How to Plan a Successful Employee Recognition Programme

10 steps to success, Best practice, and the benefits of formal and informal schemes

With more and more businesses recognising the power of employee recognition programmes to drive better business results the number of companies using these schemes is increasing, according to the 2013 Trends in Employee Recognition report by WorldatWork.

Motivating and recognising employees is really important to the development of a business. It can create an effective and positive working environment as well as enhancing the employee’s sense of accomplishment, contribution, involvement, and job satisfaction – all of which can improve employee productivity.

But setting up an effective recognition strategy doesn't just happen overnight - it needs plenty of planning and thought to get it right. Here's everything you need to know, direct from our engagement experts.

10 Steps to Launching a Scheme

1. Get senior management buy-in

The senior management team must be the biggest advocates of your recognition programme. Without senior management buy-in, it'll look like just another HR initiative, and both managers and employees will be unlikely to ever fully engage with it.

2. Research

Research is fundamental to a successful programme. You should spend time researching the different types of recognition schemes, the rewards that will make your workforce go that extra mile, how your employees communicate (and what the best way to communicate with them is too!), who will be the best scheme advocates, costs, and how you'll tie the programme goals to your business goals.

3. Goals, targets and criteria

It’s important to set goals for your scheme. You should set goals that tie in with the overall business objectives and determine the different criteria that will be used to assess who receives a recognition award.

4. Train managers

Managers don’t just need to be trained on how the scheme works - they should also be educated on what is classed as meaningful recognition within your organisation. This may cover relationships with their team, when to recognise an employee, and how to make recognition part of their everyday activities - even if they already have a full to-do list.

5. Consider a pilot scheme

Before introducing a new, all singing, all dancing scheme, consider trialling the scheme with just a few employees, a team, or an office. Choose the managers who are advocates of the scheme to trial it. This will allow you to find out what works and what doesn’t work as well as you expected. You can then fine-tune the scheme before launching it to the entire company.

6. Create an implementation action plan

Every project needs a project plan, and your recognition programme is no different. Set a launch date and, then working backwards, set key milestones, assign responsibilities, and organise your team. Have regular meetings to keep everyone on track.

7. Communicate the launch

Get the person responsible for marketing within your organisation to help you plan a communication blitz. Set up a launch event, desk-drop recognition programme leaflets onto employees desks, put information on noticeboards, and provide managers with guidelines on the scheme so that they can brief their staff.

8. Keep communicating

Most schemes fail because, after the initial excitement of the launch, the enthusiasm dies down. Use your research into how your employees communicate to keep your workforce up to date with new rewards, who’s been recognised and why, scheme updates, etc.

9. Monitor the results

Track your programme results as related to the programme goals you set at the start of the process. As well as the statistical data you receive from your incentive management company, use surveys and focus groups to gather feedback.

10. Keep the momentum going

Once the scheme is launched don’t assume that the job's done. You need to maintain momentum through on-going communications, timely recognition and adapting the programme as you go based on the feedback you receive.

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Recognition programme best practice

Just following a step-by-step approach isn't enough - for a recognition programme that really goes the extra mile, there are a few more things you could be doing.

Cultivate a successful recognition culture

A recognition culture needs to start at the top, and permeate every level. Senior leaders in particular need to be able to:

  • Give their employees an understanding of how their role positively impacts the organisation’s goals and success
  • Explain how the employee recognition programme works and how employees can receive recognition
  • Walk the walk by giving recognition, not just talking about it

Involve your employees

As well as meeting the needs of the business, your recognition programme should meet the needs of your employees by helping them achieve. This can be done by involving your employees in the development of your programme.

There are numerous ways your can involve your employees in your recognition programme. For example, you could include employees, as well as management, on the committee charged to develop and implement the recognition programme. You can also survey employees to get their input on behaviours and job performance that should be recognised, identify recognition criteria and rewards, and gather other recognition ideas such as birthdays and work anniversaries.

