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Power to the people

The best recognition isn't just about individuals. Go peer to peer and reap the rewards…

In today’s business landscape successful reward and recognition schemes are about much more than lone managers deciding who has done a great job and handing out awards. Involving everyone in deciding who should be recognised can make a real difference for the whole organisation – if you plan carefully.

While managers may be best placed to compare performance and understand impact, there is the risk that their decisions might be considered biased and divisive. After all, one individual deciding who deserves acknowledgement – regardless of how much insight they have – will always be subjective. What’s more, a top-down approach to recognition places a lot of pressure on managers to make that decision – and make sure it’s right – something which in turn can affect their morale.

Well managed peer-to-peer recognition schemes are widely considered to be fairer, improve awareness of performance expectations and have a more positive impact on motivation. They demonstrate the value you place in the opinions of your employees and show that everyone is important when it comes to the development of your organisation. Anne-Marie Day from The Paragon Group of Companies has found peer-to-peer recognition valuable.

The Paragon Group is a specialist finance provider. In 2009 they introduced the STARS programme for recognising excellent performance across the Group. This replaced the previous system, after listening to feedback from staff. In the STARS programme, anyone can nominate another team or individual for Bronze, Silver or Gold awards of vouchers. It is based on three principles: Immediacy – rewarding as soon as it happens and often within a day. Consistency – having clear criteria for the nomination. Variety – the vouchers can be used in a range of national retailers. “Because the system came out from the workforce in the first place, they tend to make sure it is fair and applied to everyone,” explains Anne Marie. “We monitor the spread of awards and to be honest we found the nominations are pretty representative.”

Encouraging excellence

Involving the whole organisation in deciding who to recognise means that everyone has to think carefully about what “excellence” looks like and how it is demonstrated at different levels and in different roles across the business. This is a far more effective way of achieving engagement than being told by managers. It can also lead to increased productivity in itself, as individuals become more aware of how they could improve in their own roles. Although encouraging excellence can bring its own set of challenges when it comes to recognition. “When you are expecting – and seeing – high standards from everyone and they are performing well, it can be a challenge to find reasons to recognise people,” continues Anne-Marie. “But if you get that feeling of being impressed and you can see how someone has made a difference, you know you have found one.”

According to one large insurance broker working with Investors in People, the shift to a process where teams nominate other teams – or individuals – for awards was a critical factor in getting everyone to fully engage with their values and standards. “Since starting the peer awards scheme, we frequently hear people talking about our values, challenging poor practice and pointing out when a good job has been done,” a representative explains.

Making it work

A good peer-to-peer process should be democratic and transparent so that everyone has the opportunity to nominate and be nominated. But to guarantee it is truly effective, it will also need to be facilitated. Establishing a recognition panel of peers, overseen by a manager is one way of making sure your people feel valued and empowered, while still ensuring the process works. A national transport organisation, with thousands of employees across all levels, recently took the panel approach to peer-to-peer recognition. For them, one of the benefits of this sort of system has been that the spotlight can fall on anyone. As one panel member explained, “We even nominate managers if they have excelled in demonstrating our values”.  

Low cost, high impact

You don’t need to have a big budget to run a peer recognition process.  Sanctuary Housing operates a simple ‘Wear the Shirt’ scheme in its Shared Services Call Centre in Banbury. Individual members of staff use T-Shirt shaped notelets onto which they highlight the work of a colleague who they consider has done a great job. This is then placed on the team board and at the end of the month. Everyone then reviews the notes and selects their favourites to be considered by the team manager for an overall award. “I thought it was a bit strange at first,” a team member explains, “but now I read about my colleagues and their efforts with a real sense of pride.”

And rewards that come as part of the recognition process don’t need to break the bank either. In fact, they’ll mean more to employees if they are tailored to the reason for the reward, or the circumstances of the individual. For example, an accounting assistant putting in extra hours in the evening and weekend to help a key client was awarded vouchers to take the family to a theme park.  Imagine the positive impact that had on the individual, their family and other employees!

There’s no question that acknowledging individuals’ contributions can achieve great things. But by getting everyone involved in how you acknowledge those individuals you can magnify the effect of your reward and recognition strategy, increasing engagement, boosting productivity and making your people feel valued, way beyond individual awards. Peer to peer systems shift recognition from having a positive impact on a minority to having a positive impact on everyone.