Recognition in the workplace shouldn’t be a difficult task for any attentive management team. Typically, the bare minimum is a regularly-timed appraisal in which accomplishments are highlighted and employees receive something for their efforts.
While the role of recognition is well understood by now, there are significant limitations in the timing, the detail, and the depth of implementation that top-down recognition can give. Limitations that can be greatly compensated for by using a more bottoms-up approach.
As you’ll see, many companies have turned to peer to peer recognition programs to supplement this, and with varying degrees of success. However, the data shows that when these programs are run right, the benefits to employee well-being, productivity, and contribution to company goals increase significantly.
So how does peer to peer recognition accomplish all this? Let’s take a look.
The Role of Recognition on the Work Environment
People respond to a sense of being valued. Fulfilling a role is one of the key elements to human well-being and in the workplace, this translates to improved mood, higher engagement, better productivity, and long-term company loyalty.
With the rise of remote work, this recognition is even harder to come by, and it’s easy for employees to get lost in the crowd and feel invisible. It is the role of recognition to pull people back into the team and to create that sense of value that is so easily lost.
Recognition in the workplace comes in many forms, but it’s often used to the opposite effect. When implemented badly, employees feel patronized, condescended to, or otherwise unpersuaded by the cursory and superficial approaches used by disingenuous well-wishers. Here are some pointers to recognizing employees in the right way:
- Be genuine – There is no fixed template for recognition; trying to follow one will be seen as insincere, regardless of whether it’s one-on-one, or in a mass email. Words are cheap, especially in the world of business, and employees know this better than anybody. A “Great job” email is not going to win you any friends, and it’s important to focus on the sentiment.
Sincere recognition involves details, and personalized messages, that reflect exactly why you’re grateful for their work. One step further could be a physical version of the recognition such as a card of gratitude, or even a gift card or free lunch. As long as the recognition is genuine, it will resonate.
- Use the right approach for the individual – Coming back to this idea of a template, there is no set medium for recognition either. Some people don’t want to be pulled up in front of a crowd and thanked. Others may not gain anything from a gift card to a store they don’t frequent. It’s important to tailor the approach to suit the person – this is about rewarding people for their work, so if the recognition isn’t rewarding, it can’t be effective.
- Facilitate recognition from within and across groups – This means fostering a workplace environment that encourages recognition between peers and between departments. Recognition from people on the same level can be even more powerful than when it comes from the top down.
Ultimately, all recognition needs to be sincere. This sincerity can be hard to navigate, especially when employees know that recognition from management can come from a financial motive. One of the most organic and genuine forms of employee recognition, therefore, comes from peers.
What is Peer to Peer Recognition?
Put simply, a peer to peer recognition program in the workplace is an HR management program, allowing employees to be recognized by their peers. It’s designed to benefit both employees and managers by creating a complimentary culture, in which recognition comes from people of the same position in the workplace hierarchy.
This approach has shown to be as effective as recognition that comes from management, and has the added benefit of being more organic; with recognition available on a day-to-day basis, and for small, incremental accomplishments. This is in contrast to a manager’s appraisal, for example, which may come in the form of yearly or quarterly assessments, and focus on the larger accomplishments over that period.
Peer to peer recognition, therefore, acts as a continuous supply of smaller motivations to promote a healthy and encouraging workplace environment. By facilitating and encouraging an increase in the number of positive interactions among peers, a program like this enhances trust and strengthens workplace relationships. When explored, these programs provide innumerable other benefits, company-wide.
Many organizations are employing peer to peer programs for workplace recognition, and many more are on their way to adopting such a system. Harvard Law School, Mindvalley, and Zappos are some big-name examples who have seen the success of this approach.
While these are well-run programs, the major challenges for most organizations come in the design and implementation, and this is something that needs to be addressed. Before we go into the challenges and how to mitigate them, let’s go further into detail about why peer to peer recognition is so important in the first place.
