Why Strategic Employee Recognition Works

The surprisingly simple, yet incredibly effective way today’s successful business leader strengthens the bottom line by investing in relationship capital

Gary, manager of a local business, felt compelled to share some pointed feedback with one of his employees. “Andrew, you need to learn everything we offer so you can quickly answer questions for customers. It’s my job as the manager to make sure our customers are the number one priority.”

“I’m trying to learn as fast as I can,” Andrew responded. “I’ve got the basics down, now I’m focusing on the specifics. Plus, it’s only my second month here.”

“All I’m trying to do,” Gary said, “is make sure you and the rest of the staff know that customer interactions need to be quicker. I’ve noticed we’ve been taking too long to get orders, so we need to raise our performance, okay?”

People are the Priority

While customer service should always have a high priority, Gary missed something in his interaction with Andrew. Gary’s commanding priority on customer service limits him because his employees feel like they’re just a piece in Gary’s puzzle. 

Regardless of who is “right” in this scenario, it’s Gary’s job to lead the situation to a positive outcome. If that was Gary’s goal, he’d be strategic about improving Andrew’s performance. More on this in the section below “What is Strategic Employee Recognition?”

You should put a high priority on customer service, but don’t sacrifice employee relationships for customer service. 

A more productive approach for Gary would be to use positive reinforcement and motivation with Andrew instead of verbally forcing him to “just learn the stuff because we need to be quicker and raise our performance, okay?” Frustration and passive aggression towards employees are detrimental to progress in accomplishing your goals. 

Don’t be the manager who sees their employees as a means to an end in terms of business success. As you’ll see in the business impact section and client testimonials below, strategic employee recognition is a way you can empower your team and see a noticeable improvement.

Good Business is Built on Relationships

Business is built on the foundation of relationships. In order to succeed as a manager, building strong business relationships must be a priority. Customer relationships tend to get a lot of attention because no customer = no business.

However, there are still managers who completely underestimate the significance of strong relationships with their employees. This is why you should double-down on strengthening the relationships you have with your team. 

You can raise your leadership game beyond most average managers by placing a priority on your people. Your relationship with each person on your team has a huge impact on their mindset, whether you know it or not.

Appreciation and recognition seem so simple when you’re the one giving them, yet mean so much more when you’re the one receiving them. You can change lives by applying these concepts. 

With that in mind, consider taking time to think, plan, and execute real strategies with the goal of developing the people on your team. While every industry has its own requirements, there’s a management principle that holds true across the board. Regardless of the industry you’re in, you need a plan for strategic employee recognition

What is Strategic Employee Recognition?

Strategic employee recognition is the acknowledgment of employees’ great work using personalized appreciation. Recognizing employees is an efficient and effective way of improving employee engagement, especially when it’s customized to your business.  

Here’s what you’re going to learn:

  1. The three-part process for developing a strategic employee recognition plan
  2. The business impact of employee recognition
  3. Success stories from real managers who have turned employee recognition into one of the secrets to their leadership success

Before you understand the impact of showing increased recognition in your business, you need to understand how to track and measure your progress. That comes from knowing where you are now, and making a roadmap to where you’re headed.

Read more: “How to Improve Employee Engagement with Recognition”

Summary (so far)

  1. Too many managers see their employees as a means to an end in terms of business success. A manager is ineffective if they don’t use strategic leadership principles that have been proven over and over again
  2. You can raise your leadership game beyond most average managers by placing a priority on your people.
  3. Strategic employee recognition is the acknowledgment of employees’ great work using personalized appreciation.

The three-part process for developing a strategic employee recognition plan

In this section, you’ll learn the three-part process to develop your own strategic employee recognition plan. You’ll be able to implement these principles in your organization and start tracking the results right away.


First, concentrate on the core objectives and goals you have for your employees. Here are some kickstarter ideas to get you thinking in the right direction. 

  • What behavior leads to the results you want? 
  • What areas need improvement?
  • Which job duties are essential for success? 
  • What daily, weekly and monthly initiatives need to be emphasized? 

