Creating Meaningful Employee Recognition that Motivates and Resonates

Like the TSA announcements at airports – “see something, say something”, you might think when you see positive behaviors by your peers or employees, you should automatically recognize them for great work. Put the brakes on before you steamroll your good recognition intentions! It’s mission critical to learn your employees’ and colleagues’ likes, preferences and needs before you acknowledge them for their wonderful achievements. Your focus should be to create meaningful employee recognition that motivates and resonates.

How Do They Like to be Recognized?

You need to become a great observer. This means becoming an investigative journalist or budding Sherlock Holmes. You must be all ears and eyes when employees share about their hobbies, family, personal interests and career aspirations.

If you’ve read Dr. Paul White’s book The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, you’ve discovered concepts like Words of Appreciation, Quality Time, and Acts of Service, as just some ways employees would like appreciation expressed. Employees can take the Motivating By Appreciation™ Inventory and highlight their preferred and secondary languages of appreciation and identify which language they prefer the least.

Knowing this information, you won’t fall into the trap of giving everyone the same recognition the same old way you’ve done for the last several years. Finding out recognition likes and dislikes means asking direct questions in a face-to-face meeting: learning their favorite food items, do they prefer personal notes from their manager, lunch with their immediate supervisor, or perhaps movie tickets or gift cards.

Would they like to receive a formal award at a formal celebration event, or perhaps something more casual like a potluck with their co-workers? If an employee does not like surprises you better find out so you don’t suddenly spring a recognition moment on them.

What Do You Know Motivates Them?

Always look, listen and learn what motivates employees, either directly or from others who work with them.

You happen to hear how John is a budding carpenter, and how Maria is getting married in September. You notice a picture of a young, smiling family in Rashida’s office, and you can’t miss the golf pictures, trophies, and memorabilia spread all over Mark’s cubicle.

These items provide clues to what might be possible tokens of appreciation when a recognition moment arrives. You might learn from John’s significant about a new carpentry tool he has his eye on, as an appropriate award gift to give to him. You know Rashida will greatly appreciate a half-day off so she can spend more time with her children.

From your own evaluations or from having employees take an assessment like CultureWorks® The Motivators Assessment™, you will learn the unique motivational drivers for each person. These motivators fall into clusters as to whether you are predominantly an Achiever, Builder, Caregiver, Reward-Driven or a Thinker.

It is always fascinating to see what these tools say motivates you. And it is even more valuable to learn what motivates co-workers so you can recognize them the right way.

Use this information wisely and you will create a meaningful employee recognition experience.

How Could You Make Your Recognition More Memorable for Them?

You have a gathered a lot of information on your employees. You’ve formatted a mental profile on each of their recognition preferences, motivators, and personal and work situations. Now, what could enhance the recognition experience for them that you can prepare for beforehand and acknowledge their wonderful contributions?

One great key is how you can make the recognition experience more memorable. Your job is to also create a memory of the recognition so the experience lasts beyond the actual moment. If a significant recognition award is being given, consider inviting significant others, family members and, of course, current and even former work colleagues.

Remember to capture and share the memory through pictures and video. Have friends at work write personal comments and compile the pictures and words in a printed book. A senior leader can be approached to present or send a personal letter acknowledging the employee. This can be sent after a meaningful employee recognition moment to help make the occasion linger a while longer.

Meaningful Employee Recognition in Action

One utility company approached me on how they could improve their milestone recognition presentations. Based on knowing their employees’ interests and preferences they identified the ideal design and motif for the giftwrapping paper. The fisherman received his gift in paper depicting fish and fishing. A woman who loved quilting received her gift in a quilted gift bag. Another who loved to read had paper with books all over it, and a bookmark for the gift tag.

I was told the recipients and everyone who attended talked more about the giftwrapping paper than the actual gifts received. After all, the service award recipients already knew what they were getting because they had selected their gifts. But the giftwrapping was an extra special touch that would never be forgotten.

Take the time necessary to collect the information you need to create meaningful employee recognition that motivates and resonates.



Roy Saunderson has spent most of his career showing people how to give others “real recognition”. He really is the Get Recognition Right® Guy. He is an author, consultant and speaker to organizations around the world from North America, Europe, Middle East and India. He serves as the Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute and has personally worked with Boeing, Credit Suisse, Disney, Intel, Johnson and Johnson, and the Canadian Federal Government leaders in getting recognition right. And the best recognition for Roy to get right is being a happy family man and being married to his lovely wife, Irene, for over 35 years and enjoying their five children and 11 grandchildren.

  • PensaNET

    Over the past couple of decades, while working with many business leaders who use professional recognition in there business models, it became apparent that most of them did not take much time to find out enough about the recipient to make quality presentations of awards.

    I am not a person who responds well to public recognition. I don’t feel like I need that kind of attention. It may be because I am so intrinsically motivated that the external reward seems almost fake. If the plaque, gift, or award is sitting on my desk with a well thought out note or letter however, I feel loved and appreciated.

    We all react differently to recognition because we are all experiencing life from perspective that each other could not see. But not matter our course and design, weather we are a “Achiever, Builder, Caregiver, Reward-Driven or a Thinker”, we all receive love from the recognition of our achievement.

    Remember, always take the time necessary to collect the information you need to create meaningful employee recognition that motivates and resonates.

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