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How to Create Employee Spotlights that Increase Engagement and Connection

Michael Vasey
Michael Vasey

When it comes to keeping employees engaged, one of the most important steps companies can take is to foster meaningful connections between coworkers.

Helping people build relationships at work cultivates friendships, increases trust, and influences other key drivers of engagement. In fact, according to survey research, employees who have friends at work are seven times more likely to be engaged with their jobs.

The problem? You can’t force friendships or police people’s relationships at the office. It just wouldn’t make sense.

However, you can nurture the level of interest employees take in one another. One highly effective way to do this is through employee recognition.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, it’s more important than ever to develop employee recognition practices that lead to real and measurable business impacts. More than 80% of leaders surveyed by SHRM have such programs in place, and the vast majority cite engagement, relationships, company culture and organizational values as the biggest benefits.

It’s easy to understand why. With people spending 40 or more hours a week together at work, recognizing one another’s contributions is a great way to break down silos and increase connections.

So, what’s the best way to start showing your appreciation? Most organizations have access to an array of easy opportunities to recognize employees, be it during regular huddles, through internal messages, or with cards of appreciation.

And then there’s one of our favorite forms of employee recognition, which often stands out as particularly effective in 15five’s work with people leaders: the employee spotlight.

Whether your employees all work in one central location or are distributed across geographies and remote locations, spotlighting employees can be an ideal way to keep people both inspired and connected.

How to create employee spotlights your people will love

If this is your first time featuring employees, or if you’re looking for a method that’s easy to replicate and repeat, you’ll be glad to know that spotlights are relatively easy to produce. Here’s the step-by-step process we recommend:

Step 1: Showcase the right employee. While most organizations are likely to have “star” performers everyone’s familiar with, it’s important to highlight a wide array of team players and personalities. Focus on helping employees get to know one another — whether that means introducing someone to different departments, highlighting a recently-promoted supervisor or simply shedding light on a valuable colleague whose contributions might otherwise fall under the radar.

Step 2: Create a list of insightful questions. Remember, this is an opportunity for your employee to shine. The more detail, the better the spotlight. It’s best to err on the side of open-ended questions and keep the “favorites” (“What’s your favorite…”) to a minimum. Some that we’ve seen work particularly well include:

  • What motivates you to wake up and go to work?
  • What do you do at our company?
  • What has been your favorite project so far?
  • What’s something most people don’t know about you?
  • What would you like to ask our CEO?

Step 3: Choose your format. Successful employee spotlights can be delivered in a variety of engaging formats, so take the time to discover what works best for your business. Some organizations prefer to share Q&A’s in a company newsletter; others publish public blog posts that both coworkers and customers can read. We’ve seen video and audio recordings work well, too, since they’re easy to consume and can bring more personality to the piece.

Step 4: Conduct a formal interview. Whether you record an interview with your smartphone or use your face-to-face meeting to take notes, conducting an in-person interview is always the preferred choice. You’ll get genuine answers and can explore more details. Share questions ahead of time so your employee has time to prepare, but be ready to dig a little deeper as follow-up questions come to mind.

Step 5: Make it visual. Images and media always capture more attention than a written transcript. To keep your spotlight interesting, ask your employee for a variety of photos to choose from. If you opt to share the spotlight interview via video, consider mixing in footage of your employee in action — whether that means weaving in videos the employee shares with you or spending some time recording a few activities at the office yourself.

Step 6: Rinse and repeat. Once you’ve shared a spotlight or two, gather feedback from employees. How are they being perceived? What recommendations will make them even better? Who else should you consider highlighting in future installments? Use these recommendations to fine-tune your spotlights, and then create a plan to release them at regular intervals. The ultimate goal is to create a culture of recognition and anticipation.

There are many other ways to spotlight employees, but the steps above are a great place to start. Eventually, as you become comfortable with the process, you can get more creative.

For example, at 15five, spotlights have become so popular that they’ve become ingrained in our company-wide meetings. Every quarter, two employees are selected from a pool of peer nominations. Each person is recognized during the all-team meeting, presented with a $50 card, and given another $25 gift card to pay the recognition forward to a colleague who’s been especially helpful and supportive.

Most importantly, using the employee spotlight method to create a culture of friendship and trust isn’t just effective — it’s also fun.

Looking for more ideas you can use to strengthen your company’s culture? Give these resources a read:

The 3 Foundational Elements for a Strong Company Culture

Why People Value Culture More Than Compensation Now

Company Culture Examples: The Ultimate Guide

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