Lasting impressions through recognition

By Laura Cassiani
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/07/2001

The bottom line on recognition is that most employers aren’t doing enough of it.

And, that’s because organizations still prefer the more structured once-a-year rewards approach over the “touchy, feely” pats on the back and daily congratulatory affirmations.

But, believe it or not, it’s the small things like a chocolate bar or a scribbled thank-you note that can have a greater impact on employees. And a little creativity can go a long way for busy managers.

“It’s much easier to give people a cheque or monetary bonus. But people very quickly forget the money they receive. But with recognition you create memories. They carry that with them much longer,” says Heather Hilliard, senior consultant with Sage Developmental Resources based in Vancouver.

Recognition goes a long way in forging relationships with employees. It’s more personal, can be seen and shared with the entire company, and can be a formal affair or informal. And, it provides an incentive for employees to further the organization’s goals by offering regular praise for their performance along the way.

“It really gets at reinforcing positive behaviour in an organization,” says Hilliard.

At Toronto-based publishing firm Southam Inc., for example, employees who win the President’s Award have an 11-inch by 14-inch glossy photo of themselves hung in the front entrance lobby, appropriately called the President’s Hall of Fame. Photos stay up for an entire year and a letter penned by the president sits below it for about a month, says Hilliard.

“It was a real celebration of what people could contribute to the organization. It was a constant reminder of this drive to excellence the organization was pursuing.”

It was also the first thing people outside the company would see walking into the offices.

“It’s the first thing you learn about the organization when you walked in, what it thinks of its employees.”

For some employers who have mixed up their compensation programs with a dash of recognition, overcoming managers’ anxieties about recognition was a first step in teaching them how to recognize positive accomplishments instead of focusing solely on mistakes.

“It’s uncomfortable for leaders. It’s something outside their comfort zone. They are also worried about favouritism.”

Getting them to overcome their fears about recognition is a little tricky. Hilliard says training managers is a start.

“At the end of the day, the really effective programs are effective because they have the driving force of the leaders.”

The fact that managers are starved for more time is also another consideration when designing and implementing a recognition program.

Hilliard says having a “recognition box” full of pre-printed thank you cards and other gifts that managers can hand out for instant recognition is one solution for time-starved managers.

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