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How to build a culture of recognition (hint: it’s not about rewards)

Author:
James Caldecott
Date Published:
September 2022
Length:
2
min read
How to build a culture of recognition (hint: it’s not about rewards)


“Recognition is highly correlated with improving employee engagement, in turn improving job performance and capturing business value. However, recognition programmes do not always have an impact because of their tendency to focus on financial recognition, rewarding service or tenure, which employees may not value.”

Deloitte, Talent 2020

The traditional definition of recognition focusses on the ways an organisation shows appreciation for employees’ efforts. Stuff like recognising milestones, acknowledging achievements, and giving rewards like bonuses, vouchers, or extra days off.

That’s true but narrow. Recognition isn’t about splashing the cash with a top-down rewards programme.

More broadly, recognition is about whether your people feel seen, heard, valued, and respected, both by the organisation and by one another. Recognition isn't a tactic; it’s a cultural truth.

When you get that right, the advantages are massive. Deloitte finds that employee engagement, productivity, and performance are 14% higher in organisations with a culture of recognition — driving a 2% increase in margins.

Let’s talk about how you get there.

Four practical tactics to foster a culture of recognition

1 – Support constant bitesize feedback

For your people to feel seen and heard, you need a systematic mechanism for collecting feedback and acting on the results. When your people see their input driving change, they feel empowered as individuals: the essence of recognition. (That’s why Winningtemp customers record an average 21% increase in job satisfaction among their employees.)

This has several components:

  • Feedback needs to be timely and relevant, centring on specific things that affect your employees day-to-day. Typical annual surveys tend towards broader overarching themes around engagement and satisfaction. That’s interesting but in practice, not amazingly useful at driving real-time change.
  • Participation rates must be high. Building a culture of recognition means every employee’s voice is heard —not just the handful who’re willing to take your survey. Length is a major consideration: there’s a 40% drop in response rate for surveys over 10 minutes. To create true culture change, you need employees to ownthe process.

(To give you a sense of what you’re aiming for, global pharmaceutical leader Bayer have a 90% employee participation rate with Winningtemp. Annual surveys typically settle for 50% or less).

  • Employees must see you acting on feedback. If employees’ input is sucked into a black hole without meaningful follow-up, your people will stop trusting the process. Employees need to know their feedback matters.

When you tick those boxes, you create a culture where every individual has an impact. At heart, that’s what recognition is all about.

Creating a culture that hears and values every employee centres on eliminating the barriers to sharing feedback. Most employees have strong opinions – but often they won’t share, because it’s hard, complicated, or sensitive to do so.

A great feedback tool should make sharing feedback simple, fast, and anonymous — and then make it simple for HR and managers to act on the results.

Watch this two-minute video to see why that's Winningtemp.

2 – Empower more valuable 1:1s

1:1s between managers and their reports can be one of the most powerful mechanisms to create recognition. They give employees space to share their detailed perspectives and challenges, reinforce strong relationships, and allow managers to recognise achievements in a personal way.

But 1:1s rarely fulfil their potential. Busy managers often see them as a burden and employees often see them as a punitive performance management tool.

It’s critical 1:1s aren’t just an HR-mandated checkbox activity. Both managers and employees must take ownership for 1:1s to become a genuinely useful tool. Partially, that’s about educating managers and equipping them with the right tools and skills to steer meaningful conversations. It might also demand process change, to actively evaluate managers’ performance against people management criteria.

It's also about choosing the right technology, to make it easier for managers to keep a record of issues, goals, progress, and agreements. When 1:1s become valuable to both sides, they become one of the best levers to build a culture of recognition.

Winningtemp shakes up how 1:1s happen, empowering managers and employees to invite one another to meetings whenever’s relevant. Rather than being mandated from above, the process becomes personal and accountable. Employees and managers talk when it matters; when it’s valuable to both sides.

For example, a manager could invite a team member who’d just completed a project successfully, to thank them for their hard work and chat about next steps. Or an employee could invite their manager to help them work around a roadblock, or to discuss their career development.

3 – Encourage peer-to-peer recognition

Organisations are inherently interdependent, so strong workplace relationships are critical to collaboration, productivity, and engagement. Harvard Business Review point out how these strong bonds are reliant on peer recognition:

“Our desire to feel seen, heard, and recognized is fundamentally human. As a species, we’ve evolved to place enormous value on our relative roles and relationships to other group members. Not feeling valued for your contributions or sensing that your value isn’t acknowledged by others in your group activates the stress response and feels like a threat.”

Think back to your school days: most people wanted to be popular; few wanted to be the teacher’s pet. Workplaces aren’t much different. There’s a fundamental human drive to feel recognised by our colleagues, not just our boss.

Without this peer-to-peer element, top-down recognition loses its impact. To build a culture of recognition, you need to focus both hierarchically and laterally.

Peer-to-peer praise is one of our favourite parts of the Winningtemp platform. With Winningtemp, employees can instantly send praise to anyone in the organisation with award badges and comments.

And because you can customise award badges around your company values, praise doesn’t only fuel recognition. It also continually reinforces an intentional culture that champions the right skills and qualities for success.

4 – Amplify praise company-wide

RewardGateway research shows the number one issue making employees feel unrecognised is when moments of recognition aren’t seen or celebrated by other people. If a tree falls in the forest, etc.

One-to-one peer recognition is wonderful but these moments should also be amplified upwards and outwards across the organisation. That’s why technology is such a fantastic lever for recognition, because it enables unlimited scale.

Suddenly it’s not only your direct colleague recognising your great input; it’s 100 people spread across the globe. Next-level feelings of pride, achievement, and motivation ✅.

This also has the big advantage of helping dissolve global siloes and creating a stronger culture across borders. As many organisations become more dispersed —more global; often embracing more remote work —this ability to strengthen culture irrespective of location is a major boon.

(If that’s you, you might find these helpful: 18 tips for managing remote employees to keep your culture alive).

Winningtemp’s platform pulls peer-to-peer praise across the company into a live stream, to empower company-wide recognition when someone’s done a great job. People across the business can interact by liking praise or adding comments.  And there’s also a live leaderboard, giving a real-time overview of peer-to-peer praise (who doesn’t love a little healthy competition?).

These things mean recognition isn’t gatekept within teams or between individuals — when your people do something worth celebrating, everyone can celebrate with them.

Do your people feel heard, valued, and respected?

It’s too simplistic to equate a culture of recognition with rewards. Sure, rewards can play their part. A thoughtful, timely, personalised gift cancertainly show employees how much you value them.

But rewards are the capstone on the pyramid: a nice finishing touch, but nothing without the foundation of an inclusive culture that hears, values, and respects everyone’s input. A culture where everyone is empowered to have an impact.

Building this culture takes more effort and commitment than focussing on employee rewards — but the rewards for the organisation, and the people in it, are infinitely more impressive.

Empowering managers to build stronger, more inclusive, more accountable teams is a major part of culture change.

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James Caldecott
About the Author
About the Author
About the Author
Om författaren
James Caldecott
James Caldecott is the UK Head of Sales at Winningtemp. He joined the business in early 2021 and has experience heading up sales functions across a wide range of technology businesses. At Winningtemp, James and his team focus on growing the UK market by educating businesses on immediate issues such as ensuring mental health, stress, and overall wellbeing is monitored proactively, all within a safe environment. Positive and negative trends are all triggered by real-time data and this is essential to creating strong high spirited workplaces. Outside of work, James is on his third attempt at training for the London Marathon in October, that’s if it goes ahead…

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