by Razor Suleman | June 17, 2011
In the past few years there has been a significant shift in the objectives and delivery of recognition programs. While years of service programs remain the most common, according to a WorldatWork survey conducted in May, performance-based recognition programs are on the rise, up nine percent since 2008. To successfully achieve the goal of driving performance and motivating specific behaviors, managers are required to play an increasingly active role. Rather than passively thanking employees for sticking around for 10 years with a generic certificate or lapel pin, they must provide thoughtful and specific feedback that will result in both increased morale and productivity.

In a recent CareerBuilder survey, 1 in 4 managers reported that they were not ready to become a leader or to supervise others at the time of their promotion and 58 percent haven't received any management training. How can we expect managers to effectively provide recognition and champion their teams to success when many of them feel unprepared to do so? 

Many of us are familiar with the saying, “employees leave managers, not companies.” Recognition is a critical part of the workplace relationship, and with a little guidance it can be used to ensure that employees don’t feel the need to leave at all. WorldatWork's 2011 Trends in Employee Recognition found that only 14 percent of organizations provide training on recognition to managers. This small minority is on the right track, but for the 86 percent of organizations who are failing to amply prepare their management team, here are the essential training and communication tools that will help yield the highest return from a recognition program:

Understand managers’ concerns and hesitations
Start by soliciting feedback from managers to understand their awareness of the role of recognition in driving performance. Gauge whether they believe it is an important part of communication and offer research on how it helps improve productivity and shapes the way employees work. Pinpointing hesitations such as managers feeling they can’t provide meaningful recognition or believing they don’t have time will help address potential obstacles to making a program stick and outline necessary training topics. 

Facilitate identification of desirable behaviors
The end goal of performance-based recognition is to increase the repetition of desirable behaviors, but only 55 percent of respondents to the WorldatWork survey indicated that there was a formal, written strategy for their program. Assist managers in identifying what behaviors are required for success in their particular department or field of work. This will provide a framework for the recognition and feedback they will provide.    

Walk through program deliverables 
A handbook that outlines your program is a great reference tool, but it shouldn’t be relied on. If the program is online, provide a demo session. If recognition will be delivered during department meetings, provide an example of what managers might announce. There is no substitute for in-person and hands-on training. Both strategy and tactics should be well communicated, with examples and a Q&A to ensure that the what, when, why, where, who and how are understood. 

Set positive, immediate, certain (PIC) guidelines
Best practices indicate that recognition should be positive, immediate and certain, but performance conversations all too often focus on negative, less than satisfactory results. Encourage managers to use frequent validation of successful results to influence future behavior. Offer examples of specific and meaningful recognition (i.e. “Your sense of urgency in response to our customer’s difficulty redeeming for their reward exceeded expectations and I was impressed with your level of professionalism in handling his request”) so that managers don’t resort to something vague (i.e. “Great job today.”)

Provide go-to recognition templates
Many managers, especially those who feel unprepared to be leaders, don’t feel they have the time to get through their own work let alone recognize their team. Using ready to go templates and vehicles for recognition will increase the frequency of its practice. Providing branded company cards for managers to give on-the-spot recognition or an online feedback portal that allows managers or peers to submit recognition for a job well done takes the pain out of these tasks and ensures that no success goes unnoticed.

Make recognition a formal part of communication 
Setting a rhythm is extremely important to make a recognition program stick. Gallup’s Q12 report advises that recognition should be provided at least once every seven days. Make it a customary part both of company culture and manager feedback by including it in meetings and events. Host a monthly recognition luncheon, have managers spotlight individual successes during a company-wide meeting, or establish it as a part of one-on-one sessions. By providing platforms for recognition, it will become a self-sustaining initiative.   

Arming managers with skills to practice effective recognition will be better prepare them to coach their teams to success and expand the reach of your recognition program. The outcome of a recognition training program? More participation, more buy-ins and more results.