Why Having Peer to Peer Recognition is so Important
One of the most tangible and powerful benefits of the supportive, encouraging environment that’s cultivated with peer to peer recognition programs is the improvement in engagement and commitment. These both boost productivity and the effectiveness of the work completed. Engagement stimulates employees, increases their output, and results in better retention from the improved workplace experience, which also saves the company recruitment costs.
Continuous recognition also helps to reduce mistakes by creating a supervision culture, which is shown to promote a more attentive work ethic by encouraging people to work more carefully. This occurs by creating a lasting sense of self-reflection, as well as comparison with others, as employees are on the lookout for good work among their peers and strive to match it.
For managers, these systems help with performance appraisal, especially with long-distance management and remote work, which, in turn, help with talent spotting, hiring, and recruitment from within the company.
So, it’s clear that well-managed peer to peer recruitment ideas should serve both the company and its employees well. However, the managing of such a program commonly throws up challenges.
Peer to Peer Recognition Challenges
Understanding the challenges that are anticipated with any recognition program means, therefore understanding a little bit about the psychology of people and how we respond to encouragement, challenges, and other incentives. Here are some of the most common issues that come up in such a program:
- The system is biased towards familiarity – People are much more likely and ready to recognize good behavior in those they already have a good relationship with. This means disproportionally offering recognition to their friends and setting much higher thresholds for those unfamiliar or unfavorable to them. This, therefore, becomes a subjective measure of how much a person likes their peer, rather than how worthy of recognition they may be. As such, this becomes a system that isolates people who don’t fit in, can create blind spots at best, and cause friction points at worst.
- Another issue is when recognition becomes a transaction. This arises when people start offering it as an incentive for a favor or asking for it to be returned and reciprocated. Then, recognition becomes a currency in the workplace, and the system diverges from its original purpose.
- Whether overtly intended this way or not, people who receive recognition may also feel obligated to return it, even when it’s not warranted. This creates a sort of positive feedback loop, where recognition becomes worthy of recognition, and ultimately loses all significance.
- Therefore, the major challenges in peer to peer recognition ideas come from the prevention of the system being mutated into a system of benign flattery, in which the recognition serves no motivational or analytical purpose and can even cause more problems from within the group.
- These challenges are affected and manifest differently in different cultures too. Competitive, hierarchical environments may find it more difficult to collaborate on a peer to peer program than more equitable and company goal-oriented teams.
- Date also shows that implementing peer recognition is easier within companies with high-skilled workers, such as academic institutions or legal firms, and it’s also easier in larger companies than in small ones.
- One final challenge to anticipate comes from the nature of the work people do. Some work lends itself to incremental, recognizable tasks. Others, such as maintaining an IT system, are less visible and will not necessarily be picked up for recognition as often as something more obvious. Creating the criteria for recognition, therefore, becomes a challenge in itself
These are all essentially managerial challenges that can be worked with using some best practices, which we will now discuss.
Peer to Peer Recognition Ideas for Best Practices
Biases are inevitable. There is no way to run a company comprised of individuals and expect that individuality to take a back seat. Since the biases that come from this are the major source of the challenges we listed, the peer to peer examples we will go over shortly, and the following best practices for overcoming these biases will mostly focus on how to navigate despite them, rather than around them.
- Get people involved at the beginning – This program should be marketed as for the peers, by the peers, and as such, people should be heavily involved in the designing of it. Building from the bottom-up is the best way to reduce biases as much as possible and make sure there are the least misunderstandings. This approach also improves engagement in the project itself.
- Take your time - The challenge of bias is only worked through if you let it happen. Take a long-term approach to the system, and let errors arise and be worked with. When things don’t go to plan, review and where necessary, make adjustments. Again, involve peers in this.
- Consider this a culture-building exercise. If you need to reduce bias and competition to get it to work, then so be it.
- Don’t forget the ‘why’ – In your communications, make sure to make the reasons for why peer to peer recognition is important a major focus. Explain how you are being positively affected and how it helps the workplace setting as a whole. This point is important throughout the program, but particularly in its design, as a motivator for working together on it.
