It’s no secret that employee performance programs can help build engagement, align employee behaviors with company values and instill accountability. Because of this, many companies have enacted top-down recognition programs with varying success.

While a quality recognition program can improve performance and employee satisfaction, even the best-conceived top-down programs can’t do everything.

Top-down Recognition Drawbacks

Top-down recognition programs can have significant drawbacks. For instance, they can:

  • Take too long: Many programs offer recognition annually. This can make people who have great success early in the year feel underappreciated. There is also the possibility of recency bias when a more recent achievement gets more attention than a more impactful older achievement.
  • Feel unreachable: Those at the bottom of the organizational pyramid may feel like they never have a chance to be recognized. If they don’t feel they can achieve success, their desire to try diminishes.
  • Mean little to others: One of the great things about public recognition is celebrating the achievements of someone we know. Seeing a close co-worker receive well deserved recognition can boost our spirits and allow us to bask in their limelight. However, if familiar names never receive recognition, team members will lack a positive role model to emulate.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have a top-down recognition program in your company, or even several programs that focus on different divisions or business units.  Instead, these programs should be supplemented with peer-to-peer recognition programs. Let’s examine a few ways peer to peer recognition can help fill the gaps.

Peer-to-Peer Recognition Benefits

  • Connectivity: For people in the trenches, it can mean more to be recognized by their peers than by some remote executive. Team members who work closely together are often the best judges of one another’s performance and what that means to the company and customers. Their accolades ring the truest.
  • Immediacy: The smaller the group, the easier it is to share accomplishments. This can be done at weekly meetings, daily huddles or even in the moment.  Why wait to share success? Take every opportunity to celebrate your team members’ achievements. By doing so, they will likely strive to achieve even more.
  • Low cost: Top-down recognition programs often have a significant cost. Whether that be in the form of a reward (often financial), in time or in bandwidth, those costs can add up. Peer-to-peer recognition has fewer financial burdens and is often delivered at no cost. There’s no charge to make an announcement or share a victory over your team’s communication channel. Even if a financial reward is tied to the program, nominal amounts combined with praise typically have longer-lasting effects and are better remembered than monetary awards alone.

Tips and Best Practices

Peer-to-peer recognition doesn’t have to look one way. It can take any form the individuals or teams want it to take. It can focus on specific outcomes that fall within specific dates or activities, or it can be a catch-all where any positive activity is praised. To make the most of these programs, consider the following best practices:

  • Get input: Get the involvement of the people you want to recognize right from the start. What do they value? How do they want to achieve company goals?  Where do they need to improve?  How can they maximize their strengths? Address the things they care about and accept their ideas. This will help generate excitement around the program, which will help feed its success.
  • Clarify the program: While your program can recognize anything, it is important to define what to recognize, what the goals are and how those goals can be reached. Being specific will level the playing field and allow people to learn from each other.
  • Celebrate together: Public recognition of achievements is a vital component of any recognition program. It makes the recipient feel acknowledged and appreciated while giving others something to which they can aspire. Be sure to celebrate everyone who participated and acknowledge all they have done. Show them the positive impact they had. Leave everyone feeling positive and ready to tackle whatever comes next.
  • Make awards meaningful: People are not motivated by the same things, so your reward should not be one-size-fits-all. While there are exceptions (such as a traveling trophy), show some flexibility when you determine awards. The rewards that have the most lasting impact tend to be personalized, memorable and rare.

Program Options

The behaviors you want to promote will depend on your organization, but options include:

  • Lowest/Highest: Any quantifiable metrics can be used on a monthly or quarterly basis, such as highest productivity or lowest cycle time.
  • Most improved: Instead of straight numbers, celebrate improvement on any quantifiable metric.
  • “I see you:” Awards given from team members for remarkable work.
  • Customer kudos: Share and celebrate how individuals have impacted your customers.
  • Team player: Individuals who regularly help others.


However you structure your recognition program, make sure it drives the behaviors and skills that are most important to you and your business’s success. While promoting high-level rewards and recognition will help drive companywide initiatives, they can be less impactful further down the organizational chart. That is where recognition programs can pick up the slack.

Recognition within teams, offices, territories or other smaller groups have the potential to have a more meaningful and lasting impact than larger companywide programs. Having these smaller recognition programs also means that more people can be recognized for their achievements.

William James, the “father of American psychology,” said that the deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated. Help make it possible for everyone to fulfill that craving. Let them know you see their hard work and care deeply about their successes, and they will reward you by doing more of the things that make them (and you) successful.