (79 per cent) recognition programs. And while only 34 per cent used programs that motivate specific behaviours in 2011, that represents 36 per cent growth from 24 per cent in the prior survey in 2008.

Retirement and length-of-service recognition programs have been in use for a long time. But organizations continue to leverage newer programs — such as above-and-beyond performance, peer-to-peer and suggestion or idea programs — that can have a more direct impact on business results, as well as programs to motivate other specific behaviours. In fact, the majority of these programs were first implemented within the past five years.

Purpose versus program type

When asked about the goals or objectives of recognition programs, 61 per cent of organizations are trying to reinforce desired behaviours, found the survey. Programs that motivate specific behaviours — such as good customer service, high work productivity, collaboration, follow-through, execution or punctuality — are often implemented to address gaps or drive specific efforts, and can be tailored to a manager or employee.

But many of the other types of programs, such as peer-to-peer recognition, sales performance and suggestions or ideas, also tie to behaviours, including sales goals, innovation, positive attitude, peer support and safe practices.

Similarly, there are behaviours that could be considered above-and-beyond performance. But this type of recognition covers a wider variety of behaviours because the focus tends to be more on results and can be used as a catch-all program.

Programs not specifically focused on behaviours have their place and should be tied to a desired business result, such as employee retention, employee engagement or revenue. But they don’t necessarily motivate the specific employee behaviours that may lead to those results.

Having a well-balanced recognition offering allows an organization to acknowledge contributions that lead to organizational success, even if an individual is not always successful. Employees may work hard and be smart, positive and innovative, but sometimes specific results are unattainable due to factors outside their control.

A recognition program that ties to specific behaviours gives managers a tool to reinforce a desired behaviour that usually leads to a result.

The top goals or objectives for recognition continue to be recognizing tenure, creating a positive work environment and motivating high performance, according to WorldatWork’s survey.

Other common purposes for recognition include creating a culture of recognition, increasing morale and reinforcing
desired business results.

Recognition does not need to include a tangible reward. However, most employees and employers tend to think of the tangibles when designing formal recognition programs and looking for ways to acknowledge employee’s contributions.

Certifications, plaques and cash awards are the most common rewards to accompany recognition. There has been a general decline over the years in trinkets and items such as household items or office accessories.

Employees are finding greater value in cash and other rewards they can use to get something they uniquely value, and employers are finding they can get more for their buck by catering to employees’ varied tastes.

The use of recognition programs is strong and, as with most total rewards programs, variety is the key.

Finding the right programs to support an organization’s recognition goals with flexible reward options is important to the success of any recognition program.

The more traditional recognition programs show no sign of slowing, but the programs that provide the best return on investment and can be connected to specific behaviours and results are on the rise.

Alison Avalos is a research manager at WorldatWork in Scottsdale, Ariz., who can be reached at For more information, visit

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