Business Resources

7 Best Practice Standards for Your Recognition Program

This is an area where you can find resource content that is informative, meaningful and helpful. Our Goal is to provide you with content that will be of value to your business. The information below is designed to assist you and your organization with ways to engage your emplyees with an effectivea recognition program. It includes seven steps to creating a recognition program including Recognition Strategy, Manager Responsibility, Recognition Program Management, Communication Planning, Recognition Training, Recognition Events and Celebrations, Program Change and Flexibility.

The Seven Best Practice Standards

Developing a comprehensive recognition program is an in-depth process that will have a direct positive effect on employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and company profitability.

Recognition Professionals International (RPI) has developed seven best practice standards that are the key components to a successful recognition program.

1. Recognition Strategy
2. Managers: The Key Ingredient
3. Measuring a Recogntion Program and Making Changes to a Program
4. Communication Planning
5. Recognition Training
6. Planning a Recognition Event 
7. Program Change and Flexibility

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Recognition experts developed these standards based on the most recent research, literature reviews, and personal experience.

1. What is a Recognition Strategy


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A recognition strategy is a link to the corporate vision, mission, and values. Recognition Professionals International (RPI) defines a recognition strategy as:

  • Identifying employee behaviors that advance the organization’s goals and values 
  • Recognizing those behaviors
  • Promoting the behaviors

This information is a foundation for any recognition program. 

2. Managers: The Key Ingredient

Managers are the key ingredient to a recognition program for two reasons:

1. Employees work for managers, not organizations
2. The manager-employee relationship determines employee satisfaction

Feedback from a manager makes an employee feel either appreciated or unimportant. Employees choose to leave a job when they are unappreciated. So, employees decide to leave a job based on the relationship with their manager, not the organization.

The relationship an employee has with his or her manager also determines his or her satisfaction at work. According to a recent study by Northwestern University’s Forum for People Performance Management, “Interaction between managers and employees with regards to supportiveness and goal-setting, as well as job design are … key drivers of employee engagement.”

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How to Build Manager Buy-In
The most effective way to build manager buy-in is to illustrate the effect a recognition program has on the bottom line. You will get a manager’s attention when you paint a picture of how a recognition program will combat the employee issues in the organization.

Another way to gain manager buy-in is through an endorsement from a respected leader who “gets it.” These individuals are advocates for the recognition program, and because of their influence, will have a direct effect on the success of the program. Lastly, managers are especially receptive to recognition programs when the organization is facing a crisis because recognition programs lift morale.

Manager Accountability

Most companies have a hard time holding managers accountable for their role in a recognition program. The most effective way to do this is by setting up a system to help the manager. Here are some suggestions:

  • 1. Start by adding “recognizing employees” to the manager job description.
  • 2. Train managers to make meaningful recognition presentations.
  • 3. Develop an easy way for managers to track their progress.
  • 4. Report the results of the recognition program back to the managers. Let them know what is    working and what is not working.

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Senior Level Managers vs. Middle Managers
Managers are the key ingredient to the success of a recognition program. They oversee the day-to-day activities in an organization and have the most opportunities to recognize employees for a job well done.

Managers consider recognition one-way to invest in their employees. Most managers agree that recognition is necessary for the health of the organization. However, senior level managers play a distinctly different role then middle managers.

Senior level managers and middle managers promote employee recognition in different ways. In general, senior managers are responsible for putting together the recognition strategy, while middle managers are responsible for implementing the strategy.

Managers should split the responsibility this way:

Senior Managers – Strategize


Middle Managers - Implement

Do the right thing


Do things right

Ask what and why


Ask how and when

Establish direction


Plan and budget

Align workforce


Organize staff

Motivate and inspire


Control and problem solve

Establish vision


Take care of day-to-day

Produce change


Implement change

Senior managers define and document the recognition program. They build recognition requirements into the job description for middle managers. Periodically, they review the recognition plan to make sure it is still working as intended. Lastly, senior managers support the program by advocating for it whenever possible.

Middle managers implement the recognition program. They present employees with formal, informal, and day-to-day recognition. They determine when and how recognition is distributed in their department. They also implement any necessary changes to the recognition program.

