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Make it meaningful – it’s all in how you do it (and here’s how)

In a previous blog, we described first-hand what a recognition culture shift looks like and promised to share some secrets to getting the biggest bang for your recognition buck.

Make the reward meaningful

If you’re going to go through the cost and effort associated with a formal recognition award program, make sure that award is meaningful and significant to the recipient. The definition of meaningful can have as many meanings as you do employees on your team. There should be enough variety to delight a multitude of tastes and preferences. In other words, something for everyone.

One poor example of a program fail is an abundance of flashlight and binocular selections made by the recipients. These were the two most popular rewards on the program. Now think for a second. How meaningful is a flashlight for a recognition award? Will they remember a memorable occasion for years to come? Now, in all fairness, this was a decade ago, and things have changed for the better today.

Today we have experiential rewards! Work2Live’s Lifestyle Spending Account (LSA) has something to fit everyone’s idea of delight, from soothing relaxation to riveting adventure. Some of the experiences can change a person’s very being, and that is something that they will remember and associate with the company for the rest of their lives. Scroll down and browse to see the kinds of rewards in the program or request a demo to learn more.

Think outside of the box when appropriate

We understand that some good deeds are worthy of recognition but don’t necessarily fit the criteria for the program. We’ve seen some great things done that go through the motions of a formal recognition with something small from a discretionary budget.

Some things that went over big without any significant expense are:

  • Leave work early

  • Traveling trophy

  • Surprise manicures

  • Nobody hates complimentary lunch

  • Certificates/cards

If you find yourself looking quizzically at some of these, take the cards and certificates, for example. If you looked around the department and observed what is on display at people’s desks, you’re bound to find a couple of thank-you cards with a personal note inside. You may find that those cards have been there for years! People cherish these notes as reminders that they are appreciated. The idea is knowing someone enough that they know you thought of them individually.

Love don’t cost a thing

Finally, even with no funds readily available, never underestimate the value of a high-five. With absolutely nothing tangible in your hands, get the group together, express your praise and wrap it up with a round of cheers. The end result benefits the recipient and the team as a big burst of motivation for all.

The magical recognition formula

When it comes to proper recognition, there are just a few details that make all of the difference when received:


Have you ever gotten tired of being praised? We promise you that it never gets old for your team, either. Remember that according to Gallup research, your high performing teams receive praise weekly from their leadership.

Take advantage of any moment someone on your team is “caught being good” and make it a thing. You don’t have eyes in the back of your head, so encourage your team to start nominating each other’s good deeds that you may not have had the privilege to observe yourself. Collecting good deeds serves you two-fold as well. First, you get the opportunity to recognize your team member. Second, you have something positive to add in the file for annual reviews that you may never know otherwise.

Use praise and recognition as a way to motivate and encourage behaviors you would like to see repeated. Look at it as an excuse for celebration instead of a chore, and everyone loves good news!

Be Specific

One of the most frequent errors when recognizing is being too general. It’s the specificity that breeds sincerity of recognition. Always be specific when giving recognition!

Here’s an example that missed the mark: “Hey Debbie – great job yesterday”

What did Debbie do yesterday? She was working for 10 hours. Which moment or task was exceptional? Did Debbie know? Did anyone else on the team know? She probably responded with something like “umm, thanks.”

When we recognize an employee for a job well done, thinking out of the box, or anything beyond our expectations, we want them to KNOW that we understand the details around that accomplishment or extra effort. For that, we have a simple formula to apply when crafting your recognition message.

Step one

The first part of your recognition is to specify the details of the scenario leading up to the accomplishment:

“Debbie, I heard you handled a difficult issue yesterday that almost lost us a customer.”

Step two

Describe what the employee behavior that was exceptional:

“Your fast thinking to get in touch with the delivery driver not only diffused a tense start, but you managed to upsell her service before your call was over.”

Step three

Wrap it up with the value of the action to the company and values:

“Your actions and results yesterday are a perfect example of what it means to us to put the customer first. You not only saved us a customer, but you grew our business.”

Step four

Wrap it up with a sincere statement of thanks.

“Thank you for your can-do attitude you demonstrate for our customers!” feel free to insert a high-five for bonus sprinkles.

Now how did that sound compared to “good job yesterday”?


Timeliness is our final piece of making recognition meaningful. It’s critical to praise as soon as possible, preferably while the glow of the accomplishment is still shining. Waiting too long to apply recognition can lose effectiveness with the recipient and a wonderful moment fizzles away.

If you are just now learning about something that occurred weeks ago, by all means, run right over and add that to your opening statement:

Debbie, I just learned about the brilliant way you handled a tense situation with a customer last month.” (keep going with the rest of the formula)

Share your appreciation as soon as possible so the entire team can share in and enjoy the glow of accomplishment. Another benefit of specificity goes to benefit other team members. Your detailed appreciation message squashes unspoken thoughts of favoritism. This detail enhances the message to be more meaningful for the entire team.

As the culture starts to cultivate and grow, you will notice appreciation being shared not only by management but also between colleagues as a standard practice. As you reach that pinnacle, you will know that your recognition program is finally starting to affect your employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention positively.

Now, go have some fun!

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