6 Ingredients Every Employee Recognition Program Needs

Written by
George Dickson
George Dickson

Just like any good recipe, an effective employee recognition program requires a series of important ingredients. Each ingredient plays a crucial role in producing a successful outcome. Here's are six ingredients that can make a huge difference in the results of your staff recognition plan:

1. Frequency

For employee recognition to be truly effective, it must be frequent. Employees make countless contributions to your organization on a daily basis.

Each of those contributions deserve recognition. When recognition is withheld, the employee making that contribution is given a signal that those contributions aren't valued—even if they are.

Why is this?

Employees aren't mind readers. It's important for them to hear their efforts are appreciated.

2. Spontaneity

Spontaneity is key to an effective staff recognition system.

Here's why it's so important:

Spontaneous recognition encourages sustained performance. If you can't predict the next time you'll be recognized, but you know your efforts generally are, you're encouraged to make regular contributions the team will value. Each contribution is an opportunity for praise and recognition.

Recognition based on a schedule or rubric will inevitably lead to missed opportunities.

If you're recognized on a schedule, you're likely to make contributions according to that timeline. If recognition is based on a rubric, you're less likely to make creative contributions, because the incentive lies in making very specific contributions.

3. Visibility

Visibility is a crucial element of any great staff recognition program. It's not just important because public praise is a powerful motivator.

Each piece of visible recognition given is a teachable moment for everyone else.

If an employee makes a contribution that is valuable to the team, or the organization as a whole, it's important to showcase that contribution as an example for others to emulate.

4. Measurability

As with any program you're implementing, it's absolutely critical that you can measure its effectiveness. You may have an employee recognition program that everyone on the executive team is in love with. There are often staff appreciation programs that are in place, simply because they're 'tradition.'

While it's valuable to have and maintain traditions; most still benefit from evaluation.

Something that worked well in the past may not work as well in the present or future. If you do already have programs in place, make sure you're evaluating their effectiveness.

Here's a hint: if you can't provide a reasonably solid answer as to a program's effectiveness, that's a red flag.

5. Specificity

Why is specificity so important? Isn't it good enough to tell someone they've done a great job?

In short: no, it's not.

Giving vague recognition is better than nothing, but you're robbing yourself of a huge opportunity.

The more specific a piece of recognition is, the more useful it is to an employee. If you say, "great job, Sandra," then Sandra knows she's appreciated, but not exactly what she's appreciated for. With each layer of specificity, you're giving your employee a better understanding of what the team values, and giving yourself a better-trained and informed employee. Make sure you're mentioning what it is that you value:

"Great job, Sandra. Your ability to engineer elegant solutions to our greatest challenges is priceless."

This is much better and more specific, but still missing one crucial layer of specificity. Sandra knows overall what it is that you value, but she may not know which solution made such an impression, or what kind of impact it had. Make sure to mention that:

"Great job, Sandra. That hotfix you pushed resolved an issue that affected thousands of customers. You've improved our users' experience, and saved the support team countless hours of extra work. That kind of contribution is invaluable to everyone here."

Now Sandra knows (and knows that you understand and value) the breadth of impact her contribution had.

6. Cultural alignment

It's also important for the recognition you're giving to be aligned with the culture of your organization, and the culture of your staff.

Recognition that doesn't align with your organization's goals and culture won't help build it.

For example: if your company states customer experience as crucial element of its culture, make sure to highlight and reward employee actions that contribute towards that goal.

This isn't to say that contributions made outside narrowly-defined boundaries of your organization's goals and culture. The important thing is to think about how each action affects those goals and culture, and to recognize those which make a positive impact.

7. Engagement

Surprise! This seventh ingredient is one of the most important. Even with a very well thought-out and executed plan, if you don't have engagement, you don't have a program—you just have a plan.

Without engagement and participation, any recognition program will be dead in the water.

Luckily the first six ingredients on this list will almost always help ensure the last one is in place. Employees are much more likely to willingly participate in a program that fulfills this crucial list of ingredients.

Whether you're designing and developing your own employee recognition plan, or you're using a peer-to-peer recognition platform like Bonusly, adding these seven ingredients will dramatically increase its effectiveness.

Keep reading to get more inspiration for improving your company culture:

Read the Guide to Modern Employee Recognition

Originally published on September 21, 2015 → Last updated July 11, 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. ✨