A small thanks goes a long way

Smaller firms can use spot recognition as a low-cost way to keep top talent

Employee recognition programs deliver results. That much is clear. For companies with less than 500 employees, or even fewer than 50, how to design and implement employee recognition programs that are effective, drive results, don’t break the bank or become a full-time job isn’t an easy question to answer.

But it’s a question that must be tackled. Too many employees never receive positive recognition from their employers, and they will leave their jobs because of it. That means that praise and recognition are vital to a company’s long-term success.

If managers don’t know how to use recognition to engage employees, they will lose their top talent. This is inhibiting for any company, but it can be especially devastating for a small- or medium-sized operation.

Frequent, informal recognition

Recognition is not just the softer, unexpected side of business anymore. It’s an essential part of good management and can be easily implemented into everyday occasions. Successful, effective recognition features three characteristics: it must be frequent, timely and specific.

Frequent, informal types of recognition — also known as spot recognition — can be easily integrated into an overall recognition strategy and does not require a lot of time or money. In fact, it doesn’t even require an HR department.

Employees whose work is recognized and appreciated are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs and are more committed to the company’s mission. This translates into higher productivity for the organization and better bottom-line results. Managers are learning that a little recognition can go a long way toward motivating and retaining employees.

Spot recognition can be applied when an employee or team goes above and beyond by working late, coming up with innovative ideas, giving exceptional customer service or demonstrating some other behavior that is important to a company. When a manager observes an employee diligently acting in such a way, stopping by to say thanks, writing a note or presenting a thoughtful gift or award is in order. For more significant accomplishments, a manager could send a gift basket or a larger gift to the individual or team.

But spot recognition should never be vague, general recognition delivered long after the event occurred. To be effective, it should be administered right when the worthy behaviour is witnessed, or at least very soon after. Spot recognition is also not an occasion to deliver veiled criticism along the lines of, “Well, if you had followed company policy in the first place, you wouldn’t have had to work late to get this done. But great job anyway.” Most people won’t listen past the “but.”

Tracking budget

The great thing about spot recognition is that it doesn’t have to be expensive. Although business owners and managers worry about the cost, they are often surprised by the amount of money they are already spending on unplanned extras such as lunches, breakfasts, balloons and gift cards. By tracking these minor expenses over a predetermined time period, owners and managers find that implementing and sticking to a recognition budget actually saves money. And it allows for more efficient and effective day-to-day recognition.

Appreciation a shared responsibility

It is everyone’s responsibility to show appreciation: owners to managers, managers to employees, employees to managers, peer-to-peer and anyone interested in showing appreciation.

The more appreciated employees feel in their work, the more they feel free to suggest new ideas and processes, focus on client and team satisfaction and become more engaged. And when employees are engaged, they will love coming to work and will bring their full heart and mind to the job every day.

There are numerous other occasions where recognition can be used, including:

•milestones such as service anniversaries, promotions or retirement;


•personal life stages such as birth, marriage or bereavement;

•after weddings, showers or get-togethers; and

•just because.

David Sturt is executive vice-president of recognition firm O.C. Tanner. Chris Vyse is the vice-president of sales and marketing for O.C. Tanner (Canada).

Improving morale
Three characteristics of effective recognition

Recognizing and appreciating employees is simple. Here are some tips to strengthen workplace morale:

Be immediate. The closer the recognition to the actual performance the better. Don’t let much time pass between the accomplishment and the recognition or the efforts will fail to get the desired results.

Be specific. Compliment specific behaviours that reinforce key company values and goals. Vague, general praise is rarely motivating and, in many cases, will even have a reverse effect. Spell it out by telling the employee exactly what she did to earn the thanks and why it’s important to the organization.

Share praise. Recognition often comes from the top down. But recognition that means the most often comes from peers who best understand the circumstances surrounding the employee’s performance. Invite peers, managers and supervisors to attend a recognition moment and allow them to comment during the presentation.

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