Designing Employee Recognition that Works

January 5, 2017 in
By Mark Wernersbach

Rewarding and recognizing employees is not a novel idea. In fact, the use of rewards to shape behavior and performance has been documented for hundreds of years.[1] However, in the past 70 years, the purpose of employee rewards and recognition programs has transformed from a mechanism to control employees to a mechanism to motivate and engage employees.[2] As such, these programs have become a key aspect of many organizations’ human capital strategy.

FMP research has shown there are four common, critical components of best practice reward and recognition programs. To implement employee recognition that works, design a program that:

  • Aligns with Organizational Mission and Culture. Successful organizations create reward and recognition programs that align with, support, and promote the organization’s culture, strategic mission, and values. By aligning programs with the values and cultures of an organization, employees are able to clearly see the link between acting as stewards of the organization and receiving desired rewards and recognition.[3]
  • Provides Specific and Timely Recognition. Industry leaders suggest that organizations should design and develop a rewards and recognition program that follows SMART (specific, meaningful, adaptable, relevant, and timely) logic.[4] One of the most vital aspects of any program is to reward specific behavior. Many industry experts also agree that programs should ensure that recognition occurs as close to the behavior as possible. This supports the tie between the behavior and the recognition, and enables powerful engagement and change.
  • Involves Stakeholders at All Levels of the Organization. Successful reward and recognition programs involve buy-in from both employees and management. Including all levels of the organization when developing and executing the program encourages engagement and acceptance.
  • Uses Strategic Communications. Successful organizations establish a robust communication and internal marketing strategy to increase transparency and promote participation in reward and recognition programs. To support program understanding and perceptions of fairness, it is vital to ensure the communication strategy discusses the rationale for the program and the relevant policies and procedures throughout implementation.[5]

FMP Consulting has 25 years of experience developing customized and effective reward and recognition programs for organizations such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and National Public Radio (NPR). Contact us today to see how we can support all your reward and recognition needs.

Mark is a Consultant at FMP Consulting. He is currently working on a change management initiative with the Department of Defense Education Activity. He has expertise in performance management, competency modelling and training management. Mark received a Masters of Art in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from New York University.

[1] Tai Aguirre, “Incentive Programs. Yesterday, Today and the Future!” (August 2012).,

[2] Great Lakes Awards, “A Short History of Employee Recognition in America”

[3] Joanne Sammer, “Noncash Rewards Most Effective When Tied to Values” Society for Human Resource Management (2015).

[4] Indiana State University, “Seven Steps to Developing a Successful Employee Recognition Program” (2011).

[5] Corporate Executive Board, “An Effective Reward and Recognition Program”