engage employees with a recognition program

As an internal communicator, you can’t do your job without the participation of other people. But it’s hard to convince someone to devote time and energy when communication is not their job. That’s where participation “trophies” come in.

For more than 20 years, kids in youth sports have received participation trophies: small shiny plastic statues given for just showing up. Effort and results aren’t factored in because the point is to give reward for the simple fact of participating.

These days, there is much discussion about the value of these prizes. Some parents and leaders argue that everything in life should be earned and just being part of a team is not cause for accolades. Others claim that this recognition for participation led an entire generation (Millennials) to feel entitled and to expect an award, even when putting in little effort. Some recent headlines include:

  • Giving Kids Participation Awards Is Robbing Them of a Vital Lesson – How to Lose
  • Participation Trophies Send a Dangerous Message
  • Georgetown Giving Every Fan Participation Trophy on “Millennial Day”
  • Does Sports Participation Deserve a Trophy? Let the Parental Debate Begin!

While the debate continues about trophies for young athletes, participation itself isn’t a bad word. In my opinion, if the goal is getting kids just to participate, then a small plastic statue is the perfect honor for meeting that goal. 

The same principle applies to internal communication. Since getting colleagues involved is such a challenge, strive for participation and then reward appropriately.

Sometimes the success of your employee communication plan relies on input and collaboration from others who are not communication professionals. For example, you need newsletter content from a marketing leader or the head of sales to help disseminate information to his team.

Your challenges? These business colleagues aren’t trained in communication best practices, and what you are asking of them is above and beyond their regular job.

There are two keys to your success:

1. Encourage participation
2. Recognize your colleagues’ participation

Here are three tips for encouraging participation in your communication efforts:

  • Be inclusive. When people feel like they are part of creating something, they are more likely to stay involved. That’s why you should include business colleagues early on in the planning process and let them contribute ideas. Certainly there are some areas that are non-negotiable like brand standards, timing and legal language. However, if you find ways you can brainstorm together and then demonstrate how your colleagues’ ideas were incorporated into the communication plan, participants will feel invested in it.
  • Align on expectations. Together, you and your business colleagues can define expectations for communication efforts. How often will they need to communicate? What vehicles will they use? How often will you meet to discuss progress? What will they need from you? Try creating a roles and responsibilities document to summarize what you’ve agreed upon. That way you’ll all be working off the same reference document. 
  • Keep it simple. Your target participants are extremely busy. The last thing you want to do is feel like a burden to them, so keep your requests manageable. For example, if you want colleagues to send emails, provide examples of what good looks like, as well as easy-to-use templates. If you want participants to be available to answer questions, create an FAQ document with anticipated questions and answers.

Once you get the participation you are seeking from business colleagues, then you can give them a trophy!  Okay, not really, but acknowledging their work will help ensure they are on board the next time you need their help. Here are a few “reward” ideas that colleagues will appreciate:

  • Write a handwritten thank you note and drop it in interoffice mail
  • Send an email to your colleague’s manager recognizing his/her efforts
  • Buy him/her a coffee or snack in the cafeteria
  • Pick up the phone or stop by his/her office and say thank you

When you need non-communicators to help your communication efforts succeed, don’t worry about having them own the plan or take control, just focus on getting them involved. Then, remember the small plastic statues that kids covet and find a reward that matches the effort.

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