5 Peer-to-Peer Recognition Ideas Prone to Catastrophic Failure

Written by
George Dickson
George Dickson

Most leaders implement their peer-to-peer recognition ideas with the best of intentions at heart, but that doesn't mean their plan is solid.

Although peer recognition is one of the most efficient and impactful ways to recognize all the contributions being made across an organization, it can fizzle, and even backfire, when it's implemented poorly.

Here are five peer recognition ideas that are likely to fail, why're they prone to failure, and how you can improve on them:

1. Winner-take-all competitions

Winner take all recognition

Although some healthy, spirited competition can be useful here and there, winner-takes-all peer recognition plans are destined to fail. Here's why:

They can only motivate a small fraction of a team. Every employee will eventually realize where they sit in the rankings, and whether or not they have a chance of winning. If they don't have a strong chance of winning, they won't feel a strong incentive to participate.

They can motivate employees to consciously decline to recognize their peers. If they're pushing themselves further down the rankings each time they recognize a colleague's contributions, employees will feel less motivated to give that recognition.

If you want sustained engagement with your peer-to-peer recognition program, make sure everyone is being rewarded. It's important to recognize and reward top performers appropriately, but equally crucial to reward everyone else for great the work they do.

2. Unequal power distribution


It's common for managers and others in leadership positions to expect their opinions to carry more weight, but in a peer-to-peer recognition program, they shouldn't.

Part of the magic of peer-to-peer recognition is the equality it promotes. When there's a major discrepancy between the value behind the recognition certain members give, the weight behind the recognition they give is perceived to be considerably larger.

Unequal power distribution undermines the foundation of peer-to-peer recognition. Under an unequal power dynamic, peer-to-peer recognition gives way to top-down recognition. Participants in a program like this aren't incentivized to make contributions that their peers appreciate; they're incentivized to compete for the favor of their boss.

You can avoid this by ensuring that everyone who participates in the program has an equal ability to show their appreciation, and that everyone's appreciation carries the same weight.

3. Boring rewards—or none at all

Rewards are a crucial element of any effective peer-to-peer recognition program. The recognition participants receive is the most impactful element of a program, but without some kind of tangible value attached to the recognition, engagement is likely to plummet. 

How do we know that? We tested it.

Gamification Deficit

By their eighteenth month, companies that went with non-tangible "kudos" or "pat on the back" recognition, with no real-world value as their reward, saw participation rates that were 50 percent lower than those that chose tangible rewards.

Sure, a digital "pat on the back" is probably going to perform better than nothing at all, but it's not going to outperform a peer recognition system with real rewards.

You don't have to break the bank to provide meaningful rewards, either. Check out this list of low-cost, creative rewards you can offer.

4. Exclusivity

The more people participate in a recognition program, the better. If your peer-to-peer recognition idea excludes members of your team who would willingly participate, you're missing out on a great opportunity.

Just like each member of your team makes unique and valuable contributions to your organization, each member also provides a unique perspective on the contributions their colleagues make.

Give everyone a chance to participate, whether they're senior executives, or new hires on their first day. Doing this will improve the cohesiveness of your team, and the effectiveness or your recognition program.

5. Mandatory fun


Everyone's idea of fun is different, but the one thing most people can agree on is that mandatory fun isn't.

Forcing people to unwillingly participate in a system, even one that is designed to be enjoyable, is a surefire way to produce poor results and inspire poor engagement. Those who are actively disengaged with can even negatively impact the engagement of others.

A great peer-to-peer recognition idea is one that your team will find irresistible to participate in, but isn't forced into.

How do you come up with one that good?

Feedback is a gift. Learn to accept it—even crave itand use it constructively to improve your program. The harshest critics of your current program might have only one sticking point, and their point could be valid.

In summary

Peer-to-peer recognition is an incredibly impactful engagement tool, but just like any powerful tool, it's important to understand what makes it work and play to its advantages. Take a look at your current peer-to-peer recognition initiative, and make sure you're giving it the best chance for success.

Want to keep reading? Check this out:

Getting the Most from Peer Recognition

Originally published on February 10, 2016 → Last updated March 28, 2019

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George Dickson

George is dedicated to strengthening organizational cultures with thoughtful leadership and frequent recognition. George formerly managed content and community at Bonusly.


Bonusly is a fun, personal employee recognition and rewards program that helps people feel engaged and successful at work. ✨