Throughout my career I have seen the power in recognizing people’s efforts. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that when people feel appreciated and get recognized, they are more engaged, motivated, and productive. The result is greater productivity that leads to enhanced business results. If it is that easy, why aren’t more organizations taking advantage of this opportunity?

There are many reasons. Some organizations may believe their compensation package is sufficient to fully engage their people. Hopefully, the number of companies with these antiquated management styles is dropping dramatically, but they still exist.

Other organizations may see employee recognition as too difficult to manage and oversee, too hard to keep from becoming an entitlement or simply too costly.

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

Each component serves to assist in the attraction, retention, engagement, and motivation of a workforce. If even a single component is missing, a valuable opportunity could be lost.

Organizations need to think of employee recognition as a strategic advantage. An employee recognition strategy can engage and motivate employees; thereby improving the ability to attract and retain the better employees.

An employee recognition strategy, properly implemented, helps foster a climate that will drive greater business results in performance, productivity, quality, profits, and employee pride.

As a quality manager, I had the fortunate opportunity to oversee an employee recognition process. During that time, I found five important principles to consider when developing a recognition strategy:

Choose a common strategy. Choose and stick to one strategy for the whole organization. The strategy should be inclusive of all divisions and departments and deployed uniformly.

Secure executive sponsorship. Obtain buy-in from senior management so the message is consistently reinforced across all areas of the organization. This sponsorship must be fully understood and embraced by all members of management.

Link values and strategic objectives. The employee recognition strategy must be aligned with other company values and objective. Initiatives not linked or aligned with strategic plans will not be sustained.

Create a culture which encourages participation. Ensure the recognition program includes all employee groups (from top to bottom) and make them accessible to every shift and location.

Allow for flexibility. Within the confines of the strategy, allow for differences for those giving and receiving recognition.

With salary budgets becoming even tighter, more organizations are wisely looking to a total rewards approach to attract, retain, and engage their workforce. The spinoffs of promoting a culture of employee recognition includes 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 an organization to truly benefit from a simple act of recognition, consider the following factors for a recognition strategy:

Simple. The value of saying thank you should not be underestimated. This simple act may be your most powerful, and inexpensive, asset.

Specific. Ensure you are saying specifically what it is that someone did that warrants recognition so they will know what behavior to repeat.

Timely. Employee recognition should occur as close as possible to the behavior you want to reinforce. Delayed recognition diminishes its value significantly.

Sustain. For sustainability, the employee recognition program must be completely integrated into the culture of the organization. It must become part of daily business activities and function in a manner that is active, not passive.

Model. Managers at all levels must become leaders in modeling good recognition behaviors.

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

Coach/Train. Do not assume managers know how to build employee recognition into their workday. Provide training regarding how to model the types of behaviors you want others to exhibit, and then do not miss opportunities to monitor and coach daily. Remember that as humans we mimic what we observe.

Ultimately, human resources are the competitive advantage. Top-performing employees who fit the culture of your organization are the ‘gold in the mine.’ They are the talent who will drive and sustain performance excellence throughout the business cycles. So, what is your organization’s plan to unleash the power of employee recognition?