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In my previous post, I discussed ways to develop a Culture of Recognition and thanks to everyone for reading!  I am a firm believer in developing an organizational culture that focuses on acknowledging people’s contributions and, as Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner say in A Leader’s Legacy, no one likes being overlooked, ignored or dismissed.  And certainly no one likes to be taken advantage of.  In particular, everyone wants to be significant (pg. 11).

Kinda makes you stop and think – how am I showing recognition?

There are various layers to recognition.  Beyond outwardly expressing appreciation and saying thank you, there are both informal and structured recognition approaches.  To me, these are like rungs on a ladder and each step gives each action a bit more credibility.  Jumping directly onto the top rung of the ladder can actually do more harm than good. You want people to always feel that recognition is being given from the heart, that you are genuinely wanting to recognize someone’s contribution and there is nothing contrived about it.  Skipping rungs on the ladder and moving directly to a structured program can make the recognition feel artificial, obligatory and disingenuous. I would hazard a guess that this is not what you are going for!

So, let’s assume that you have mastered the art of saying thank you, recognizing milestones and providing ongoing feedback about the impact someone’s contribution is having on the business.  Here are some ideas about what the different rungs on the ladder can look like as you move up towards creating a culture of recognition.

Informal Recognition Tips

  • Flexible Schedules:  let people start and stop their work day based on what works for them.  Allowing working parents to share drop off and pick up responsibilities at school can potentially eliminate the need for day care.  Trust me, this is huge for parents!  Does it really matter to the function of the employee’s job if they work 6 am to 3 pm instead of 8 to 5?  Or maybe it will make the world of difference to someone if they are allowed to extend their lunch hour by 30 minutes a couple of times a week so that they can attend a Pilates class. You know they can be trusted to make up the time by the end of the week.  Providing a flexible schedule to allow for a healthy employee is money in your pocket in things like less sick time and improved mood.
  • Special Projects:  make a point of giving projects to staff that allow them to grow and use skills in new areas.  Maybe you have a staff member who loves to plan events but that isn’t part of their job.  Ask them to join the planning committee for your customer appreciation wine and cheese or your staff annual BBQ.  Give employees an opportunity to get involved in areas they are passionate about and they will equate that passion to their overall enjoyment with work.
  • Volunteering:  provide staff with time off to contribute back to their community.  It is proven that people who volunteer live longer and are more satisfied with their lives. Check out this article from BC Living that discusses the health benefits of volunteering.
  • Communicate:  as discussed, thanking staff one on one goes a long way.  As you move up the ladder of recognition, you can also create opportunities to thank staff more publicly.  Perhaps it is a mention in your quarterly newsletter or an email blast that is sent company wide when a project completes.

A great resource to come up with more informal strategies for recognizing the contributions of staff is the book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees.  Some of them are a bit over the top and some of them are perfectly easy, appropriate and fun to do.

Structured Incentive Programs
As you continue up the ladder of recognition, you may decide that a more structure incentive program would add value to the informal strategies that you are using which have become embedded in your people management culture.

There are programs that you can get involved with that allow you to provide employees with gift cards towards purchasing items.  According to an article on, these kinds of programs are gaining in popularity.  These might be used for events such as the birth of a baby, the achievement of a significant number of years with the company, or perhaps recognition for an ongoing demanding workload and the employee has risen to the challenge in an extraordinary way.  Just because it is a structured program, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stay within a box.  In one company I worked for, we actually sent a gift card to the spouse of an employee because we wanted to recognize her contribution to the company as her husband had been traveling extensively for months which was above and beyond what was normally expected.  We considered her to be a key member of the team when it came to making that work load and schedule work.

Here are some gift card programs.  I don’t personally have experience with these programs, I just wanted to give you a sample of what you can find online.  I like these kinds of programs for a couple of reasons – one you don’t have to be physically in the same location as your employee so this is great for recognizing virtual team members and the other thing I like is that people have the pick of a variety of options and they can make the reward work for their needs, wants and likes.

Ribbon Gift Card program – part of Amway
Gift Tango
Kudos Now

Another great way to give recognition to an employee is to provide them with a KIVA gift card.  This allows them to provide a micro-loan to an entrepreneur from anywhere in the world.  It is the gift that keeps on giving and is an empowering way to show employees that you think beyond your own world and want them to have an opportunity to make an impact on other’s worlds as well.

A low cost way to be able to provide a thank you in the moment is a Starbucks Gift Card.  I received one recently as a thank you for a presentation I made to a group of students. I was happy to donate my time but it sure felt nice the next time I purchased a latte to know that I had made a difference in someone’s day and they thought enough of what I did to buy me a coffee!

There are lots and lots of ideas I have on how to show recognition to employees and I could go on and on!  Lots of people have written great articles and blog posts about this as well so I thought I would share with you some of my favourites!
The Power of Positive Employee Recognition – article on

Thanks for taking time to think about employee recognition.  You are already up one rung on the ladder just by thinking about it and considering some of these ideas!

Do you have other ideas you have tried? What has worked for you?  What have you done that didn’t work?  Stories from you are always welcome!

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