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Why Managers Don't Recognize Employees
Managers use recognition for a variety of reasons. Recognition is most effective when it is used as a strategic management tool to engage employees in their work.

However, some managers shy away from recognizing employees. Managers don’t use recognition because they believe: 

1. It’s not valuable

2. I don’t have time

3. I don’t know what to say, who to say it too, or how often to say it

4. I’m afraid I’ll leave someone out

Combat these issues by creating a clear link between the business objectives and the recognition program. Recognition becomes important when managers can use it as a tool to get results.

Here is an example:
A production manager wants to maintain a level of cleanliness in the production area. A clean work environment lowers the risk of injury on the job. Help the production manager create a recognition program to reward employees that consistently keep the work environment clean to the standard set by the production manager. Set up a weekly check system to measure results over time. Based on the results, reward the top performing employees.

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When and How Often To Recognize When to Recognize
Managers need to know how to recognize employees, when to recognize, and how often. First, managers must identify what behaviors to recognize. When they see that behavior displayed in the workforce, the manager should recognize it immediately. According to recognition expert, Bob Nelson:

Recognition is most meaningful when it is given soon after the desired behavior or performance. Recognition loses its meaning when it is not timely, which means that saving up individual recognition for an annual performance appraisal or awards banquet is counterproductive.

How Often to Recognize

Recognition should be a daily management practice using tactics such as personal praise, thank you notes, or public praise. This type of daily recognition does not need to be formal or time-consuming. In 1991, Professor Gerald Graham of Wichita State University asked 1500 workers what motivated them most. The number one motivator reported was “manager personally congratulates employees who do a good job.”

Source: The Complete Guide: The 1001 Rewards & Recognition Fieldbook by Bob Nelson 2003

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Item #6974 - Innovation Award 12"

What to Say

Managers often stop in their tracks just before the presentation because they don’t know what to say. The key to any recognition event is the presentation. Take the fear out of this experience by training your managers to effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings. Preparing to recognize a deserving employee is the most important part of any recognition event. Use the guide below to help you phrase your thoughts in a personally meaningful way!

1. I saw what you did…

2. I appreciate it…

3. Here’s why it is important…

Click here to view an employee recognition profile! Have employees fill this out to create a more personal presentation.

The importance of including managers in the recognition program is clear. Organizations that involve managers build successful recognition programs!

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How to Keep Track of Recognition?
Managers also fear leaving someone out of a recognition event. Ease this fear by putting systems in place to help managers keep track of which employees have been recognized and when they were recognized. Below is a simple spreadsheet that can be used to help a manager track his or her recognition experiences. 


Behavior Recognized

Employee Name


October 31, 2006

Identified a new marketing medium

John Doe

Thank you card and verbal recognition at team meeting

November 11, 2006

Stayed late to meet customer deadline

Louise Maloney

$10 gift card to restaurant and thank you card

Download the Recognition Tracking Template.

Managers are key to sustaining a successful recognition program. However, tracking and measuring a program will determine how well it is working.

3. Measuring a Recognition Program and Making Changes to a Program

Why Measure?

Measuring the effectiveness of your recognition program will help you determine what is working and what is not.

Measuring the program also has three other advantages: 

  • 1. Measuring the program helps justify the recognition program to the boss or the CEO
  • 2. Measuring helps determine the effectiveness of spending
  • 3. Measuring each activity helps identify what activities are worth the financial investment

Effective measures will help you decide where to invest time and energy. 

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Types of Measures

There are two ways to measure the effectiveness of a recognition program: qualitatively and quantitatively.


Qualitative measures are not hard, fast numbers. Instead, a qualitative measure is a subjective in-depth description – like a case study, testimonial or personal accounts.

Capture the “before” and “after” perspectives from a few participants to compare and contrast the effectiveness of the program.

