Recognition has become a discipline within HR. It is the art of providing or delivering attention to someone for a particular accomplishment. It could be about the achievement of a specific goal or to mark a milestone within the organization. It is valuable and provides proof that the company sees what its employees are doing and, sometimes, for the way in which those actions benefit the organization.
Of course, if someone works on a project for six months and it turns out great, it's very nice to be recognized for having finished the work well. There is a benefit to those who see how the achievement of their work matters. Connectivity is very important and it allows the performer to see how action produces real results, per person, piece by piece. All of the cogs on the wheel are fantastically connected. It's a great picture and the recognition factor drives it home.
Is that it?
Long are the conversations regarding felt needs and reward. Do we merely offer a plaque, a gift card, a weekend away and check off the box of recognition? When dealing with real people with real baggage and real emotion living real lives, providing inauthentic trinkets may not pack the punch hoped for by the organization. And what can often happen is that companies become bitter towards recognition because they sense an ungrateful response by employees. What was meant to be a motivator becomes an open sore of tension pushing division.
As practical as we ought to be in HR (don't get me started on the value of business acumen and metrics, people!), we cannot swing the pendulum so far that we forget the people we are trying to serve. Consider the concept of restorative recognition. This is the kind of recognition that knows where people are, what makes them tick, what their circumstances are and then rewards them in the context of a real situation. The deficiencies in their lives may not all be met, but we're providing appropriate levels of engaged recognition that we know will touch upon it.
The Make a Wish Foundation is magical because for years it has provided terminally ill children with the opportunity to have their greatest wish granted. From going to a prom to meeting the President to being Batman for a day, the stories have touched the hearts of those precious children, of their parents and families and of the millions who watch the stories unfold. It affects the heart.
An employee who is struggling to pay for a child's college education is a real need. We can know that. Handing that employee a gift card for Macy's as a reward for an achieved goal or milestone is not going to solve the need of paying for college. Nor is the point to give them $5000 as the reward in order to meet that need. Think. Be creative. What would it mean to that employee to be recognized for the work he/she did that met the criteria for reward by handing him/her proof of monies being deposited into his/her child's college campus account for textbook purchases or towards the meal plan? It's thoughtful. It's given in light of knowing your employees. It's an absolute way of endearing employees to the organization even more.
Think I'm crazy? Get in line. The point is that we can know these things about our staff and make a choice to recognize in restorative ways. People carry around burdens and dreams. Practically, we can't grant wishes all day, nor do we have the budget to do so. Yet, we can use our imaginations and creativity to do something more than rummaging through a drawer in our office to find an Amazon gift card for a giveaway.
How many of your staff didn't get to go on a honeymoon? How many haven't been able to take their spouse out due to a lack of affordable child care? How many dreamed to be a professional baseball player? How many trained as a dancer all throughout their childhood and have no opportunity to fit it into life now? Now, be creative. Work with a vendor partner to secure a weekend or an overnight to a bed and breakfast. Work with a local certified and approved child care service provider for one night of child care (and throw an Uber and dinner in). Get tickets to a baseball game and work with the event staff to throw some confetti on the employee to celebrate the Home Run Hitter he/she is at work. Provide a six-week dance class to the employee that can happen after work in an open space right in the building.
These aren't all of the solutions. They may be none in your particular case, but the point is that restorative recognition goes a long way to show that our involvement is thoughtful and done as a result of knowing our people. As said earlier, connectivity is very important and it allows the performer to see how action produces real results, per person, piece by piece. By doing this in a tailored manner, we cut to the soul of our people as well as of ourselves. As a blubberer myself, I can tell you that when we're this thoughtful, people are moved and the tears flow.
Get those creative juices flowing and know that people need more than a crystal pyramid with their name engraved. That isn't likely to hit them deeply, but tickets to a concert of the one performer they've never had the chance to see before will. Because you took the time to know them. Because the company is invested in its employees. Because we're building community.