Peer-to-peer recognition

Peer-to-peer recognition has a profound effect on company culture

By John Schofield

Bankers are not generally thought to be sensitive, emotional types. But the ones at Toronto-based TD Bank Financial Group have been bucking the stereotype by getting in touch with their inner gratitude.

The bank’s e-card initiative allows TD’s 55,000 employees across Canada to e-mail specially designed thank you notes to any colleague in the company. The peer-to-peer recognition program has unleashed an incredible outpouring of appreciation—and could be a reason why the bank was named one of Canada’s top 10 employers by the Financial Post.

An estimated 20,000 e-cards are sent through TD’s internal e-mail system every month. Employees can choose from a variety of cards, which are designed in-house and regularly changed. “This program really reinforces the recognition culture that we’re trying to build,” says Karey Stanley, manager, global recognition programs. “Most of the intent is about saying, ‘You did a great job.’”

Praise from your boss is nice, but being recognized by your peers is especially powerful, says Peter Hart, president and CEO of Montreal-based Rideau Inc., a global leader in corporate and government recognition programs and products. One of the most compelling symbols of that power, he says, is the illustrious Academy Awards. “When you’re appreciated by the people you work with every single day,” he observes, “that’s one of the strongest forms of recognition you can receive.”

Effective peer recognition can have a profound impact on an organization, says Kevin Kelloway, a professor and Canada research chair in occupational health psychology at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. While it shouldn’t replace recognition by managers, he adds, it’s a good start. Managers can’t be around all the time, he says, and in many firms, they only tend to hear about the problems. With peer recognition, “you start hearing about the good things that are going on,” says Kelloway, “and that’s an important change of focus for companies. Leaders tell us what an amazing difference that makes in the workplace.”

Large corporations often decide to establish formal peer-to-peer recognition programs, but an informal approach—like TD’s e-cards—can end up being more effective, says Kelloway. “The minute you dress it up formally you end up putting all kinds of rules around it and you actually start setting limits around it.”

In the end, a program’s success depends on management support. Unfortunately, it’s not always the case. According to Hart, 90 per cent of companies in North America have a recognition program of some kind, but 60 per cent of employees questioned in one survey said they don’t feel recognized. “There’s not enough time spent in appreciating people for who they are and then recognizing them for what they do,” he says. “The platinum rule for recognition is treat your employees exactly the way you would like them to treat your customers.”

Peer Recognition Pointers
PeopleMetrics, a Philadelphia-based firm specialized in employee engagement, offers these five tips when designing a peer recognition program:

Specific feedback is more important than general praise. Encourage employees to be precise when complimenting their peers.

Involve employees in designing your peer recognition program.

Ensure equal opportunities to give and receive feedback. Set up a level playing field.

Immediate feedback is more motivating than delayed feedback.

Managers and executives must lead by example especially in providing helpful, positive feeback.

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