Peer recognition schemes pay off

Peer recognition schemes can have a powerful effect on staff morale and motivation, says Alison Coleman

Recognising exceptional staff performance through reward is one way of boosting motivation and engagement. But recognition that comes directly from an employee’s peers may carry a higher value, and at a time when organisations are relying on the commitment of their staff, it can reap rewards in terms of loyalty, staff retention and productivity.

Ben Wells, a consultant with Buck Consultants, says: “The recognition is more meaningful when it comes from colleagues, and therefore more motivational, and the schemes are not expensive to run, both of which are hugely important for all organisations in the current economic climate.”

Put simply, such schemes are based on the notion that staff can nominate fellow employees for an award. From these nominations, management will usually decide which are the most deserving and reward them. The administrative burden of running such schemes is largely overcome by web-based recognition programmes, which manage all nominations automatically as well as providing extensive management information.

Good communication essential

Although peer recognition can be a powerful motivational force in the workplace, good communication of an employee recognition scheme is essential to get the best possible results.

Wayne Harrington, rewards and loyalty product manager at Capital Incentives and Motivation, says: “Strong communication of the scheme and its objectives will ensure employees understand the organisation’s expectations. Peer-to-peer schemes drive corporate values and give responsibility to each employee to recognise their colleagues when they have gone the extra mile. Communication really is the key and, done correctly, it can invigorate any audience.”

This is especially true for organisations running schemes that are primarily accessed by the workforce online, but also need to reach a number of staff that do not have internet access at work. Engaging with these employees can be difficult, but any obstacles to their participation can usually be overcome with good-quality offline materials, such as paper nomination forms and telephone hotlines. Take-up can be increased further by allowing employees to log on to the scheme’s website from home.

Avoid popularity contests

Recognition schemes must also be carefully structured and linked to key business objectives to avoid staff treating them as popularity contests.

Francis Goss, head of commercial operations for rewards services at Grass Roots, says: “In one scheme run by a leading search engine company, people were being nominated for recognition simply for looking cool. Employers need to have a clear idea of what they want to achieve from the scheme, and the nomination criteria and the actual voting process must be structured in a way that enables them to meet their goals.”

Peer recognition schemes run by sales and marketing companies, for example, are likely to be revenue- and target-focused, while other firms might want to improve cross-functional working, collaboration or teamworking.
Finally, employers must decide what type of reward successful nominees should receive. One option is to give them some choice, for example by offering products such as retail vouchers and experience days. Some employers may choose to present trophies or certificates in an annual award ceremony.

Range of rewards

Kuljit Kaur, head of business development at employee benefits and motivation consultancy P&MM, says: “At the lowest end of the range are the basic voucher schemes, where a company might buy £100-worth of gift vouchers and use them to make discretionary awards to people who have done something good. At the top end are the bespoke schemes, which are much more integrated and involved, and designed to reflect the brand.”

A fundamental principle of employee reward has always been to give as much choice as possible, because what motivates one person may not mean much to another.

In choosing rewards, employers also need to consider workforce demographics, says Wells. “The younger generation, Generation Y, are less money-oriented than their predecessors from Generation X, and will appreciate a reward with more added value. This could include flexible working, career and coaching opportunities, and secondments into other areas of the organisation.”

Panel guidance

Although schemes are peer-driven in principle, in practice any decision on who is worthy of recognition is likely to need to be guided by a reward panel or committee.

Jon Bryant, business development director at JLT Online Benefits, says: “Peer recognition schemes can take several months to complete, from casting votes to presenting the awards, and the organisations will want things to run smoothly and avoid problems.”

If the ultimate aim of a scheme is to reward the behaviours that employers most want to see, then the involvement of line managers, who are often the closest to most of the workforce, is crucial. David Cumberpatch, managing director of business psychologists Xancam, says: “The criteria for nominating must be based on being able to identify how an individual or a team has demonstrated certain behaviours, and the line manager may be in the best position to do this.”

Managers should decide

Managers should also be able to approve or decline a submission and value of award, and in many cases may also be the best person to present the award. Receiving an award endorsed by their peers can be a huge morale booster, but this stage of the recognition process also needs careful thought, because not everyone appreciates being the centre of attention.

Bryant says: “An awards ceremony does not have to be a stage-based event or a formal dinner. Some people might thrive on being in the limelight and would relish being centre stage at a gala annual awards ceremony, but others could feel completely overwhelmed by such an occasion.

“A simple presentation in the workplace by the line manager, in front of a small group of colleagues and reported on the company website, can be more effective in making someone feel valued.”

Return on investment

Engagement is a hot topic in reward and benefits right now. As a means of increasing engagement, peer recognition is fast becoming a mainstream management technique, especially in large corporations.

As with all motivation strategies, employers must be able to measure success. This could be as straightforward as †recording an increase in revenue generated by individual sales staff, or a rise in the number of cross-functional projects carried out between divisional teams.

For a broader indication of how well a scheme is working, staff feedback, gleaned through regular surveys and questionnaires, can be used to gauge the impact of peer recognition, the level of participation, and how motivated it makes people feel.

Based on responses, employers can measure whether the scheme is delivering what they want and benefiting the whole organisation, or whether changes are needed.

Case study: Informa has feel-good factor

Global business information services provider Informa launched its peer recognition scheme six years ago. Today, the awards are open to 8,500 staff worldwide, including 3,000 in the UK.

In its early stages, the scheme comprised a small number of award categories focusing mainly on product and service improvements. These were extended to recognise exceptional individual and team performances in areas such as sales, marketing, telemarketing and customer service. It recently added an award for corporate social responsibility (CSR), bringing the total to almost 20 categories.

Keith Brownlie, group HR and corporate responsibility director, says: “As the business has developed and key [performance] issues have emerged, we have launched new award categories, such as ‘Best new initiative in finance’, ‘Best editorial scoop of the year’, and the CSR award. These are closely linked to our core business values.

“People want to work for an organisation that rewards in the broadest sense of the word. We know that our awards mean a lot to the recipients and make everyone feel good.”