Building Culture Through Employee Recognition - Memories from My Day Job

As an employee communications specialist for a large engineering firm, my primary role was supporting the vision of the company to “engage employees.” With seven business unit offices across North America, more than 200 project offices, and more than 18,000 full-time employees, it was a decent-sized firm.

One of my assignments was to “get the annual awards program done.” The message I got from on-high was this awards program was kind of a pain in the ass, but corporate had to do it. My boss took it seriously, which was nice, but the rest of the company (and even the executives who had to decide the winners) were always behind schedule on reviewing.

If I was doing it, I was going to do it better.

Employee recognition programs Matter

Strategic Approach to Improving Employee Recognition Program

Step 1: Audit

Participation: I grabbed the files from my predecessor - binders, literally, of printed materials - and did some quick calculations.

  • Total nominees = 150-200 average submissions affecting around 600 people

  • Total award categories = 6

  • Total locations = 7 + corporate

  • Total awards sent out = 48

  • Total employees impacted = around 150

That seemed pretty lame for 18,000 employees.

Process: The process document involved sending a dozen posters to each corporate business unit location announcing that we were accepting nominees. The nomination form was a PDF. Nominations were emailed to me. I would print and make a binder to give the executives for review (by category) on a set schedule. They would decide. Announce. Each location would host an awards reception.

Content: The nominations were really interesting. Teams inventing new ways of transporting tools on a large worksite to eliminate running back to the shop all the time. People championing Special Olympics events in communities that never had them. Engineers solving problems customers didn’t know they had, before they had them. Proposal writers nailing it.

Step 2: New Goals

Get participation WAY up.

Step 3: Process Management

  1. Digitize the nomination forms by building an online form submission portal (p.s. this was 2005, so there was no Google Forms).

  2. Develop a bold new marketing strategy about who was considered awesome enough to win these awards by highlighting the accomplishments of past winners.

  3. Distribute the employee-first, celebratory information:

    1. via the weekly eNews (also a project I developed),

    2. via posters at every single project site based on # of employees at the site even if it meant spending hours in the mail room rolling posters (which I did).

    3. via an email from the CEO and a mention at the annual employee meetings (which I coordinated)

Step 4: Measure Results

A 250% increase in nominations in year 1, and an additional 50% increase in nominations in year 2. More nominations, more content for future eNews, more participation, more employees sharing successes and recognizing one another, more employees being recognized = more engagement.

Best Result

One employee - not a winner, but a nominee who was featured in eNews - wrote me an email after his profile was published. He said in 15 years, his own division boss had never really understood the technical details of the applied engineering work he did. My profile on his work not only made him feel great, but his boss came to him and - for the first time - showed his deep appreciation and admiration for his contributions for the team.

It was a fantastic day at work.