Many employers talk about recognition but do they understand what it actually means, or why it matters? The savviest employers know that by properly recognising their employees’ achievements, they can implement positive change in the workspace, reinforcing the culture and values of their organisation. But what does that mean in practice and what are organisations actually doing about it?

We recently hosted a discussion looking at how organisations can implement a successful recognition strategy. A panel of experts – which included Michael Rose, Reward Strategy Consultant and author of Reward Management, Sally Purbrick, Head of Reward at Anglian Water and our own Head of Reward, Jamie King – drew from their own experience to identify a number of practical steps for attendees. Here are the key points they raised:

Understand the difference between ‘reward’ and ‘recognition’

Many organisations fail to understand the difference between reward and recognition, suggested Michael Rose, pointing out that “reward is essentially pay, recognition is a gift”. This is an important distinction when considering how best to motivate staff. “If you give a banker earning £300k a £150 bonus it might be met with derision” suggested Rose, “but a thank you letter and bottle of champagne from the CEO, can have huge positive and long lasting impact.” Moreover, as Jamie King pointed out, tailoring a reward to the “humour, tone and culture” of an organisation, team or even individual is what makes it meaningful.

Keep it simple

“Criticality of vision is crucial”, argued Rose “and this often comes down to asking some fairly simple questions early on. What are the goals of our organisation? What are the goals of our recognition strategy? Why do we have the benefits and rewards that we have?” These answers help organisations develop a clear set of objectives. Given the “continuum of solutions” that now exists for employers, suggested King, this is an important step developing the right strategy.  

Rose also discussed the concept of “strategic pragmatism” and the importance of organisations recognising that moving in the right direction is the key thing, even if they are not going at the pace they would like. 

All speakers agreed that, whatever the business objectives, at its simplest recognition was about reinforcing organisational culture and values.

Keep it fair

Fairness is a critical factor in keeping staff motivated and though perceptions of fairness may differ between organisations, it is down to employers to define what fairness means to their business and stick to those principles. “Internal inequities are much bigger de-motivators than external factors”, argued Rose, citing an experiment on Capuchin monkeys which showed that even animals are demotivated by unequal rewards. 

Sally Purbrick spoke about how Anglian Water’s experience with a previous Health & Safety initiative had demonstrated how reinforcing positive behaviours drove a reduction in accident frequency rates, emphasising the importance of “recognising and saying thank you to employees” in driving change.

Don’t just rely on tech

Though social platforms such as LinkedIn and Yamma now form an important part of most organisations’ recognition strategy, employers should not lose sight of the impact of “good old fashioned face-to-face presentations” argued King.

Monitor trends

The panel discussed the wealth of insightful data and management information that can be collected via online platforms and how this can be used to inform strategy on an ongoing basis.

“The quality of data that we now have access to (following the launch of a formal recognition platform) is amazing” said Purbrick who suggested organisations “use data and act quickly” to learn about elements of the programme that may need changing. In particular, Purbrick’s team monitor trends around take-up, engagement and approvals.

King urged organisations to consider how metrics could be used more broadly. “What role can this data play in talent spotting? And how does this fit into your retention policy? Could a reward and recognition portal bring in performance objectives and link these with rewards?”


Having a clear vision for your recognition strategy will ensure that it supports the other elements of your employee engagement activity, effectively engages and motivates your staff and, crucially, reinforces the culture and values of your organisation.