by Brad Sytsma

Here at Terryberry, we’ve had a long understanding that in order to make an employee recognition program work, the program needs to become part of the company culture. Anything less would seem insincere to employees, or worse, make them feel they were being pandered to. World at Work research studies, Gallup polls, and any number of other independent employee engagement surveys have long said the same thing: employee recognition is the number one driver of employee engagement.

Authenticity is important for a positive company culture.

In this post we’re going to discuss the first step to making employee recognition work for your company. Making it more than a concept, more than a program, making it a real, solid, lasting part of your corporate culture.  And that starts with making it visible.

“If you are lucky enough to be someone’s employer, then you have a moral obligation to make sure people do look forward to coming to work in the morning.”

-John Mackey, Whole Foods

What messages do staff members and customers see in the workplace?

Your corporate culture is defined by the way your employees act, interact, and perceive the things happening around them in the workplace.  It’s pretty easy to tell what most companies emphasize to their employees the moment you walk into the building.  When you pass through the lobby, what’s decorating the walls? Maybe a giant logo festooned with graphics of the products being sold? Maybe a stenciled copy of the mission statement? Or maybe it’s pictures of the people that work there, their achievements and efforts? Once you get past the lobby, what are employee workspaces like? Have they been encouraged to personalize their space, celebrate their individuality? What’s hanging on the corridor walls? What’s the breakroom look like? Are people happy to be there?

Think about these things the next time you visit your bank, your dentist, or anyplace else you might do business. You may only get to see the lobby, the public face of the of the organization. But it’s enough to tell you what’s important. Now think about what your employees see when they walk into the workplace every single day.  What messages are you communicating?

“We can change culture if we change behavior.”

-Dr. Aubrey Daniels, Founder of ADI

Company culture change requires action.

If we want to make employee recognition part of the corporate culture, we need to take active steps to change and grow the existing culture.  If an employee walks through the lobby every morning and sees no reference to the company’s commitment to its employees; If they visit the breakroom and see nothing but government-mandated safety posters; If they walk through the halls each day without seeing anything directed toward making their time spent working there personally fulfilling, then we’ve missed out on the first big piece of creating a recognition culture.  It needs to be visible. Employees need to see it to believe it. A culture that includes employee recognition cannot exist if it can’t be seen. This may require a drastic change. But when those changes occur, when your employees walk through the door and encounter something new. They will see it. And they will take notice.

 “Culture does not change because we desire to change it. Culture changes when the organization is transformed; the culture reflects the realities of people working together every day.”

-Frances Hesselbein, Former CEO of Girl Scouts of the USA

Employee recognition programs can help drive company culture change.

So, what can we do to make a web-based employee recognition program more visible to employees? Well… Lot’s of things. Here at Terryberry, we like to say that our platform is built to recognize the Attitudes, Behaviors, and Contributions that matter most to your organization. What are those values? Do your employees know them? Some of our most successful customers display posters along their halls challenging employees to recognize someone for their Teamwork. Their Innovation. Their Integrity.  Others have conference rooms, break rooms, and other common spaces emblazoned with their mission statement or their commitment to their employees.

But it doesn’t take a graphic designer to make a culture of recognition visible to employees. It can start with much smaller things. A handwritten note. A framed certificate. An award announcement made in front of the team, department, company. All of these things speak volumes. These things mean something to employees and will make them take note. But they will only work if your leaders buy-in. And what’s the best way to show a leader that they need to take something seriously? If they see change too.

“Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person — not just an employee — are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.”

-Anne M. Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox

“Anything that is measured and watched, improves.”

-Bob Parsons, Founder of Godaddy group

When it comes to creating culture change, seeing is believing. Find ways to publicize your program. Find ways to promote its visibility. But make sure that you’re capitalizing on the areas of your program that promote your cultural message as well. Welcome emails, landing letters, award letters, marquee posts, announcements, award nomination descriptions, each of these areas is an opportunity to communicate culture to your employees. Helping them understand goals for the program, expectations for participation, how your company celebrates their achievements, and what’s expected of them as a member of your community.  The more effort you make into leveraging the program’s tools to make culture improvements, the more you can expect to see the results. And if you take the little changes seriously, the bigger changes will eventually follow.

But it doesn’t happen on its own. Culture isn’t passive. Culture requires action and a commitment to act again and again.

“When you’re in a small boat, you can see who’s paddling hard and who’s looking around.”

-Ev Williams, Co-Founder of Medium, Co-founder of Twitter

Don’t let a lack of visibility prevent your recognition program from reaching its full potential. Commit to making it a part of your corporate culture. The payoff will be worth the effort. And if you need help, please don’t hesitate to ask. Your Terryberry team is here to help.