Mutual Appreciation

The power of peer-to-peer recognition programs  

By Michelle Warren

Each month, RBC Financial employees send between 10,000 and 15,000 “Instant Thanks” through an online peer-to-peer social recognition program. With more than 75,000 workers, it’s an invaluable tool for engaging staff.

“Research showed the value of giving people that informal day-to-day recognition,” says Steve Richardson, manager, recognition programs for Royal Bank of Canada. “With Instant Thanks, you can recognize someone in the next desk or around the world.”

Peer-to-peer programs remove the bottleneck when responsibility falls solely on management and makes recognition ongoing, not simply part of an annual review.

It’s a strategy that pays huge ongoing dividends—organizations that regularly thank employees outperform those who don’t.

“Being recognized by your peers is often more validating,” says John Mills, executive vice-president, business development, of Montreal-based Rideau Recognition. “The real way to change culture and drive behaviour is to recognize others. What people get recognized for and congratulated for they tend to do again.” Here’s how to implement an effective peer-to-peer program:

Plan and educate
Training is essential, not only in terms of how a program works, but also how to give effective recognition.

“You only get one chance to make that first impression,” says Mills. “The education process is important: Let people know why you are doing it.” RBC first got C-suite players and management on board. Then they launched internal corporate communications. High-level ambassadors are fundamental, says Richardson: “We have very senior people who do 10 to 20 (Instant Thanks) a day.”

Define behaviour
“The key is to recognize folks for actions you want to encourage, things that will drive business,” says Mills.

Dynamic programs can evolve to engage employees with new challenges. For instance, one year focus on customer satisfaction, the next on innovation. Always ensure people know why they are being recognized.

Keep it simple
“For most people it’s not intuitive to stop and say thanks,” says Richardson. “We wanted to make it easy to use and quick—you can do one in 15 seconds.” Most successful programs, like RBC’s, are run through a custom portal: Typically a single sign-up, then a desktop icon or, increasingly, a mobile device.

Frequency of use is essential: People won’t participate if the nomination process is too complicated or rules are cumbersome.

Alert management
The best programs are when you allow employees to recognize peers without a manager’s approval, says Mills: “Respect their judgment.”

But keep managers in the loop with a mechanism that advises them immediately when a team member is highlighted.

“It is important for managers to understand who is recognized,” says Richardson. “It ties directly to employee engagement.”

Be social
Peer-to-peer programs come in various forms, some are level-driven, others are points-based, whereby staff attain levels or earn points for each recognition—these are accumulated then redeemed for prizes.

RBC does award points, but the real value lies in public recognition. On employees’ computers is a constant feed showcasing Instant Thanks and anyone can jump in to comment. It is also a reminder to participate.

“When we started putting these feeds across all computers, that was the big ‘a-ha’ moment,” says Richardson. “Once employees do one or two they’re hooked.”

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