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How to Develop a Meaningful Employee-Recognition Program

by Steve McDonnell, studioD

Organizations looking to improve the bottom line may want to consider implementing an employee recognition program, according to the O.C. Tanner Co., which sponsored research demonstrating such programs improve company profitability. To develop an employee recognition program that is meaningful to employees and valuable to an organization, establish goals and objectives, obtain leadership support and secure budget approval, create the program design using a committee, communicate and implement the program, reward and recognize employees and evaluate the program's effectiveness.

Goals and Objectives

Identify the specific initiatives or overall strategic goals that will be linked to the program, for example, a special project or a customer retention strategy.

Determine the measurable impact the program should have on the initiatives or goals, such as completing a project by a specific date or increasing customer retention to a specified percentage.

Identify the employees who will be eligible. Create a business case that describes how employees will achieve results, the value of the results, the cost of the program and other benefits.

Support and Budget

Ask the organization's leaders for support by designating management employees to participate on a committee that designs, communicates and implements the program.

Obtain approval from leadership for the program's estimated budget.

Assemble a group of human resource and management employees to develop, communicate, implement and evaluate the program. Establish a project work plan with tasks, goals and due dates.

Program Design

Work with the committee to develop the specific criteria for the program. Establish outcomes that are SMART -- specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.

Determine how you will measure results and how often you will report progress against the results to employees and management.

Establish the rewards associated with individual criteria or with the program as a whole. Choose awards that are meaningful to the employees. Include nonmonetary awards and recognition.

Communication and Implementation

Develop communication materials to document the program, describe the measures and awards and discuss the mechanics of how the program works. Explain the details so employees understand what they need to do to be recognized or earn a reward.

Create communication to promote and publicize the program. Develop activities and games that maintain a high level of visibility for the program while it's active.

Emphasize the link between the program and the specific initiatives or organizational strategy it's designed to support. Describe how employee behaviors lead to improved business results.

Communicate progress against goals according to the schedule decided by the committee. Highlight the program's progress in company newsletters, announcements and meetings.

Rewards and Recognition

Recognize individuals and teams according to the rules of the program. Sponsor informal or formal events that present awards and recognize employees during the course of the program and at its conclusion.

Describe how employee and team behaviors create improved business results when recognizing employees. Thank employees for their efforts and contributions that help make the company successful.

Select examples of exemplary behavior or employees. Create articles or announcements that publicize the results of the program and recognize employees throughout the organization.


Evaluate the results of the program and provide a report to leadership. Describe the program objectives and results and discuss how employees achieved the results or why they did not.

Quantify the business impact of the results from the program. Compare the impact to the program's budget to demonstrate return on investment to leadership.

Gather feedback from managers and employees on all aspects of the program, such as the measures, rewards and communication.

Create a report that describes what you would do differently if you were to create the same program again. Use the assessment as a resource for other committees that are designing programs or for the next program you create in your area.

About the Author

Steve McDonnell's experience running businesses and launching companies complements his technical expertise in information, technology and human resources. He earned a degree in computer science from Dartmouth College, served on the WorldatWork editorial board, blogged for the Spotfire Business Intelligence blog and has published books and book chapters for International Human Resource Information Management and Westlaw.

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