The Value Of A Strategic Recognition Program [The Most Recent Data]

The strategic recognition program is a time-tested instrument for company culture management. Ideally, a strategic recognition program is a sound investment with a measurable ROI. However, there is a big learning curve for any organization with a fair amount of trial and error.

This article will walk you through the latest findings and best industry practices in employee recognition. 

Whether you’re just starting research on this topic, or looking for new ideas or arguments that will help you to achieve greater support and expansion of recognition activities within your organization, our goal is to share our knowledge for your success. We believe that employee recognition is one of the essential pillars of positive and productive company culture.

Table of contents

  1. Long-term trends that define modern employee recognition
  2. The capabilities of today’s employee recognition programs
  3. Traditional vs innovative recognition
  4. An innovative approach that helps to meet the strategic objectives
  5. The impact of strategically designed recognition programs
  6. Indications of the program success
  7. The positive feedback that serves strategic purposes
  8. Communication channels
  9. Rewards and recognition platforms that help to achieve strategic objectives
  10. Strategic recognition that helps to sustain through the crisis
  11. Concluding note

Long-term trends that define modern employee recognition

We live in a fast-paced digital world. However, we can confidently say that the stable focus across industries is in the following key areas that help improve employee experience across the board:

  • Big Data – organizations are now relying on hard facts and results to make actionable decisions that result in observable improvements throughout the organization;
  • Design Thinking – large organizations have started refocusing their efforts on design-related principles to drive desirable behaviors as they see a positive impact in growth;
  • Employee Experience – organizations are realizing that by engaging employees and improving their work lives, there is a direct impact on customer satisfaction;
  • Mobile-first Approach – program inclusivity means in particular that any employee can conveniently access it regardless of the work specifics. Before mobile technologies entered the field of employee recognition, deskless workers (who make up about 80% of the modern workforce) were virtually excluded from internal communication and many types of recognition activities. Modern rewards and recognition platforms make interactions instant and much more diverse, which substantially impacts the morale climate across organizations of all kinds.
  • Organizational Change Management – organizations are constantly going through change to keep up with the competition and stay ahead of market trends. Ensuring that organizational change is adopted and embraced by employees requires planning, communication, and management;

Any recognition program that you implement needs to take into account these focus areas to be truly effective. It needs to be easy and fun to use, it needs to add value to both the employee and organization, it needs to provide actionable data to continuously improve and engage employees, and it needs to be flexible to both drive and adapt to organizational change.

The capabilities of today’s employee recognition programs

A great and effective recognition program helps to:

  • Align both the company and the employee’s purpose and values
  • Create objectives and goals that will drive positive behaviors
  • Provide tools for employees and managers to perform their jobs well
  • Provide opportunities for employees to develop, grow, and enhance their careers
  • Provide analytical data that can be used to improve and grow methods of recognition

Traditional vs Modern Recognition

Many traditional recognition programs reward employees for the presence and not performance. This does very little to retain staff and reduce turnover when more and more people expect to be recognized for good work. 

Additionally, the data provided from these programs (if available at all) is not actionable in terms of improving engagement scores, driving performance, and therefore improving the employee experience.

Traditional recognition programs include:

  • Years of service awards – does not drive new employee engagement
  • Employee of the month – becomes a turnstile award
  • Holiday parties, birthdays, retirement parties – not performance-based

To drive performance in meaningful ways, a recognition program needs to be based upon your organization’s strategic objectives, customer experience, and cultural values. These program objectives would define how all recognition is awarded. 

Innovative approaches that help to meet the strategic objectives

While modern methods of recognition can take many forms and should be tailored to your organization’s unique needs, some universal rules help build a strategic reward and recognition program that will contribute to any organization’s success.

