People First HR Services

Saying thank you at work goes a long way

Colleen Coates

Studies show that when people feel appreciated and get recognized, they are more motivated and more productive. Greater productivity leads to better business results. If it’s that easy, why aren’t more organizations taking advantage of this opportunity to maximize business results?

There are many reasons why recognition is ignored. It can be seen as too difficult to manage and oversee, too hard to keep it from becoming an entitlement or simply too costly an investment. Recognition is often viewed as one of those intangible activities that many organizations have difficulty incorporating into their management practices.

Recognition is a key component of a comprehensive total rewards program, which includes compensation, benefits, performance, work-life and recognition programs, as well as professional development opportunities.

Each component of a total rewards program serves to assist the attraction, retention, engagement and motivation of an organization’s workforce. If even a single component of the total rewards program is missing, a valuable opportunity to capitalize on ways to provide a compelling offer to current or prospective employees could be lost.

Organizations should think of recognition as a strategic advantage. A recognition strategy can be one of the key differentiators in a total rewards program that helps engage and motivate employees (therefore inherently improving the ability to attract and retain). It is a long-term investment that helps build the employer’s brand and establishes them as a top employer.

Implemented correctly, a recognition strategy helps shape the behaviours that will ensure the development of a culture of recognition. This will ultimately drive greater business results in performance, productivity, profits and employee pride.

Five principles are critical when developing a recognition strategy:

1. Choose and stick to one strategy for the whole organization. The strategy should be inclusive of all divisions and departments.

2. Secure executive sponsorship. In other words, get buy-in from the top so that the message is consistent and can be reinforced across all areas of the organization.

3. Align with company values and strategic objectives. Introduce complementary programs such as peer-to-peer recognition for those who demonstrate behaviours that are in line with company values.

4. Create an opportunity for all employees to participate. To ensure the programs include all employee groups, make them accessible to every shift, branch or location.

5. Allow for individual choice. Recognize and allow for differences for those giving and receiving recognition.

With salary budgets becoming even tighter, more organizations are wisely looking towards a total rewards approach to attracting, retaining, engaging and motivating their workforce. The execution of a well-thought-out recognition strategy goes a long way to retaining top talent and driving performance that encourages proven, long-term business returns.

The spinoffs of promoting a culture of recognition include benefits such as stronger leadership skills, improved team-building practices and the promotion of positive employee relations — all of which will make the organization an even better place to work.

For the organization to truly benefit from the simple act of recognition, the following factors should form the basis of a recognition strategy:

Keep it simple. The value of saying thank you should not be underestimated.

Keep it specific. Ensure you are saying specifically what it is that someone did that is warranting recognition so they will know what behaviour to repeat.

Keep it timely. Recognition should occur as close as possible to the behaviours that you want to reinforce.

Keep it going. Integrate recognition into the culture of the organization. To do this, it must become part of daily business activities.

Model it. Managers should become leaders in modelling good recognition behaviours.

Give it some thought. Take time to ensure the recognition is suitable for the behaviour or level of accomplishment and appropriate for the individual receiving it.

Provide coaching/training. Assume managers do not know how to build recognition into their workday. Provide them with coaching on how to model the types of behaviours you want others to exhibit.

Ultimately, your human resources are your competitive advantage and your opportunity to grow your business. Top-performing employees who fit the culture of the organization are golden. It is this top talent who will raise the bar to a level that will drive performance excellence.

Please join me here next week, when we will look more in-depth at strategies and best practices in employee recognition.

— With reporting by Barbara Chabai

Colleen Coates, CHRP, CCP, is a practice leader with People First HR Services Ltd. She can be contacted at


The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

Winning with a Culture of Recognition by Eric Mosley & Derek Irvine

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2011 I2