In short, ask yourself what things are important to your business’s success. THAT’s what makes up your criteria.

Focus on behavior where you’d like to see improvement or sustained excellence. Remember to track and measure activities that are objectively measurable so you can clearly decide who the top performers are.

Check out this video that details all the ways businesses in dozens of industries use specific criteria to improve performance, and lay the groundwork for their strategic employee recognition plan.

We work with clients across many industries. One of the largest industries we serve is the restaurant industry, so we’ll use them as an example. Most restaurants we work with set up criteria based on the front of the house and back of the house functions.

For example, criteria to track and measure for the front of the house may include the following profit drivers: specials, appetizer, dessert, and drink sales. The front of the house employee with the highest scores in those categories gets a recognition award. A few for the back of the house: attendance, ticket times, food cost, cleanliness. In the same way, the back of the house employee with the highest scores in those categories gets a recognition award. 

Some ideas for awards can be found in the MyEmployees online store. [click HERE]

2. Communication

Once you’ve gotten clear about the types of behavior and activities that lead to success, share these criteria with your team. Make each desired activity/behavior crystal clear in order for them to see exactly what the end goal is, as well as the specific actions required to succeed in their position. 

It’s essential for you to communicate to each employee your definition of the criteria and “winning formula” for success. Get this right, and your people will be driven to take the necessary action, pursue the right goals, and achieve the desired outcome. 

Another industry we work with extensively is retail. In the retail industry, upsell offers at the counter can be a major profit driver, but only if the cashier remembers to ask a customer to buy. Imagine you’re a manager of a retail store and only 1 or 2 cashiers out of 20 ask for the upsell. That’s not a great percentage, and it limits the potential for profitability.

Now, tell everyone that the cashier with the most upsells is going to win “Employee of the Month.” Make the criteria, along with a leaderboard, accessible to everyone, and make sure each team member knows where they stand in comparison to their peers. Knowing that there is a competition, and knowing exactly what it takes to win, creates an atmosphere of competition.

All of a sudden you’ve got 12-15 cashiers out of 20 pushing upsells because they all want to win. What kind of impact would that have on store revenue and profitability for the month? 

3. Commitment

The last step to create your strategic employee recognition program is to stay consistent. Just like anything that’s worthwhile, recognizing people who deserve it is a month-to-month commitment. 

Inconsistency is the number one killer of employee recognition and appreciation. Average initiatives to improve employee recognition only last three months. You’re not average, so follow and implement sections one and two on a monthly basis. Make the commitment to stay on the same page as your team about the right criteria. Consistency gets the job done.

Now, begin recognizing those who hit the targets you give them. Set up this process as a monthly program with the intention of publicly recognizing the one (or more) individuals who model the type of behavior you want from everyone. 

If you show your team you are committed to recognizing them for the behaviors that make your business successful, they will be committed to exhibiting those behaviors.

Pro Tip: Build this program into your already existing team meetings as an important presentation. Everyone is present at these meetings, so take this time to sincerely show your appreciation for your team members. Provide benchmarks for employees (through communication) centered around the criteria that you created. Now, recognize and reward the employees who hit those benchmarks. 

Read more: “How to Start an Employee of the Month Program”

Summary of the three-step process to run your strategic employee recognition program

  1. Criteria. Begin with preparation and planning. Determine what metrics you want to track and improve.
  2. Communication. Make sure you and your team are on the same page about key performance indicators. At this point, your team knows what it takes to be recognized for outstanding performance. track which individuals are hitting the KPI’s you shared with them, then recognize them in front of the entire team. Be sure to explain to everyone exactly why the top performer receives recognition for their work.
  3. Commitment. Maintain monthly consistency so you can build momentum in recognizing winners and sho everyone the work ethic that you expect. 

Business Impact of Strategic Employee Recognition

Attention and appreciation motivate people, and recognition is what our clients use to get more out of individuals and teams alike. But, how does strategic recognition play out in your business? We have plenty of client success stories to help you see how strategic employee recognition plays out in the real world. The testimonials below show the difference made by strategic recognition.

