Your portal to
enterprise engagement

Dr. Paul White: Recognition Takes a System

Paul WhiteCo-author of the best-selling “5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace” book and creator of a system for identifying the ways each employee seeks to be appreciated, Dr. Paul White believes most organizations can achieve far greater results from their recognition efforts with a more strategic and systematic approach.

Consistent CEO Commitment Is Essential
A Need to Address Inadequate Training
As co-author of a book that has sold over 500,000 copies worldwide and is still selling at a rate of over 4,000 copies a month, Dr. Paul White has had multiple opportunities to see first-hand how companies large and small manage the process of recognition. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 representing the best case, he rates the average maturity of recognition programs at about a 4, or even a 3 if one grades the company on year-to-year consistency. He notes that many companies get off to a good start and then let the effort peter out.
(See RRN: 12 Things Wrong With Many Recognition Programs and How to Make Them Right.)
The cost of inadequate employee engagement efforts, he projects, will only grow, despite signs of a tighter job market. “In a recent survey we conducted of 400 remote employees, lack of connectivity with colleagues was cited by 53% of the respondents as by far the No. 1 challenge.” Given that “feeling part of the team,” is a No. 1 retention factor, according to Gallup, “companies are likely experiencing lower productivity and quality and greater flight risk if they can’t restore connections.”
Kansas-based Appreciation at Work provides a book, a workbook on appreciation for each employee, a self-assessment tool for employees to identify their preferred language of appreciation. It  now offers an Enterprise Engagement technology designed to enable any company to put all the levers of engagement on a single, smartphone accessible application.

Consistent CEO Commitment Is Essential

A highly mature program, he says, has:
  • Passionate, year-to-year CEO, top-level and front -line management support.
  • Clear goals and objectives, updated each year or as needed. 
  • Identification of the behaviors and actions needed to achieve the goals.
  • A method of measuring whether these actions are taking place.
  • Results metrics such as retention, referrals, customer satisfaction, productivity, quality, etc., and a continuous improvement process.
“Then, you can put the whole thing together and see whether what you are doing is having an affect not only on behaviors but on results.” More often than not, Dr. White says, companies fall into one of three categories when it comes to recognition strategies.
1. Haphazard. Maybe the company does something once a year, randomly, with not much effort or thought.
2. Autopilot. This group of organizations just keeps doing what they are doing: an employee of the month, quarter, or year; service or performance awards, or maybe some other spontaneous efforts. “I don’t quite understand why companies are even running length-of-service programs anymore,” he notes, given that the average length of tenure now in the US is only about four years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (The US tax incentive for length-of-service awards starts at five years of tenure.)
3. Bright and shiny. These companies, he says, jazz up their programs with peer-to-peer technology and rewards. “This group is trying hard to do more structured activities but it usually isn’t working well because it’s one-dimensional and not closely tied to organizational purpose or goals. I feel for these people, because they think they are taking the right action steps, but they are not.”

A Need to Address Inadequate Training

The fundamental challenge for most companies is that they do not have a clear sense of what is needed in a culture to keep people focused and inspired nor access to people with serious expertise in employee engagement. “I often hear companies say that the objective of these programs is to increase employee engagement. Well, what does that mean? What does that mean behaviorally? I have seen major companies put their recognition programs into the hands of people who have no training or even background in employee engagement. There is little to no clear process for developing the program, connecting it to organizational goals, or even understanding how their employees wish to be appreciated. Not everyone likes being brought up on a stage and handed a plaque. For a lot of people, written words have little meaning; many prefer personal, one-on-one expressions of appreciation. Some people like receiving gifts, others would prefer the offer of a helping hand on a project.”
Dr. White emphasizes that “appreciation is about the person. We have lives outside of work, and the two intersect.  If we have a problem at home, it affects work. If we don’t understand what’s going in our colleagues’ lives, we can’t connect and that creates a trust problem.”
Once an organization has established a clear purpose, goals, and objectives, recognition should be incorporated into the day-to-day processes of an organization—not set apart as a separate task. The focus should not be on the results but in expressing appreciation for the actions that lead to the results. “That means incorporating appreciation into every appropriate meeting or informal gathering, rather than reserving it for a monthly or yearly event. It’s important to highlight the steps people have taken to achieve the goals in the way they feel most comfortable.” It also means baking appreciation into the training of every employee from the day they join, he adds. “Appreciation is practiced by everyone, not just management.”
To achieve any organizational purpose or goals on a regular basis, he says, “requires honest, open communication; clear boundaries and expectations; transparent decision-making procedures, and connectivity with trusting relationships between people enabling them to collaborate effectively and accept responsibility. Unless you address all these issues, the likelihood of achieving optimal productivity, quality, retention, or referrals is low.”
Technology, Dr. White believes, can help scale appreciation across divisions, stakeholders, and remote workplaces, “but not peer-to-peer recognition technology alone. Written appreciation is good, but face-to-face, gifts, and visual expressions of appreciation are also important. For the greatest impact, they must be connected to other initiatives, such as training, safety, communications, surveys, and analytics, so companies can see a real-time correlation between behaviors and outcomes.”
For More Information
Paul White, Ph.D.
President, Appreciation at Work

Subscribe to ESM's weekly newsletter. 

Click here to learn about the EEA’s bi-partisan petition to keep politicians out of business management.

1. Professional Education on Stakeholder Management and Total Rewards
2. Media 3. Fully Integrated Business Development for Engagement and Total Rewards
Business Development for Stakeholder Management and Total Rewards solution providers, including Integrated blog, social media, and e-newsletter campaigns managed by content marketing experts.
4. Advisory Services for Organizations

Stakeholder Management Business Plans Human Capital Management, Metrics, and Reporting for organizations, including ISO human capital certifications, and services for solution providers.
5. Outreach in the US and Around the World on Stakeholder Management and Total Rewards
The EEA promotes a strategic approach to people management and total rewards through its e-newsletters, web sites, and social media reaching 20,000 professionals a month and through other activities, such as:

Earn Big $ In EEA Referral Program
Enterprise Engagement Resources
Committed to Stakeholder Capitalism   Refer, Rate, Suggest & Earn
Engagement Solutions


Incentco: The No. 1 Suite of Engagement Technologies.

PurposePoint: The Purpose Leadership Community


Catalyst Performance Group




Fire Light Group

Luxe Incentives


Incentive Team