recognizing employees

Why Are You Recognizing Employees in the First Place?

Many companies and organizations set themselves up with recognition and reward programs aimed at recognizing employees without putting thought behind why they do so. To quote Simon Sinek from his thought-provoking book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action:

“There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it. Very few people or companies can clearly articulate WHY they do WHAT they do. By WHY I mean your purpose, cause or belief – WHY does your company exist? WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care? People don’t buy WHAT you do; they buy WHY you do it.”

You are not alone in struggling to answer that question. Few companies have put much thought into this. Having a written recognition strategy outlining their purpose, beliefs, goals, and plans for making recognition a powerful organizational tool is uncommon.

From the WorldatWork 2015 survey, Trends in Employee Recognition, only 53 percent of their member organizations reported having a written recognition strategy supporting their programs. Nearly all these written recognition strategies, (97 percent), were aligned with their companies’ business strategies. This suggests these organizations understand the impact employee recognition practices and programs can have on employees and business results.

Defining Your Recognition Purpose and Philosophy

Most recognition strategies are purely programmatic in nature, with goals, plans, and accountabilities. Few, however, have put much thought behind why they do what they do with their recognition practices and programs. In my work helping companies craft solid recognition strategies, I help leaders define their unique purpose and philosophy for recognizing employees. When completed, everyone from the senior leadership team to the employees on the front line will be on the same page about recognition. After this part is done we can help formulate a plan with the necessary key focus areas, needed objectives, and output measures to address gaps.

I recommend bringing organizational leaders and those practitioners assigned responsibility for employee recognition practices and programs together to work on their recognition purpose. Through a facilitated process, it is the people in the room who define and articulate their beliefs about recognition. There is often a semantic battle over what constitutes recognition versus reward. So these ideas must be sorted out first and put in writing with separate definitions, with a clear vision and mission to drive how recognition will make a measurable impact on their business.

It is important to answer the “why recognition” question first. The why or purpose of recognition needs to be determined to inspire managerial and peer recognition practices and help define the elements that will be evaluated for recognition program effectiveness. Note that recognition purpose statements are focused more on people development, or internally, and then on the customer contribution externally, why recognition is beneficial for employees and how it ultimately benefits the organization’s customers (both internal as well as external).

What a Recognition Philosophy and Purpose Looks Like

An organization’s recognition purpose statement answers several key questions that draw out ideas from people, such as:

  • What is our purpose for giving recognition?
  • Why are we giving recognition for our employees?
  • Why are we doing recognition for the company?

A company’s recognition purpose statement might end up looking something like this:

“We will ensure our employees feel valued for their contributions toward the company’s success and in helping customers have genuine and exceptional experiences.”

Second, it is important to develop a recognition philosophy statement that puts in writing what the leadership team believes recognition means for the organization, their employees and customers. From an internal perspective, the recognition philosophy should focus on how recognition creates strong people fulfillment for employees. The external philosophical focus shows how recognition contributes to the business and/or societal needs.

In eliciting an organization’s recognition philosophy statement, further questions need to be addressed like:

  • What are our beliefs about employee recognition?
  • Why is recognition important to us?
  • How will our recognition initiatives contribute to our business and to society?

The company’s recognition philosophy statement might look like this:

“We believe it is important to create positive recognition in our culture of caring and respect and to focus on our business strategy for customer success and corporate responsibility.”

Typically, these two statements are combined leading off with the beliefs or philosophy statement and then followed by the purpose statement:

“We believe it is important to create positive recognition in our culture of caring and respect and to focus on our business strategy for customer success and corporate responsibility. We will ensure our employees feel valued for their contributions in the company’s success and in helping customers have genuine and exceptional experiences.”

Knowing Our “Why” You’re Recognizing Employees Makes All the Difference

Whenever any of our clients have gone through this process and collectively had their leaders contribute their personal why for recognizing employees, both practices and programs, there is an amazing energy and enthusiasm in the room for taking recognition out to their teams.


Comments I have received after conducting a recognition strategy session have been along the lines of:

  • We finally defined something that is so important to us but is so misunderstood
  • It has been great to have our leaders in the room to help steer where we will be going with employee recognition
  • This is something we have to introduce to all of our employees starting with orientation all the way through new manager training
  • What we created today is everything about who we are
  • Our recognition philosophy and purpose statements will help us reach our business goals more easily

Prepared with this newfound purpose and beliefs around recognition, the team is ready to dive into creating a plan to address gaps in its current state and where they ideally want to be with recognition practices and programs.

Remember, don’t be afraid to stop and ask yourself and others in your organization, why on earth are you recognizing employees in the first place? The answers will not only surprise you, but they will be the source of inspiration you need to help everyone in your company make recognition giving a way of life, not just a program.



Roy Saunderson has spent most of his career showing people how to give others “real recognition”. He really is the Get Recognition Right® Guy. He is an author, consultant and speaker to organizations around the world from North America, Europe, Middle East and India. He serves as the Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute and has personally worked with Boeing, Credit Suisse, Disney, Intel, Johnson and Johnson, and the Canadian Federal Government leaders in getting recognition right. And the best recognition for Roy to get right is being a happy family man and being married to his lovely wife, Irene, for over 35 years and enjoying their five children and 11 grandchildren.

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