Implement technologies similar to those used in everyday life

  • Choose a recognition platform that replicates habitual patterns of communication, like chats, shared newsfeed, and other features of social media
  • Enable peer-to-peer acknowledgment
  • Maximize the reach of every recognition act by utilizing specialized rewards and recognition apps, emails or company intranet tools

Reach for the maximum personification

  • Offer a broad spectrum of rewards, including paid time off and merchandize related to employees’ hobbies
  • Implement a point-based rewards catalog, where employees can choose items which are the most relevant for them at some point in time
  • Provide recognition for yearly performance to the maximum amount of employees
  • Implement gamification algorithms to make recognition programs more engaging and fun for participants

Ensure the highest recognition frequency and reach possible

  • Acknowledge employees regularly and systematically to engrain recognition in the company culture
  • Recognition should be practiced equitably and consistently on all levels of the organization
  • Recognition programs should cover all workers across all company departments

Show employees opportunities for personal and professional growth 

  • Develop procedures that allow prospective employees to access opportunities for training to get expanded responsibilities or career promotion
  • Offer in-house training that allows employees to improve their skills necessary in their current roles
  • Start a mentoring program

The impact of strategically designed recognition programs 

One valuable outcome and reason for recognizing employees is that studies show that people who feel appreciated are more positive about themselves and their ability to contribute, i.e., employee recognition can boost productivity and increase satisfaction (Daniels, 1999; Darling et al., 1997; Nelson, 2005; Gostick & Elton, 2007).

The Effects of Employee Recognition, Pay, and Benefits on Job Satisfaction: Cross Country Evidence

Program success depends on the engagement levels, which, in turn, depends on how promising it looks for staff members at all levels of the corporate hierarchy. That’s why you need to align the program to both the organizations’ and the employees’ purpose and goals.

To ensure that the new recognition program meets staff expectations, you can use a number of tools to collect the insights:

  • Employee pulse surveys
  • Employee focus groups
  • Population surveys

To validate the plan and gain senior executive support, you’ll need to project the main outcomes:

  • Expected program reach
  • Estimated program budget
  • Which behaviors will be influenced
  • Impact on performance and productivity
  • How the program supports the organization’s strategic objectives

Strategic priorities could differ from organization to organization. Still, support and endorsement from the C-level executives will ensure the fast adoption of the recognition program designed to achieve the company’s goals. 

Indications of the program success

A successful recognition program drives measurable results in one or more of the following areas:

  • Improved communication between executives, management, and employees about customer solutions
  • Improved responsiveness to customers
  • Improved innovation in product offerings
  • Improved rollout of new product lines or enhancements
  • Improved quality of your product or services
  • Improved staff retention
  • Improved employee engagement scores
  • Improved Net Promoter scores
  • Better teamwork and communications internally that streamline processes

It’s useful to report significant program results company-wide with details essential to each staff category. For example, highlighting success stories with following friendly discussion in the chat within the recognition platform would help to sustain employees’ interest in the program.

Download our free whitepaper to learn how a well-design recognition program could help minimize employee turnover


The positive feedback that serves strategic purposes

Recognition is first and foremost a constructive response; it is also a judgment made about a person’s contribution, reflecting not just work performance but also personal dedication and engagement. Lastly, recognition is engaged in on a regular or ad hoc basis, and expressed formally or informally, individually or collectively, privately or publicly, and monetarily or non-monetarily.

An analysis of employee recognition: Perspectives on human resources practices

Strategic recognition is a type of positive feedback tied to your organization’s values, mission, or goals. We’d suggest following a particular structure of public or personal praise to align it with strategic purposes:

  1. Briefly describe the achievement. Just one or two sentences so everyone can understand the context. 
  2. Write how it supports company values, culture, or team spirit.
  3. Explain how this achievement helps the team to progress towards the common goals of the whole organization.

Public announcements compiled according to the above will help indicate the role models, remind everyone about the joint mission, and show how anyone can make an impact.

