5 steps for creating an employee recognition program

Grow Your Business Jun 09, 2017

As a small business owner, you can develop an employee recognition program — similar to what larger corporations have — that will help you attract and retain talent. Start with a little forethought and planning, and you can help hard-working employees feel appreciated.

Several studies have shown that the reason most Americans leave their jobs is because they don’t feel appreciated. By implementing an effective employee recognition program, you could potentially reduce voluntary turnover. In fact, a Bersin and Associates survey* reported that “companies with recognition programs…have 31 percent lower voluntary turnover than their peers…”

These five steps can help you develop an effective and sustainable employee recognition program that can increase engagement, make employees feel appreciated and reduce turnover.

1.         Establish a recognition team.

Don’t try to develop a recognition program in a vacuum. Recruit a few people who can actively co-create the initiative. As a small business, you may not have a large HR staff, so get cross-functional involvement by employees at all levels. By involving the team from the beginning, they will feel a sense of ownership and will want to promote the program amongst their peers.

2.         Identify what you want to reinforce.

As a team, decide on the objective of your recognition program. Do you want it to reinforce individuals’ behaviors? For example, maybe you want to encourage employees who start and end meetings on time or who deliver exceptional customer service. Or, are you trying to boost individual performance in sales or manufacturing? Another option is to reward entire teams or the entire company for reducing spending, reaching growth goals or other macro-level achievements.

3.         Set attainable goals and clearly communicate expectations.

When you announce your employee recognition program, make sure each person knows what’s in it for them. Why should they care? The answer should go beyond the carrot at the end of the stick. Tell them how they are affecting change and growing the organization so they feel a sense of purpose. They want the company to succeed, and they want you to notice how much they care.

Make sure you set attainable goals. Start by looking at what’s reasonable to expect for your company, your industry and your people. If your competitors are growing by an average of 5 percent per year and you set a goal to grow your company by 20 percent, that’s probably unrealistic. As a result, employees will likely reject the program and feel defeated.

4.         Acknowledge the positive — and the negative — often.

Some people feel our society over praises, yet others leave their jobs for lack of appreciation. You have to find a balance. Creating an employee recognition program can certainly promote positive vibes, but don’t let it take the place of constructive criticism. After all, making positive changes requires us to first recognize where change is needed. Encourage a culture of constant improvement.

To sustain enthusiasm in your program and keep it genuine, make the rewards timely. If you only salute outstanding performance once a year, you may only see outstanding performance once a year. Your best bet is frequent reinforcement of incremental progress.

One option is to buy U.S. Bank Rewards Cards. They work just like a debit card. Cards are available online in the denomination of your choice — from $25 to $1,000. Not only is it convenient for you, but it provides employees with instant reinforcement and lets them choose a reward that’s meaningful to them.

5.         Make sure it works for your company.

Fine tune your program regularly by evaluating if it is motivating, if it is helping individuals and/or the organization achieve goals, and if it fits the culture you want to create for your company. There are lots of great ideas out there for employee recognition programs, but what works for one company doesn’t always work for another.

Want to learn more about rewards that employees appreciate? Find out now. (link to first rewards article)
For information on financial solutions to help you successfully manage your small business, visit usbank.com.*

Bersin by Deloitte, The State of Employee Recognition, 2012



Kelly Burkart is a freelance writer from Minneapolis, Minn. While she has spent most of her time writing about financial services the past 15 years, she has also explored and written about everything from cardiovascular health to travel, higher education and sustainable energy practices.

Article by KELLY BURKART, Content Strategist/writer