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RichmondSHRM: Connect Article [Recognition – the Key driver to Employee Engagement] [08/04/11]
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Recognition – the Key driver to Employee Engagement

-Connect, August 04, 2011-


Michael C. Fina

I am a member of a Linked In group called the Employee Engagement Emporium. A recent discussion topic was…

In 10 words or less name what you believe are or could be the three most effective drivers of Engagement.

Needless to say, there was an extended list of both contributors and comments. The contributors were close to equally balanced between human resource professionals, motivational speakers and people from the recognition industry.

Interestingly, a quick estimate revealed ¾ of all responders indicated that recognition and/or appreciation was one of their top three drivers of and engagement and the number one item mentioned among all responses.

Research backs up this finding as well. The study I like to quote most often comes from HR Solutions International which includes an analysis of their Sweet16 survey results. HR Solutions concluded that recognition is 4 times more likely to be a driver of engagement than any other item in their Key Driver Model

So why is recognition so difficult to put into practice? I would suggest 3 reasons…

  1. We haven’t considered it as a priority for HR.

Most organizations have some sort of recognition plan already in place and so it is very easy to push a review to a back burner. One of the first questions I like to ask is “How long has it been since your recognition plan was put in place or revisited?” Regularly, I find that the last review occurred further back than can be remembered.

The next question is more critical. “How has the make-up of your workforce changed since then?” If your hiring has been typical of national patterns, you will have a larger percentage of Gen X and Millenials in your workforce than when your current plan was developed. Gen X and Millenials view recognition differently than Boomers and Traditionalists and are not ready to wait 5 years for their first recognition.

I would suggest an easy way to quantify the need for a plan review:

  1. Score 1 point for each year your plan has been in place since the last review or update.
  2. Score 1 point for each percent of change in the mix of your workforce from Traditionals and Boomers to Gen X and Millenials.

In traffic light color language:

Green: 0 and 5 points, you should be up to date.

Yellow: 6 to 10 points, you may well benefit from a review of your plan.

Red: 11+ points, I would push this item to a front burner and begin a plan update for 2012.

  1. The recognition plans that are in place lack both flexibility and direction.

There is an ideal balance between formal and informal recognition in any organization. Often policies are set for the formal pieces while informal recognition “just happens”. Unfortunately, this leaves wide gaps in how much benefit is achieved from informal recognition that is practiced without a plan.

There is also a cultural element. “Younger organizations”, ones that have a high percentage of GenX and Gen Y employees, tend to rely more heavily on informal recognition than formal. Both forms of recognition are important.

I would suggest that a good way begin is with your organization’s goals and objectives to determine if measurements are in place to quantify progress. If measurements are in place, a more formal recognition strategy is probably your best bet. If the goals rely more on observation, e.g. teamwork, superior service, then you should benefit more from less formal recognition.

The best strategies mix on-the-spot, nomination and peer-to-peer in a “less formal” recognition plan. Ideally, there should be room for everyone in the organization to participate both in giving and receiving recognition.

  1. Recognize the small wins not just the large achievements.

I read an article that included an interview with Teresa Amabile, a professor at Harvard Business School, who has co-authored a book called “The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite, Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work.” I need to confess that have not read this book so I am stepping out on a limb. However, according to the article, the prime engagement driver for employees was “simply, ‘making progress in meaningful work’”.

Small achievements have a tendency to go by unnoticed. People in sales probably have an easier time recognizing the small victories. Getting a big appointment is indeed a victory even though it is short of a sale.

One good strategy I have seen includes having managers write the name of one of the people reporting to them in a location managers see regularly to remind them to make a concerted effort to notice an employee doing something positive. This, catch-the-employee-doing-something-right strategy, works. Just be sure to avoid favoritism. After a “positive catch” be sure the recognition matches the achievement.

Another thing I personally try to do is pass on compliments I receive about other members of my team. If using e-mail I make sure to include a cc: to someone higher in our company.

Take time to write that note, pass on that compliment and recognize that mini-victory. You will be surprised how quickly morale can be increased, engagement elevated and goals achieved.


Authored by: Herb Brown, Michael C. Fina, Total Recognition Strategist - Eastern Region | 540-972-5557
To learn more about Michael C. Fina please visit

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