Communication channels 

Сonsidering the specificity of modern communication in general, there are two most efficient ways to show appreciation: face to face or in front of the broadest possible audience. Under the second scenario, managers or peers can:

  • Send an email including colleagues from a department, unit, or even company (the most old-school option)
  • Write a message in a corporate chat (less old-school, but a bit dull)
  • Or create a publication in a specialized app for rewards and recognition (the most innovative option) 

This is what a thank-you publication will look like in the app created by Online Rewards:

Image source

Rewards and recognition platforms that help to achieve strategic objectives

To truly be effective in employee recognition, companies need to continuously track and manage the feedback and data from their recognition programs to improve the employee experience. 

Many modern SaaS platforms combine multiple types of recognition programs under one umbrella. It helps to reduce costs and conduct comprehensive and actionable analytics so recognition efforts can be aligned, redundancy eliminated, and executive leadership can have a seamless view of recognition efforts across the organization. 

But besides analytics, an effective SaaS platform for rewards and recognition should also create a favorable institutional environment, enable the collection of creative ideas, help employees to get 360-degree feedback on their performance, and much more.

Key features of a platform that supports strategic HR goals and falls in line with the long-term trends in employee recognition include:

Peer-to-peer recognition

  • Employees can recognize each other thereby building unity and camaraderie
  • Employees can nominate coworkers for awards, thereby driving a culture of compassion, appreciation, and inclusion
  • Publicly visible recognition through social media creates a culture of appreciation
  • Employees can track their own improvements and scores as related to defined program objectives
  • Responsibility for an employee’s growth & performance is self-driven and valued

Referral awards

  • Some of the best employees can be referrals from current employees
  • Employees that provide referrals generally consider their place of employment a great place to work!

Innovation recognition

  • Driving innovation in the employee base is helping organizations to advance, be more competitive, and increase their customer demand
  • employees that help drive innovation in their organizations feel involved, valued, appreciated, and fulfilled

Effective recognition platforms are distinguished by high usability, a wide choice of awards, and general aesthetic appeal. Platforms that are hard to use end up being underutilized and undermine the programs’ success.

Strategic recognition that helps to sustain through the crisis

It might be tempting to cut back on recognition programs during global shocks such as the financial crisis of 2007–2008 or the COVID-19 pandemic might. But experience suggests that organizations that continue showing appreciation to their employees and help them feel safe and respected in the hard times outperform competitors in the long run.

Properly designed rewards and recognition programs help companies create a positive and productive company culture, an invaluable asset that can’t be copied by competitors.

According to Michael Armstrong, the UK’s bestselling author of Human Resource Management books, recognition schemes bring many benefits that create a positive domino effect throughout a company:

  • improve employee motivation 
  • reinforce financial rewards
  • make people feel valued
  • provide acknowledgment to company “rainmakers”
  • reward teams for strenuous and coherent work 
  • empower managers with tools for timely and meaningful incentives

“While we know that engaged employees generate results, recent studies demonstrate that employees who are recognized during a down economy actually remain more engaged and willing to contribute above and beyond. As the economy improves, companies with engaged employees will be better positioned to seize opportunities for growth”

Karen Renk, CAE, executive director of the IMA (Source)

Сoncluding note

Strategic recognition programs drive performance and bring measurable results. The most effective programs take into account the interests of all parties and are consistent with the business, social, and technical environment the company operates in.


  1. “10 powerful ways to improve your employee recognition” by Ari Kopoulos, HRM online 2017
  2. “The Effects of Employee Recognition, Pay, and Benefits on Job Satisfaction: Cross Country Evidence” Mussie T. Tessema, Kathryn J. Ready, Abel B. Embaye, Journal of Business and Economics, ISSN 2155-7950
  3. “An analysis of employee recognition: Perspectives on human resources practices” Jean-Pierre Brun, The International Journal of Human Resource Management
  4. Michael Armstrong, “Armstrong’s Handbook of Reward Management Practice”
  5. Nelson, Dr. Bob. Post Doctoral Research.
  6. Lowe, Graham. “How Employee Engagement Matters for Hospital Performance” Healthcare Quarterly 15.2 (2012)
  7. Watson, Towers. “Global Workforce Study.” 2012.



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