"I'm not sure what we are getting for the money we spend on service awards."Before you throw them out, let me share three reasons why celebrating milestones (including your service awards) can be one of the best opportunities you have to declare your company values and motivate employees. One disclaimer: Like most things, in order to be meaningful, recognition needs to be done well (something I'll discuss in a later post). Unfortunately, service awards have taken a hard hit in recent years because people forget how to make them meaningful to recipients. Hopefully, these three things can get you back on track:
- Cadence. Milestones trigger reasons to celebrate. Unlike performance awards that may only touch a small percentage of employees at uneven intervals, service awards acknowledge every human being in the organization for the contribution they have made over the years. This timely, and regular, reminder to celebrate with the team member who has a five-year anniversary coming up is a great way for managers to reconnect with the people they work with. The cadence of a milestone helps to remind us that while the daily work demands can consume us, we need to stop every once in a while to celebrate our people.
- Receptivity. Milestones are objective. They are transparent and they get rid of the "dark side" of recognition. Performance awards on the other hand are subject to perceptions of fairness -- not a show stopper, but it is something to be aware of nonetheless. The problem is when you rely entirely on performance awards to recognize employees three things will likely occur: a) some achievements will be overlooked; b) people will question the validity of the award; and c) managers will begin recognizing people privately. Milestone awards are much different. People are more open and willing to listen during a service anniversary celebration. Isn't this your primary objective in the first place? To get an opportunity to communicate with all of your employees when they are more receptive to the message? A receptive audience is more likely to hear what you have to say and you are able to communicate it in a positive way.
- Audience. Milestones are big events that usually involve lots of people. A well prepared celebration doesn't require a lot of time or money, but you should think about it in advance. What would I like to communicate to this individual today? How has their contribution made us a better company? Is there anything I want to emphasize so that others will hopefully get the point as well? Remember, your message isn't just for the award recipient. So, what you say to the individual should be relevant to those listening as well. Ask a few of the employee's colleagues to participate in advance, and remind them to focus their comments on how the person's contributions have made the company better. Afterwards, invite the manager to say a few words linking the behaviors of the individual with the corporate values. The result: A message given to the whole audience, which celebrates the individual and lifts everyone.
Remember, recognition is about communicating the positive things we do at work (and we need at least 3 -5 positives for every negative). Done properly, recognition builds trust, it lifts people up, and it prepares them for the multiple tasks that lie ahead. Why would you want to take one of the most effective and most positive ways to communicate away?