Examples of qualitative measures include: 

  • 1. Testimonials
  • 2. Case Studies
  • 3. Focus Groups
  • 4. Employee Engagement Surveys


Quantitative measures are hard, fast numbers that measure progress and participation in the program. When you kick off the program, ask the participants to assess their work environment using an employee engagement survey. Halfway through the program, ask them the same set of questions again. The change in the results will gauge the progress of the program.

At the end of the program, re-assess a third time. Use the change in data points to show the effectiveness of the program. Examples of quantitative measures include:

  • 1. Number of Participants
  • 2. Dollars Spent
  • 3. Changes in Employee Behavior or Attitude
  • 4. Changes in Turnover
  • 5. Changes in Productivity
  • 6. Return on Investment
  • 7. Number of Nominations

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What Do Other Organizations Measure?

Recognition programs serve a variety of purposes. The RPI/World at Work Survey identifies the following top ten reasons organizations start a recognition program:

  1. Create a Positive Environment (80.7%)
  2. Motivate High Performance in Employees (75.2%)
  3. Reinforce a Desired Behavior in Employees (70.5%)
  4. Create a Recognition Culture (69.5%)
  5. Increase Morale (65.3%)
  6. Support the Corporate Mission or Values (61.6%)
  7. Increase Employee Retention (49.4%)
  8. Encourage Loyalty (38.1%)
  9. Support Changes in Culture (23.1%)
  10. Other (3.2%)

Seventy–six percent of the respondents believe their programs are meeting the desired objective!

It is important to have an objective in mind when developing a recognition program. Which of the objectives listed above would you like to accomplish?

The participants in this study used these indicators to measure the success of the program:

  • 1. Employee Satisfaction Survey (45%)
  • 2. Usage/Participation Rate (32%)
  • 3. Number of Nominations (31%)
  • 4. Customer Surveys (20%)
  • 5. Productivity (15%)
  • 6. Return on Investment (9%)

Measuring a program is important. It gauges the success of the program and identifies areas worthy of a budget increase. 

A recognition program must be measured in order to gauge success. The measurements will show your organization what needs to be changed and what works. Make changes to an existing program to make it more effective.

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4.  Communication Planning

Four Vital Components of a Communication Plan

There are four basic components to include in any communication plan: 

  • Message: What do you want to communicate?
  • Audience: Who do you want to communicate to?
  • Method: What communication tools will you use?
  • Resources: How will you communicate?

Let Internal Branding Do the Work for You

The most effective way to present a message is through branding. Branding is a marketing term that means, “to establish a common look and feel.” By creating a logo, using consistent colors and layouts, you will create a brand image for your program. Employees of your organization will be able to pick out elements relating to your program based on the look and feel. The more consistent you are, the easier it will be for participants to recognize the message.

Maximize Internal Resources

In order to get a message out to an entire audience, get help from other areas of the organization. Use the resources and expertise inside the organization to promote the program.

For example, contact the marketing department for help in communicating the details of the program, use the graphic arts department to help design a logo, contact finance to help you track dollars spent, etc. As you elicit help from other areas of the company, you will have the opportunity to educate each department about the program and build buy-in.

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Hidden Benefits to a Communication Plan

Establishing a consistent internal communication plan for your recognition program will help the organization in a variety of ways. Most importantly, internal communications will help ensure that every employee lives the brand, mission, and purpose of the organization. Internal communications also helps the organization with: 

  • Recruitment
  • Training
  • Re-training
  • Reinforcing Company Values

Build Your Action Plan

Basic Communication Plan Components

What do you want to communicate? List the top 3 things you want members of your organization to know about the program. Add more key messages if necessary. 

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3

Who do you want to communicate with? List all of the departments, employee groups, or individuals of the organization for which the program is designed.

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • etc.

What communication tools will you use?

  • List all electronic tools
  • List all advertising tools such as newsletters, posters, etc
  • List other ways to get the message out

What other resources are available to promote the program?

  • List all of the individuals that can advocate for the program

Communication Plan Matrix

Use the matrix below to develop a communication plan for each step in the recognition planning process:

Communication Plan Matrix











Employee Satisfaction Survey






Identify Weaknesses in Organization-Wide Recognition






Create a Recognition Strategy to Address Each Weakness






Present Strategy to Decision Makers






Obtain Approval to Launch Organization-Wide Recognition Plan






And so-on…






Download Your Action Plan Template

View a Sample Communication Plan

An effective communication plan will build manager buy-in and employee awareness. Use the Communication Action Plan to create your communication plan. 

