Link recognition to business strategy

Employees should be rewarded for contributing to mission, core values
By Mike Byam
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/22/2013

What’s the most effective way for business managers and HR professionals to motivate their people to help achieve organizational goals?

The answer is deceptively simple, but has major implications for businesses: Recognize employees specifically for how their contributions help move the business forward.

Do this consistently and employees will surprise you with their creative energy as they find new ways to help accomplish the mission.

For organizations looking to build employee recognition programs, it’s impossible to overemphasize the importance of making sure employees are noticed and recognized for achievements that model their organization’s core values and contribute to its success.

Case study: Peer-to-peer recognition at NSF

To understand why this is so important, take a quick look at the changes implemented by NSF International, a non-profit organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

NSF — which has 66,000 global clients and has tripled in size in the past decade — develops public health standards and certification programs that help protect the world’s food, water, consumer products and environment.

Because it has 1,100 employees working out of 47 offices in 27 countries, it faces a daunting challenge: Linking all of its people in a single, sharply focused organization where every member is working with maximum efficiency and creativity to achieve the same clearly defined goals.

After reviewing NSF’s organizational values — including promoting creative innovation and high ethical standards — Terryberry and NSF implemented a structured, organization-wide program for peer-to-peer recognition.

NSF’s program encourages employees to nominate colleagues for accomplishments that contribute to specific organizational goals via an online platform that also uses social media to link every member of the organization in a single, unified vision.

Because the NSF recognition program (which includes formal, informal and day-to-day types of employee appreciation initiatives) now operates from a single, clearly focused platform, every recognition moment is tied closely to the organization’s core values and mission statement.

Whether it’s a recognition gift presented at a formal employee banquet or a simple congratulatory note for a job well done, every form of recognition at NSF is linked to the organization’s overriding strategy and values.

In recent years, that clear motivational focus has contributed to numerous achievements by NSF employees. Inspired by the emphasis on innovation as a core value, for example, NSF operatives have launched programs designed to assist in the development of new disease-resistant seeds to improve worldwide agriculture. Other value-focused innovations at NSF include programs aimed at the protection of clean water supplies and the development of new strategies to combat global warming.

The numbers tell the story

To understand why tying an employee-recognition program to overall strategy makes such good sense, take a look at the studies that show dramatically improved bottom lines for organizations that get it right.

For example, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in the United States found organizations that invest in effective recognition programs can expect a return on investment (ROI) of better than 200 per cent, on average. That means for every $1 invested in such programs, organizational managers can expect an average return of more than $2 in increased sales, improved customer service or other forms of enhanced value.

Five recognition tips

Here are a few methods that will keep people focused on achieving the specifics contained in your overall strategy:

Send the message from the start: Use every communication tool at your disposal (such as a company newsletter, intranet, meetings, mailings or posters) to ensure recognition objectives are communicated effectively to employees. Don’t miss an opportunity to reinforce your organization’s mission and how employees are valued for their role in moving the business forward.

Cast a wide net: Empower everyone at the organization to identify and recognize the attitudes, behaviours and contributions that drive success. Incorporate the organization’s core values or key objectives into the nomination process for recognition. When an individual is nominated for recognition, it must be tied to one of the business values.

Improve visibility for contributions: You can’t recognize what you can’t see. Make it everyone’s job to give recognition when they see someone contributing to the mission, vision and values that move the business forward. This is why peer-to-peer recognition programs are so effective.

Reinforce it: When it comes time to publicly acknowledge or present awards, be sure the message conveys specifically what the individual did to earn recognition and why it matters to the success of the business. Consider offering a recognition training class for managers or other award presenters that can help them do this effectively.

Measure performance and engagement: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Take advantage of software solutions to help track and evaluate recognitions tied to each of your core values — at the organizational level, the department level and the individual level.

Mike Byam is a managing partner at Terryberry in Grand Rapids, Mich. He can be reached at (800)253-0882, or, for more information, visit

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