- Transparency – Don’t be afraid to point out things that have not gone as you expected. Create engagement and collaboration through the design of the program, and that momentum will roll into the utilization of it too. Transparency is the key to trust and teamwork.
- Consider the rewards – the program should promote intrinsic motivation. Offering financial or professional benefits as recognition switches the motivation to extrinsic drives for improvement, which will ultimately fail internally motivate employees, and can foster toxic sentiments and bad competition. Studies have demonstrated that peer recognition systems work well overall for motivating in-group helping and collaboration, but that with a little effort to add rewards strategically, they also help motivate out-group helping
- Consider the metrics – It’s equally important to be concerned with what you’re recognizing and how that affects company culture. Offering recognition for working late may be unethical as it creates internal pressure for people to do more than they are ethically obliged to in their job role.
- Rank the givers of recognition on Leaderboards (if you must) - Leaderboards are a contentious issue; it has been shown that employees who are ranked on a public system are actually less productive. Yet, managers all over the country still try to make use of leaderboards in an attempt to motivate employees. Using peer to peer recognition leaderboards may function, but as mentioned, only if the metric used to rank peers is the amount of recognition given. Still, this practice tends to force the issue, taking a lot of the significance away from genuine praise.
In summary, coming up with a good set peer to peer recognition ideas means taking a bottom-up approach and adjusting as you go, with as much involvement from employees as possible. Creating stakeholders at the start of the program is the best way to promote engagement in the program and set expectations and create an understanding of how it should work.
Here’s a look at how some of this might look.
Peer to Peer Recognition Examples
Remember, your program is a culture-building exercise. This means sharing perspectives, collaborating, and educating stakeholders in various elements of the company’s workings.
A company begins work on a peer to peer recognition program. They begin by holding an introductory meeting to the concepts of recognition and peer to peer involvement. Managers and employees are present, but the meeting is only nudged along by management; employees have fun designing and promoting their ideas and come away from the meeting optimistic and excited about the program.
Management arranges a role-changing event. Coworkers are given the opportunity to witness first-hand what the roles of their peers involved. Managers get involved too, where possible, and this is held as a semi-informal approach to recognizing the work that goes into each role. This also functions as an opportunity to learn new skills for employees and is followed up by a second meeting to hone in on the incentives and rewards of the program.
With new perspectives, the employees are better qualified to promote the rewards scheme, while management keeps them on track by blocking any ideas that promote extrinsic motivations. Management then facilitates for formation of an agreed-upon, easy to understand set of recognition criteria that everyone can agree on. This is set as short and straightforward as possible and is linked to company goals.
Another of the peer to peer recognition examples may involve no criteria at all and would leave the choice up to employees instead. This approach could involve a short criteria of things that are not considered worthy of recognition, such as working long hours, or anything else that is considered with the potential to promote unhealthy behaviors.
Management reminds employees to record the why of each recognition event so that the receiver feels valued specifically.
A review process is set up to further promote engagement in the long term, and to adjust various criteria where necessary. Following the best practices, coupled with the real-life experience of the stakeholders in the program, this is adjusted where necessary.
Over time, this creates a well-defined framework that is easily integrated with new employees as they join the team.
This entire system is integrated with the remote worker by way of handy technologies such as CultureBot’s Slack app. Employee recognition is simplified and shout-outs and rewards are accessible by employees, wherever they are.
Recognition is crucial for employee retention, productivity, and the company’s bottom line. These principles are well understood, yet the distribution, criteria, and implementation of recognition systems are often poorly formed.
By creating a collaborative peer recognition system with all stakeholders, you can foster the culture required to reap all the benefits of recognition, and have it run itself with minimal management. However, the challenges of creating such a program are not insignificant. Still, by following some of these best practices, and understanding a little about what to expect from your employees, you can form a program that reaches well beyond the physical walls of your organization, into your remote teams too.
😁 Stay happy & healthy,