Although it may seem like common sense, company core values and recognition programs haven’t always intersected.
Historically, most recognition programs prioritize rewarding tenure, retirement, and outcome-oriented performance over behaviors representative of company core values.
However, a recent trend has emerged where recognition programs are beginning to reward company values more and more. According to SHRM, the number of recognition programs that incorporate value-guided recognition has increased by 10% in the last five years. This is a welcome shift that signals awareness of the tangible impact company culture has on employee engagement.
Company values have a powerful influence on the employee experience. Research shows that employees who know and fully understand organizational values are 51 times more likely to be engaged than those who don’t. For leaders looking to crack the nut of the global engagement crisis, harnessing the power of core values may just be the first step to a solution.
While leaders shouldn’t train employees to become glorified Pavlov’s dogs who recite values at the ring of bell, we should all make more concerted efforts to ensure company core values are fully understood. Tying recognition to core values is a start, but from an operational standpoint, we should think critically about the type of recognition that makes these principles top of mind.
Through recognition, you want to create an active conversation about your company values and the way they manifest in daily behaviors within your company. Macro-recognition, the traditional approach to recognition is where awards predominantly come from the top-down. This can be great for commemorating major milestones, but can be too slow to generate the momentum needed for awareness. If you’re looking to efficiently and regularly promote company values, you want the speed, frequency, and peer-to-peer orientation of micro-recognition.
Why do we care about company core values?
The potency of company values shouldn’t come as a surprise. Core values are a Rosetta Stone, helping employees decipher the language of their work environment. They dictate everything about an organization, from its brand, to the type of employee it wants to attract, to the rules of engagement in the work environment.
Company values serve as reference points for the behaviors that define success at work. As such, it’s critical that they’re defined and thoroughly articulated. When these principles aren’t known, understood, and communicated, it opens the door to dysfunction in the company. The range of “acceptable” behaviors widens, and creates opportunities for people to act in ways potentially harmful to the organization.
But beyond serving as behavioral guidelines, core values inform the purpose of our work. It’s human nature to look for meaning in our jobs. In fact, research shows finding meaning in work might be more important than personal happiness when it comes to factors like retention, job satisfaction, and engagement. We want to understand the value we contribute to an organization on a day-to-day basis. Core values orient us to the company’s mission and detail the methodology we use to accomplish it.
How does micro-recognition shape company core values?
Even if you haven’t crafted definitions for your core principles, company values are communicated through your recognition practices. Who you recognize, and who you don’t recognize, sends explicit and implicit messages to employees about the behaviors expected of them. For example, when someone gets a certificate for outstanding sales performance, it signals to other employees that the behaviors and accomplishments of the person recognized are noteworthy, valued, and reflective of the culture the company wants.
The inherent power of micro-recognition, then, lies in its flexible nature. Unlike macro-recognition, micro-recognition is owned by everyone. It’s a process driven by leaders and employees alike where recognition is exchanged from all directions as frequent, informal instances of sincere social praise.
Micro-recognition has fewer barriers of participation than macro-recognition. In a micro-oriented program, you can recognize someone “in the moment.” It’s as simple as saying, “Good job,” to a colleague after a hard day’s work. Because of this inherent speed and flexibility, these frequent, smaller bursts of recognition keep the conversation around your core values current and refreshed on a regular basis.
Moreover, recognition is more powerful the closer it occurs to the behaviors being recognized. It creates a powerful feedback loop when administered on a weekly basis. When you tie micro-recognition to your core values, the positive feelings that come from recognition become more closely associated with the principles you’re identifying. Employees are more likely to seek out and repeat those value-associated behaviors to keep that loop going.
Micro-recognition not only creates awareness of your company values but it also serves to further define them. It’s one thing to have created explicit, formalized documentation laying out your company values. It’s another thing entirely to know how to live them.
Ideally, your employees will identify and align with your outlined values (if your values aren’t guiding your hiring practices, start now). But even then, the reality is that social situations can be murky and confusing. Every day we navigate a complex web that entangles our wants and needs with those of our colleagues, clients, and superiors. The course of action that’s authentic to company values can be unclear even on a good day.
Value-focused micro-recognition creates action-items out of the reference points provided by core values. Micro-recognition’s immediacy targets specific moments and behaviors that hold particular relevance to the individual employee. It’s the difference between saying “When in doubt, John, perform your duties with integrity” and “Within your specific job function, John, here is how you act with integrity.”
This sincere, personalized form of attention makes clear to the individual how company core values manifest within a specific job, and it’s going to be more memorable to John than if we were vaguely talking about how he acts with integrity at the quarterly meeting. And that personal attention is not to be underestimated. The Aberdeen Group reports that 60% of Best-In-Class companies find recognition is an extremely valuable way to drive individual performance.
If you want recognition to identify how employees can live core values through their jobs, recognize immediately, often, and with sincerity. Macro-recognition can still be tailored to your value system, but save it for remarkable moments that need the dignity it provides. For everything else, unleash the power of micro-recognition to communicate and shape your company core values.
A condensed version of this article originally appeared on the HRO Today blog.