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How to measure effectiveness in employee recognition

A client recently asked about different ways they could measure the impact of their employee recognition program. Since their program has been in place for several years and is aligned with their culture, they wondered what could be measured in addition to program participation levels. Naturally, the hard measures of productivity and revenue come to mind—measures usually more difficult to directly link to employee engagement.

As Seth Godin once cautioned, if things are difficult to measure, it’s easy to choose a “stand-in” measure: “The problem with stand-ins is that they’re almost always not quite right. The stand-in looks good at first, but then employees figure out how to game the system to make the stand-in number go up instead of the thing you’re actually trying to change.”

Godin’s warning reminded me of a particular client’s DIY program nightmare. They created a program in which customer service reps were rewarded for completing calls in less than one minute. The predictable result? Call center reps at 52 seconds could be heard saying: “I need to get off the phone now, please call back at this number.” You can be sure that the next program included measures of first-call resolution and the number of calls escalated to management—in addition to call times.

So, that brings us back to effective measures for employee recognition programs. Participation numbers and percentages are a good start, but if that’s the only measure, you know that employees will crank out the volume—good, bad, or indifferent. When reviewing possible measures at the start of your program, look to follow the classic SMART criteria—specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. To better understand the impact of employee recognition, consider the following:

  • Improvement in survey scores of commitment to the company, likelihood to recommend to a friend, etc.
  • Overall recognition spend vs. number of employees recognized
  • The correlation between the breadth of recognition and survey score of commitment to the company
  • The correlation between increases in engagement and increases in productivity
  • The recognition profile of top performers vs. the general population

These measures will help you to better understand the impact of recognition and clues as to how you can enhance your program—and will help you to get the results you really want.