5. Recognition Training

Why Train on Recognition?

Training managers about recognition - what it is, how it is used, and what they can expect from it - will help the organization adopt a recognition program.

Managers are the key to the success of any recognition program. Managers want increased employee productivity, decreased turnover, and increased employee satisfaction. However, few know how to use recognition to get these results.

Equip the managers with the tools needed to implement recognition in a results-oriented way to see the program work!

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Types of Manager Training
Managers can be trained about recognition in a variety of ways. In-person training is the most common, followed by online education. In-person and online training work best because each is interactive. Managers must be able to link the company vision and values to recognition practices. These methods allow managers to see examples as well as get direct instruction while they practice.

You can develop your own manager-training course or you can use resources that already exist. Below is a list of recommended third-party resources:

Employee Training
In organizations that are aspiring to build a culture of recognition, it is best to train employees how to give and receive recognition, in addition to managers. This empowers employees to use recognition without direction from their superiors. When employees use recognition tactics in addition to management, the organization has become a fully integrated culture of recognition.

What Do I Say?

  • I saw what you did
  • I appreciate it
  • Here’s why it’s important
  • Here’s how it makes me feel 

Use the matrix below to formulate your comments. 


  Importance to You

  Importance to Corporate Values

  How Do You Feel?









Download What to Say Template

For more formal recognition occasions, consider: 

  • Who should present? The highest-ranking manager who personally knows the employee and his or her accomplishments.
  • What should I say? Know exactly what is being recognized. What contribution has this employee made to the company? Do not mix good comments with bad, focus the very best things.
  • Explain the symbolism behind the award. Explain how it relates to the company goals and values.
  • Ask others to prepare comments
  • Ask the recipient to make comments
  • Close by sincerely thanking the recipient 

Source: Bob Nelson 2006
Source: National Association for Employee Recognition 2006

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Build Your Action Plan
What is the purpose of recognition training?

Identify Trainees:

  • List the managers
  • List employees, employee groups, or departments

Determine the Training Method:

  • What type of training session is best?
  • What should the trainees be able to do at the end of the session?
  • How will you measure the success of the training session? 

What other company resources can help make the training session a success?

Training Matrix
Use the matrix below to plan for the training session: 

  • Identify Training Objective
  • Identify Training Format
  • Schedule Training Session 

Training Matrix











Identify Trainees






Identify Training Objective






Identify Training Format






Schedule Training Session






Download Your Action Plan Template

FREE TOOLS: Use the Training Matrix Action Plan to train your employees.

It is important to develop a communication plan. The communication plan will make employees aware of the program and increase participation. 

6. Planning a Recognition Event 

Pre-Event Planning

Planning a recognition event requires some creativity and acute attention to detail. While each event requires special preparation, the checklist below will get you started:

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  • Set Event Date
  • Determine Location
  • Send Invitations
  • Determine Final Guest Count
  • Identify Award Recipients
  • Choose Award(s)
  • Set Budget
  • Choose Theme
  • Notify Presenters
  • Notify Award Winners

Download a Sample Pre-Event Checklist

Preparing for a Presentation
Award presentations can be an awkward experience, not only for the presenter but also for the award recipient. Whether giving an award to an employee for years of service or an outstanding contribution to the company, be prepared:

A great recognition event can generate pride, increase employee satisfaction, and establish trust between employees and managers. However, a poorly prepared and presented recognition event can reduce retention, create disengaged employees, and hurt the bottom line.

According to Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick, authors of Managing with Carrots, The 24 Carrot Manager and A Carrot A Day, "The world’s most successful organizations have learned that they must make a recognition event something memorable - with almost as much ceremony and emotion as an Olympic-medal event." Each organization can accomplish this if they remember the following six tips for an effective award presentation:

First, the right person needs to make the presentation. The highest-level executive does not need to acknowledge the recipient. The presenter should be the highest-ranking manager who personally knows the employee and his or her accomplishments. The presenter also needs to be able to use anecdotal examples to evoke an emotion in the recipient as well as all employees in the organization.

