Peer-Initiated Recognition Is Powerful

by Bob Nelson ©

All employees like to be recognized for a job well done, but recognition from one's peers always has a special significance. Perhaps this is because such awards are seldom expected. Perhaps it is because everyone knows managerial favoritism played no part in the selection. Whatever the reason, you can be assured when employees select someone from their rank to single out for recognition and praise, that the recognition is well earned and sincere.

An example of a peer-initiated reward is described by Tom Tate, Program Manager for the Office of Personnel Management in the Personnel and Management Training Division of the U.S. Government. He tells about the "Wingspread Award," a beautiful plaque engraved and given to the division's "special performer" by the division head. After a while the recipient wanted to recognize in turn someone who was felt to be a deserving colleague. The recipient then passed the award on to that employee, who later wanted to recognize yet another peer.

Over time, the award took on great value and prestige because it came from one's peers. Each employee who received it could keep it as long as he or she liked, until another special performer had been discovered. When a recipient was ready to pass it on, a ceremony and lunch was scheduled. Other examples of peer-initiated awards include:

  • The Angus Barn Restaurant in Raleigh, NC, has an award called The People's Choice. Employees vote on a model employee, the best team player, and so forth.
  • At ICI Pharmaceuticals Group in Wilmington, DE, a peer can nominate a fellow employee for the Performance Excellence Award for any idea that helps the business (saves money, increases productivity, etc.) or for employees who go "above and beyond" the call of duty. Besides the recognition and visibility, the recipient is given $300.
  •  At Meridian Travel, Inc. in Cleveland, OH, CEO Cynthia Bender has the company's 62 employees write in their vote for Employee of the Month. "Managers always have their favorites, but the employees know who pitches in and helps out," says Bender. "This makes employees notice others more and develops camaraderie."

Getting employees to recognize others in the company can be easily encouraged, but it is most likely to happen if a program is initiated in your workplace.

At Blanchard Training and Development, Inc. there is the Eagle Award for recognizing employees who do acts of extraordinary service. Anytime someone performs a work-related favor an employee can give that person a "hatchling"--a gold sticker of an eaglet plus a write up about what the person did and why it was of special significance to you.

Once a person receives 16 hatchlings on a card, he or she is given an Eagle Award plaque by a group of employees in a brief ceremony at his or her desk, accompanied by a photo, balloons, etc. An Eagle Award can also be given for a single outstanding event an employee performs. The program was announced and explained at a company meeting, and a small committee of volunteers administers the mechanics of the program. Employee reception to the program has been strong, and the benefits to the company have been significant.