Applebee’s Bar & Grill

Applebee’s Bar & Grill is a large restaurant chain with many successful locations. One Applebee’s location began working with MyEmployees to improve employee engagement, enthusiasm, and motivation. We worked alongside Terence, the GM, to implement our program and give necessary recognition to employees who performed at a higher level.

What were the results? Terence and his team at Applebee’s went from being ranked 67th, to being ranked 2nd in their franchise group. They also saw a 22% increase in guest satisfaction.

Here’s what Terence had to say about his experience with us: “When I was introduced to the MyEmployees program, I knew this was a tool I could partner my style of management with. I have since come to find that the power of recognition is not just something I practice but something that is practiced by many leaders within our company. It has become contagious and is now the ‘new norm’.”

“…the power of recognition is not just something I practice but something that is practiced by many leaders within our company. It has become contagious and is now the ‘new norm’.” – Terence Arenson, General Manager, Applebee’s Bar & Grill

Gold’s Gym and TruFIT Gym

Mike Valentino was the owner and CEO of 10 Gold’s Gym locations for 24 years. During the operation of 10 different gym locations, Mike realized the importance of having a specific and customized recognition program for his staff. This is how Mike chose MyEmployees’ strategic employee recognition program. 

When asked about how MyEmployees helped address the lack of employee recognition at each of his locations, Mike said, “This allows us to have a consistent way to recognize our staff and team members for their commitment, consistency, and performance.” 

In 2017, Mike sold 3 of his locations after franchising contracts ended with Gold’s Gym. With 7 remaining gym locations, Mike still uses MyEmployees’ customized strategic employee recognition programs at each of the 7 locations. 

Mike made the following comments about working with MyEmployees: “The presentation of the recognition awards shows up in many positive ways in many facets, our actual recognition event becomes memorable for the recipient leaving them feeling very positive and appreciated, the recognition events being shown and talked about on social media, amongst friends/family along with other outlets has a very positive impression of our business and how our organization thinks about and recognizes our people.”

“…a very positive impression of our business and how our organization thinks about and recognizes our people.” – Mike Valentino, TruFIT Gym Owner and CEO

Weekly success stories from real clients

Every week, we hear stories about how strategic employee recognition is making a valuable difference for managers and their employees. Benefits of strategic employee recognition include: improved customer service, higher location ratings/rankings, and boosted morale.

“I think it’s a great way of acknowledging people

This client story is from Griswold Home Care in Houston, TX. Click “play” below to hear General Manager James Kuzilla talks about how much recognition motivates the caregivers on his team. James also mentions how his recognition program brings him closer to the employees.

MyEmployees “…makes it so easy”

Here, listen to Shannon Scott, GM at Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott in Fort Walton Beach, speak about how he’s “sold” on employee recognition. Shannon says MyEmployees is easier than using a local vender since our program “fits perfectly” with what they’re doing.

“Constantly seeking ways to improve”

This is another awesome way we see our recognition program in action… social media sharing! Here, Casey Smock, the manager at FedEx Freight in Atlanta, Georgia shares a picture with his “leader of the month” and explains exactly how the award was earned.

To see and hear more success stories from our clients, click here.

Wrapping up

For the rest of 2020, close the gap between you and your success by understanding how your team can help you achieve your goals. From there, give public and sincere credit when your team members are loyal to the objectives you’ve laid out for them. 

Communicate your criteria consistently. Over time, you’ll develop the type of culture employees enjoy being a part of, an atmosphere that keeps customers coming back, and a team you love showing appreciation.

MyEmployees has helped managers grow relationships with employees for over 30 years. We’ve handled challenges and experienced success for three decades. During that time, we’ve helped run thousands of programs for managers all over America, and we know what works. That’s why we’re so confident we can help you. Now, we encourage you to apply everything you’ve learned to your business.

Getting started is easy! Click HERE to schedule a 15 minute chat with a member of our team!

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Employee of the Month Presentation Essentials

A great employee of the month presentation is the key to maximizing your employee recognition and employee appreciation efforts! Read more HERE.

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