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Recognition Intervention Strategies

Participative Approach to Informal Recognition [2.5.1.a]

Organizations that use informal recognition processes usually use a participative approach. This often involves establishing a committee that represents staff members across the entire organization. Small organizations may find that a single person functioning in each key role is very effective. Leaders are selected as champions of the process and are not always members of management. The most common functions of program leadership are planning and implementation; training; and opportunity and promotion.
  • Planning. Consider the organization's ability to introduce and maintain a prolonged effort and choose leaders or champions for the effort. In most organizations, leaders will need to withstand skepticism from a large portion of staff, as many adults are more accustomed to punishment than rewards in the workplace. Consider the timing and introduction of the process, keeping in mind the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and organizational goals. 
  • Implementation. Informal recognition exists in various forms, all of which can be utilized by members across all levels of an organization to enforce desired behavior and show appreciation to staff members. While peer-to-peer, top-down, and bottom-up recognition emphasize the direction of the recognition between the employee and his/her peers or supervisor, group and individual recognition specifies the person or people to receive the recognition.
    • Peer-to-peer recognition focuses on building teamwork and cooperation among peers and assists in horizontal communications.
    • Top-down recognition emphasizes the supervisor’s role to provide daily direction and motivation. This is often the most effective starting point for change.
    • Bottom-up recognition removes barriers for creative work and quality efforts and assists in empowerment.
    • Group recognition supports teamwork and task force efforts in which individual performance is not as critical as group performance.
    • Individual recognition is often an important aspect of the performance appraisal and feedback processes 
  • Training. Training is a key to the success of informal recognition. A simple needs analysis questionnaire completed by a cross-section of the organization can identify areas in which improvement is needed and provide information on the best way to implement the training process. Employee satisfaction surveys can provide an avenue to identify and incorporate employee suggestions. Resources on this topic includes:
A basic informal recognition course should include all staff members; however, supervisors and managers are the key targets for training. Trainers should describe the behavioral science of reward and how it relates to recognition in the workplace (see Philosophies of Motivation [2.5.0.a]). Most training includes brainstorming opportunities to apply informal recognition. Also, role-playing is an effective tool by which to practice giving and receiving recognition. Trainers should develop role plays appropriate for different levels of the organization.
  • Opportunity and Promotion. Program leadership is charged with the task of seeking out and promoting opportunities to use recognition techniques. With little effort, most organizations find dozens of opportunities each week. These range from simply saying “Thanks” to more creative approaches such as “Thank you” message boards, open “Thanks” columns in the newsletter, virtual recognition in email, and recognition post-it notes. Leadership can remind supervisors about opportunities to use the techniques.
    • Research conducted by Dr. Hannah Knudsen and colleagues at the University of Georgia’s Center for Research on Behavioral Health and Human Services Delivery confirms that receptiveness to employee suggestions has a positive impact upon employee burnout and turnover. Employees are less likely to be burned out and more likely to feel committed to their jobs if they believe that their employers: (1) support their ability to work creatively; (2) support employees in developing new ideas; (3) are receptive to ideas, regardless of who in the organization suggests them; and (4) encourage employees to suggest ideas. The researchers suggest that organizations interested in adopting new treatment practices should not attempt to do so by a top-down approach, instead encouraging front-line staff to be involved in evaluating the pros and cons of potential approaches, thus allowing them “ownership” of the new practice. 
    • Encouraging employees to support change and suggest new ways of providing services is one aspect of what Dr. Charles Glisson of the University of Tennessee Children’s Mental Health Research Center calls a “positive organizational culture.” His research in various mental health settings suggests that a positive organizational culture improves retention rates, leads to higher job satisfaction, supports implementation of new treatments, and ultimately improves client satisfaction and treatment outcomes.

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