10 tips for an effective employee recognition program for your small business

A good employee recognition program can help you build teamwork in your small business.

A good employee recognition program can help you build teamwork in your small business.

By Kelly Chesterson

These days, employee engagement is the holy grail of small businesses. But to build and sustain engagement, your employees need to know their efforts are appreciated and their contributions valued. Among the most effective methods for achieving this goal is implementing an employee recognition program that can transform a disconnected group of individuals into a high-performing team.

Here are 10 tips on implementing an effective recognition program for your small business:

-Decide on the behavior you wish to recognize. Honoring employees is important, but it’s crucial to identify the types of behavior that benefit your business. Whether it’s promoting sales, enhancing customer service or boosting brand awareness, tailor your program to reward behavior that furthers your strategic goals.

-Get everyone, including the executive team, fully on board. The idea for a recognition program may spring from human resources, but to be successful, everyone in the company must get on board. This is especially true for two groups: executive team members, who should publicly voice their support and appreciation for employees, and frontline managers, who may need some training in being able to recognize and salute outstanding employee effort

-Design a system for submitting employees’ names for recognition. The most successful employee recognition programs don’t require a mass of paperwork to nominate an individual for consideration. Put together an online form (ideally, no more than a single page), where someone can put an employee’s name up for consideration with clear-cut criteria on what he or she has done to merit consideration and how their actions benefit the company.

-Create a range of desirable awards. This isn’t necessarily the place to introduce cash as an incentive. Many effective programs offer gift certificates to gyms, trendy restaurants or some other desirable experience. Remember, it’s the recognition itself that truly matters.

-Launch the program with considerable fanfare. Make a big splash prior to launching your recognition program. Explain the nomination process, introduce a range of awards, and demonstrate excitement about how this ongoing program will enhance the company culture and get people engaged in the workplace.

-Introduce a variety of categories to keep interest high. As the program evolves, consider different types of recognition, such as peer-to-peer, years of service milestones, workplace safety, sales incentives and on-the-spot recognition.

-Publicly announce and celebrate the winners. Making a selection of employee award winners is a great occasion for public fanfare. Set aside time during an all-staff meeting to announce the winner(s), describe the behaviors for which they’re being honored, and invite them to speak (if they want to). The more interest leadership shows in these events, the more interest will be spurred among employees.

-Maintain enthusiasm through ongoing communications. Once the initial excitement has died down, it’s up to HR and other departments to keep enthusiasm. Schedule regular presentations outlining new developments in the program — or introduce new recognition categories — and keep awareness high through social media posts, newsletter articles, intermittent messages from the CEO, and so on.

-Keep things simple. As with any new program, there’s a risk of adding new rules and regulations to stay in sync with company policies. Wherever possible, resist adding layers of bureaucracy to the recognition program, so as to avoid discouraging employees from participation.

-Practice “spontaneous recognition.” An official recognition program shouldn’t preclude an inclination for managers and senior leadership to engage in spontaneous recognition and reward. For example, if you see an employee engaged in a moment of outstanding customer service, don’t wait to nominate her at a later date. Single her out for praise, and make sure others in the company understand why you’re doing so.

The cumulative effect of creating an employee recognition program and spontaneously recognizing individuals is the steady evolution of a company culture that appreciates and values its workforce — just the kind of workplace culture that talented job seekers are looking for these days.


Kelly Chesterson is the vice president of Operations for Point Recognition. Kelly holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Baldwin-Wallace College and is a Certified Engagement Practitioner. She has worked in the reward and recognition industry for more than eight years.


  1. thanks for the information

  2. varun gupta says:

    thanks for sharing this tips

  3. Thank you for the tip about having an online form submission you can use to submit employees’ names for recognition. My sister has been thinking about putting an award system in place in her rapidly growing company, to show her appreciation for those that go above and beyond. I will send this article to her, maybe that will give her some ideas on how to do just that.

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