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Employee Recognition System

Employee Recognition: Programs

Follow these steps to develop your department's own unique Employee Recognition program. These are best practices for ensuring that your department's Employee Recognition program has fairness, consistency & longevity.

Step 1: Form an Employee Recognition Committee within your department

Getting staff/faculty involved & part of your department's Employee Recognition program can help to ensure that the program is viewed as fair and it helps create shared ownership of the program. You may even delegate the development of purpose and criteria to the committee. Many departments have an employee representative from each functional work unit serve on the committee to ensure equal representation. The recognition committee might determine the components of the recognition program and ensure compliance with any current Employee Recognition policies, as well as helping to determine criteria, soliciting nominations and selecting awardees.

If you decide to form a standing recognition committee, keep the following ideas in mind:

  • Establish term lengths for members on the committee -- for how many award cycles may an individual serve consecutively on the selection committee? At least one member should stay on the committee across any two terms to ensure continuity and cross-training. Establish that cycle for your department's committee. Some committees establish that the one or two most recent recipients of the award then serve on the selection committee for the next award cycle.
  • Set committee membership through election, appointment, or volunteerism (be sure employees from each work group/area are in the committee to ensure diverse representation)
  • Appoint a chair or co-chairs
  • Determine the “sponsor” of the committee (this might be you, or someone else on your management team) to be the go-to for approval of various management-level decisions
  • Set the final decision-making body for the award -- does the Employee Recognition Committee make the selection, does it forward a recommendation to management, or does the "sponsor," if established, make the decision?
  • Define voting procedures -- this may include the processes by which the nominations will be reviewed. Some committees may establish a numeric ranking system for evaluating nominations.
  • Ensure consistency in the voting/selection process

Step 2: Establish the purpose and criteria of your Employee Recognition program

For a recognition program to be meaningful to both the awardees and the others in the department, it should be tied to the department’s goals, mission, or values. As a leader, you can determine the goals and purpose of the program on your own, or you can ask that a team of employees provide you with suggestions (see "Form a Employee Recognition Committee within your department" below). Another idea is to conduct an employee opinion survey. It can assist a recognition committee in identifying preferred types of awards, establishing nomination and selection procedures, and determining the frequency and method(s) of award presentation preferred by employees.

Most importantly, the recognition program must be fair. All employees must know and understand the criteria used for formal recognition.

Some suggestions for recognition programs and criteria:

  • Tie the program to a departmental initiative. For example, your department may be engaged in process improvement efforts. Providing awards for suggesting or implementing process improvements can help to communicate how serious you take the process improvement effort and how everyone can be involved.
  • Tie the program to your department’s or Liberty's core values. Many organizations have values, but frequently these values are just words and never get translated to behaviors. Recognizing employees for exhibiting behavior consistent with Liberty's specific core values help the values come alive and build understanding and buy-in of the values. If you don’t have core values in your own department, use Liberty's Mission & Purpose, found here.
  • Tie the program to your department’s core purpose. Does your department exist to serve students? Does it exist to provide technical expertise? Recognizing outstanding customer service or new technical skills gained/technical proficiency encourages this to continue to happen.
  • Tie the program to other circumstances that your department may be facing. For example, your department may be facing a difficult challenge currently that is stressing your team. What better time to establish an award for positive attitude?
  • Once you’ve established the purpose and criteria for the award make sure everyone on staff knows the purpose and the criteria. Doing this greatly increases the likelihood that employees will exhibit the behaviors you want them to and you are not accused of favoritism.
  • It is important to note that a formal recognition program does not take the place of informally appreciating or recognizing employees on a daily basis. A formal recognition program serves to supplement informal, day-to-day recognition of employees.

Step 3: Determine award eligibility & award frequency

Once the purpose, criteria and committee have been established, eligibility for the award and how often you will give the award should be determined. Some components to consider for eligibility include:

  • Employment status: Is the award available only to permanent employees? What about temporary employees & part-time employees? Work Study student workers? Should you or your Employee Recognition Committee establish a different award system for temporary & part-time employees and Work Study student workers?
  • Length of service: Is there a minimum length of service that the employee must have with Liberty or the department in order to be eligible for the award?
  • Participation in the selection process: Can a member of your department's Employee Recognition Committee be nominated for the award? (If so, the employee must exclude him/herself from the selection of that particular award.)
  • Frequency of receipt: How frequently can the same individual receive the same award?

Once you know who is eligible, you or your committee must determine how often the award will be given. Factors to include in making this determination are:

  • The available resources of the department
  • The number of employees and number of other recognition programs available within the department
  • The scale/significance of the award relative to the frequency of its nomination cycle

Finally, you or your committee must determine how nominations for awards are made:

  • Is the nomination process anonymous or confidential? (i.e., must the nominators self-identify? Will the nominee be allowed to know who nominated him/her?)
  • Who is eligible to submit a nomination? (Temporary employees? Part-time employees? Work Study Student workers? Can an employee self-nominate?)
  • What information is required on the nomination?
  • Must nominations be submitted on hardcopy, or are electronic submissions possible? What system do you need in place for submissions?
  • What details are necessary in order for you or the Employee Recognition Committee to make its choice?

Step 4: Determine a budget, select types of awards & publicity

  • Recognition programs do not have to be expensive. Awards can range from an award certificate to gifts. 
  • Be sure that your awards are in compliance with any current Employee Recognition policies.
  • Awards should be aligned with the department’s resources and should be determined with an eye toward sustainability. You might have extra funds this year, but can you sustain the recognition budget for subsequent years? 
  • Many departments coordinate ceremonies or meetings as forums for presenting awards
  • Public announcement of an award recipient is essential to giving employees appropriate recognition
  • Departmental newsletters, publications, social media pages, webpages, etc are all valuable and cost-effective ways to market the award as well as to recognize the award recipient(s)
  • Some departments display a plaque or trophy publicly. Even a letter of certificate given personally to an employee by a supervisor or director can mean a great deal.

Step 5: Establish and monitor the program

It’s easy to let a recognition program, once established, continue without many changes. 

Resist the urge to keep the recognition program the same for years at a time. As your departmental goals and needs change, so should the recognition program. This doesn’t mean that you have to completely overhaul the program and start over. It’s a good idea to review the awards and their criteria to make sure they are still relevant and meaningful to employees and the department. Adding an award to an existing program to highlight a new initiative may be all that is needed to keep the program relevant.

Additionally, the recognition committee may need to rethink the program completely. It’s important to keep recognition fresh and updated. Consider doing an employee survey to gauge the effectiveness and value of the program and for other recognition ideas and enhancements. This is particularly important within the first year of the program's implementation to ensure that it is meeting the needs of your specific department. All proposed changes should be approved by you and communicated to employees in a timely manner following approval.


Ideas adapted from University of Washington


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