What makes an employee recognition program succeed? What makes one fail? A successful employee recognition program is characterized by widespread adoption, employee engagement, and satisfaction. Conversely, the failure of such a program looks like spotty involvement, lack of buy-in, and lackluster response.
If you were to analyze every success and failure your business has had, you’d learn something from each of them. However, in nearly every case, you could attribute the outcome to a single cause: Communication, or lack thereof.
There are three phases of any employee recognition program. These are the pre-launch, launch, and post-launch. During each of these phases, communication efforts mustn’t miss a beat. This article will go over some points to help you create a phased communication strategy that aligns with your employee engagement activities and succeeds every time.
Before you begin to look at each phase individually, it helps establish some general, more inclusive goals. Every organization should aim to have their communication be:
- Continuously refined based on employee feedback and other data
- Aligned with the overall recognition strategy
These goals, and any others you establish, should serve as a focal point during every phase.
That is where you will be introducing your recognition program to your organization. Here, you want to educate, build up the enthusiasm that elevates team culture, and earn the buy-in of stakeholders. If you can’t accomplish these things, you’re already stumbling out of the gate.
Recognition Program Education
You’ll want to tailor education about your recognition program to the needs and concerns of each stakeholder and imagine the process from their point of view. Chances are, they’re going to wonder how the program works, what’s expected of them, and what’s going to change. Executives will want to know how much it will cost, and the anticipated return on investment. (If you need to take a step back, here's more information on Making the Business Case for an Employee Engagement Program.)
Consider doing a bit of internal market research. Reach out to a sampling of stakeholders and others in your organization, asking them for their questions or concerns.
Creating Enthusiasm and Earning Buy-In
You can use a recognition program to celebrate milestones and acknowledge achievements. However, unless you get people to care about these things, the effort will fall flat. Fortunately, the best approach may be a simple one. Create a clear, simple statement that communicates the value of the recognition program, and get it in front of everyone.
This is the “going live” stage. Your employee recognition program will be implemented at the organization level and pushed out to the different business areas or departments. Here, you want to get full participation, ensure that employees understand how the recognition program will work, and provide support and ongoing education.
Facilitate Communication and Education
At this point, you want to provide your front-line managers with the tools they need to educate their teams about the program. Consistency is key, especially with larger organizations, where it’s easy for messages and correspondences to take on a life of their own. Consider creating and distributing tutorial videos, manuals, and other assets that you can apply organization-wide.
Be Prepared for Questions, Concerns and Controversy
Even if you’ve managed to generate a high level of enthusiasm for your program in the pre-launch phase, you should expect some questions and confusion. Again, it’s crucial to maintain a consistent message about the purpose and value of the program when addressing these.
While you don’t necessarily want to offer scripted answers, you can anticipate questions or issues that may come up and offer some guidelines. For example, participants may ask the following questions:
- Do I have to sign up for this program if I don’t want to participate?
- What if I don’t like anything being offered?
- Is this recognition program being offered instead of raises or bonuses?
- Who do I speak with if I’m having technical issues with the program platform?
- What if I don’t get a reward that I was qualified to receive?
Confusion and frustration are often the byproducts of introducing something new and innovative. Maintain supportive and positive communication to smooth things over and guarantee a successful launch.
At this point, your program is solidly in place, and you’ve dealt with communication issues. Now that the new system is fully implemented, you may even see some employees earn their recognition.
It’s time to seek input from your workforce. Ideally, employee contributions should be clear, meaningful, and helpful. If you plan to continue with this employee recognition program in the future, consider creating an onboarding program. This will help new employees understand it and hopefully become enthusiastic about the opportunity to earn rewards or recognition for exceptional performance or reaching certain milestones. Finally, this is the stage at which you will finalize documentation to create a reference for anyone who has questions or concerns.
Phased Communication Is Key
It is vital to tailor your recognition program communication according to the phase of your rollout. Each stage will include a unique set of challenges and a different group of people who need to be reached. As you create your communications strategy, consider who the participants and stakeholders will be at each step. Take an empathetic approach. That way, you can be sure your communication plan addresses their concerns and that you can best convince them of the program’s value.
Measuring the Effectiveness of your Communications Plan
For more information about gauging the success of your communication efforts, read How to Measure the Effectiveness of Your Communication Plan.