Consider your reward criteria

Your reward criteria should be linked your organisation and department objectives, and should focus on values and behaviours. Some examples of reward criteria include:

  • Teamwork
  • Customer service
  • Going the extra mile
  • Commitment
  • Flexibility
  • Innovation and creativity
  • Professional development

Once you’ve decided on the reward criteria, then you need to consider the eligibility requirements. Can an employee win the same award more than once a year, for example?

Communication is important. All employees should know what they need to do and the behaviours they need to demonstrate to be eligible for a reward. Communicating the criteria significantly increases employees’ determination to display the behaviours you want them to.

Specify your nomination and selection process

Like the reward criteria, you need to consider your nomination and selection process, and communicate it clearly so employees understand it - and there are no accusations of bias.

To help you determine your process, consider the following questions:

  • Will the nomination process be confidential, or will the nominators be named?
  • Can all employees submit a nomination, or will it just be managers?
  • What information should be provided on the nomination form?
  • How will the nominations be submitted - for example, email, online form, or paper form?
  • How often will nominations be reviewed?
  • What is the timeframe for reviewing nominations and making a decision?
  • Will there be a limit on the number of rewards given out, or will they be given to everyone who deserves it?


Employee recognition can take many forms from long service awards and employee of the month awards to on-the-spot rewards. However, recognition is most effective when it takes place on a regular basis and in a variety of different ways.

Your organisation should offer a mix of both formal and informal recognition. An official programme that recognises both individuals and teams will support the objectives and strategic goals of the individual, team, department or organisation, while managers can use informal recognition every day to acknowledge contributions of individuals, teams and project teams.

Formal and informal recognition - what's the difference?

Informal employee recognition

Informal recognition is at the discretion of managers, and recognition should take place when it's merited. Informal rewards should be personalised, spontaneous, immediate, meaningful and consistent. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Say “thank you” in person – a sincere thank you for a job well done is an invaluable motivation tool. Do this often and be specific; for example, “you handled that client well, thank you”
  2. Hand-written letter of appreciation, with copies to the employee’s file
  3. Use the organisation’s newsletter as a way of acknowledging an employee, or post the message on a message board recognising accomplishments
  4. Give an employee a day off for a job well done
  5. Give an employee more autonomy, or more frequent assignment of responsibilities that they enjoy
  6. Offer flexible work schedules or work options, such as job sharing or allowing employees to work from home or off-site
  7. Provide an employee with a computer upgrade
  8. Offer to mentor the employee
  9. Opportunity for advanced training or attendance at seminars or conferences
  10. Reward with a non-cash bonus
  11. Special parking space near the office
  12. Tickets to local events
  13. Acknowledge work anniversaries
  14. Reward achievement with tasty treats - muffins or cookies at meetings, or bring in ice cream on a hot Friday afternoon. It doesnt' have to be all of the time – keep it spontaneous
  15. Take your team out to lunch after completing a project or at the end of a quarterly review

Formal employee recognition

The alternative to the spontaneous nature of informal recognition is to set up a formal recognition programme within your organisation. The following are basic steps for developing a formal recognition programme:

  1. Be realistic. Set clear, realistic and measurable objectives such as increasing sales, improving customer service levels or obtaining better customer feedback
  2. Think about programme structure and design. Determine what accomplishments will be recognised and how often rewards will be made
  3. Tailor your scheme. Provide the right rewards for your target audience. Get employees involved in the choice of scheme, but remember to focus on recognition rather than reward
  4. Promote your rewards scheme effectively. Communication is the key to a successful scheme. Communicate with your audience in a style appropriate to your organisation’s culture
  5. Continue to manage your programme. Continually analyse programme effectiveness and incorporate employee feedback. Be prepared to adapt your scheme to the changing needs of your employees
  6. Share your success. Sharing success stories around the company will not only drive participation, but it shows that the scheme is a continued priority within the organisation

Find the Recognition Scheme Your Sales Team Will Love