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How to Align Employee Recognition With Your Company’s Core Values

Gabby VanAlstine
Gabby VanAlstine

While I know firsthand how important employee recognition programs can be, it seems they’re always one of the first initiatives to be taken for granted, thoughtlessly recycled year after year, or even sacrificed during financial hardships. 

Recognition programs can shape the culture, create opportunities for connections among your team, add fun and life into the workweek, and so much more. It’s simple, and brain science supports it: recognition programs make us feel good. 

At Emplify, we wanted a fresh approach to recognition. We’re determined to continually improve our employee experience. We also knew our team could use a boost because of the continued strain of 2020. The rollout of our core values earlier this year was a perfect opportunity to hit “refresh” on recognition.

We already have an informal recognition program for Emplifiers to celebrate their colleagues by sharing how a peer has demonstrated our core values. This informal recognition program, called “Spotlights,” consists of a simple Google form (here) any employee can complete and submit. We read the Spotlights received during our biweekly (virtual) company meetings. 

Our culture is owned and shaped by our employees, so we knew Spotlights would be the perfect foundation for a quarterly recognition program, aligned with our current practices. And it saved us a bit of time (always a plus, especially this time of the year). 

To design this new program, called our “Quarterly Hero Award,” we assembled a panel of past Spotlight winners to create the criteria for the award. Every Spotlight received during the quarter counted as a nomination for the new award and was shared with the panel. 

Each member of the panel scored each Spotlight nomination against these criteria to select the winner:

  • Strength of the nomination
  • Business/objective impact
  • The cultural impact on Emplify

We announced the recipient at our Quarterly All Team meeting, and rewarded our Quarterly Hero with their choice choice of: 

  1. A donation to the charity of her choice
  2. A gift card
  3. A fund to use towards her professional development

In addition to her reward, we provided her the opportunity to “pay it forward” by granting a gift to a colleague she believed helped her significantly this past quarter. 

I surveyed some employees after this meeting and they believed our refreshed recognition program was fair, intentional, and extremely aligned with our values. They also loved the prize options! 

My biggest learnings from the process were that it’s absolutely vital to align recognition to your core values, as employees need and notice who is rewarded and for what behaviors. 

Every employee is responsible for owning and shaping your culture, not just business leaders. So I recommend forming a diverse panel of “cultural warriors” to select the winner, not just executives or members of a single department. Make sure employees from different demographics, as well as various roles and experience levels are on the panel. Ensure they are respected by the team. 

Another lesson is to give employees choices on rewards to ensure you are giving them what they need: one employee may long for a branded backpack with your company logo, while another could really appreciate a gift card to buy some new tech gadget, and some may appreciate the opportunity to reward a charity with their good work. Providing employees the choice strengthens engagement and purpose in their work. 

And lastly, don’t forget to be intentional in your recognition. These programs matter, and some people look forward to these celebrations more than any other company wide communication. Your programs become your rituals, and your rituals become your culture – so act with intention and recognize!

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