Choose presenters who are:

  • Highest-ranking managers that work directly with the recipient
  • Comfortable speaking to an audience
  • Able to connect the recognition with the employee behavior
  • Enthusiastic, excited, and energized

Second, managers must be trained to make great presentations. They need to know who is being recognized and be able to talk about the specific contributions the employee made to the organization. They should focus only on the positive things that happen within the organization. Also, they should not tell "off-color" jokes or make discriminatory remarks.

Third, if an award contains corporate symbolism, managers must be able to explain the symbolism and how it ties into the values and goals of the organization.

Fourth, invite colleagues to attend and ask two or three coworkers to comment on the recipient. Inviting other colleagues to participate provides them with an example of successful behavior they can emulate.

Fifth, if the recipient is willing, allow them to make a few comments. This allows them to thank the people who helped them, as well as, those who participated in the recognition event.

Sixth, the presenter must close with a sincere thank you to the recipient as well as to all who attended.

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What Do I Say?
One of the most significant barriers that managers have to using recognition is that they don’t know what to say. Phrasing comments around recognition is easy when you use this format.

  • I saw what you did
  • I appreciate it
  • Here’s why it’s important
  • Here’s how it makes me feel

Use the matrix below to formulate your comments. 


 Importance to You 

Importance to Corporate Values

How Do You Feel?









Download Template

For more formal recognition occasions consider:

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5893 Cathedral Peak 16"

  • Who should present? The highest-ranking manager who personally knows the employee and his or her accomplishments.
  • What should I say? Know exactly what is being recognized. What contribution has this employee made to the company? Do not mix good comments with bad, focus on the very best things.
  • Explain the symbolism behind the award. Explain how it relates to the company goals and values.
  • Ask others to prepare comments
  • Ask the recipient to make comments
  • Close by sincerely thanking the recipient

Build Your Action Plan
Brainstorm with the event coordinators in your organization to prepare a pre-event checklist. Include the details of the task, the contact person, and the deadline. 


 Contact Person











Find out how the recipients like to be recognized.

Research the purpose behind the recognition event. Be sure to plan the event based on the vision and preferences of the recognition planner.

Choose an award. Determine what the award should symbolize.

Train the presenters to make a gold-medal presentation.

Lastly, arrange to meet with members of the organization to evaluate the effectiveness of the event.

Source: Bob Nelson 2006.

What Happens After the Event?
After the recognition event is complete, informally evaluate its effectiveness. Be sure to debrief with the presenters, attendees, recipients, and planners.

  • Ask the Presenters – How can we improve the award presentation for next time?
  • Ask the Attendees – What should be changed for the next recognition event?
  • Ask the Recipients – What would have made your recognition experience more memorable?
  • Ask the Event Coordinators – How can we improve the pre-event planning process?

You can ask these questions in a variety of ways. Many organizations prefer short surveys to gather feedback. Others opt for a short concise meeting.

Download Event Feedback Survey Template

Use the Action Plan Template to help you create the best event for each of your employees. The information in this template can also help you to determine the type of award for each recipient.

7.Program Change and Flexibility 

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Item #6462 - Accolade Pyramid 8"

Change Drivers
Recognition programs evolve and change for a variety of reasons. For example, the data that you’ve gathered throughout the life of the recognition program will guide improvements for the future. Below are reasons recognition programs change.

  • Program Improvement
  • Changes in Leadership
  • Organizational Changes
  • Mergers and Acquisitions
  • Budget Changes
  • Organization Policies
  • Changes in Participation 

Change Tools
Build your program to withstand and encourage purposeful change. For example, integrate new technology to make your nomination process easier and faster for employees. Alternatively, consider staggering committee membership to keep consistency while integrating new members. Plan your program to be flexible and welcome purposeful change!

Your recognition program should be flexible, so that the program grows along with the organization. Use the resources here to make changes when necessary.