Guest Column - July/August 2014

The Power of Peer-to-Peer Recognition

By Paul Gordon

According to industry studies, more than 50 percent of the workforce is looking for a career change as the economy improves. And, if most companies rely on annual reviews where the average ratio of management to employee is 1 to 10, it can create a robotic exercise within an organization. With millennials accounting for 53 percent of the workforce, what is the greatest tool for a healthy organization? It's peer-to-peer recognition.

For most people, the concept of peer-to-peer recognition can be summed up as a "thank you" e-mail or a halfhearted pat on the back. To let this school of thought prevail in your organization not only cripples day-to-day productivity, but ultimately can be the reason your employees feel significantly less valued than they should.

Peer-to-peer recognition is the genuine, public acknowledgement of another individual's work by fellow workers. It's a selfless act that lets others know that the collaboration, assistance, coordination and feedback they provided aided in the completion of a particular task. It's also a motivational tool that when used correctly, has the ability to pay massive dividends. Furthermore, it can be used as a method of introducing and maintaining positive levels of communication companywide, while also combating low employee morale.

Businesses can vary greatly in size and scope, yet each can understand the importance of cross-department communication. This type of instant, peer-driven recognition establishes new relationships in places where it may not have previously been deemed "necessary." Every working relationship is essential and can subsequently be utilized to improve efficiency across the board. This seems especially important to note when there are currently up to four generations in the workforce, with each carrying its own particular preferences for recognition. For example, one common characteristic of millennials is that they thrive on instant gratification and spot recognition. Conversely, generation X, baby boomers and traditionalists may not operate the same way. This isn't a cause for alarm, but for a modified approach to your organization's recognition game. Placing an emphasis on peer-to-peer recognition allows your rewards program to be more customized and rewarding than it's ever been.

This type of recognition is different in the sense that it must be implemented from the bottom-up, not the top-down. In an article first published on by Josh Bersin, the author noted that "recognition from leaders has less impact than you may think." After all, it's peers who are inherently much more aware of the tasks which occupy the time of an individual's day-by-day workload. So a "thank you" from them has the ability to be much more sincere and meaningful. That's not to say that executives can't be bothered to take notice of what their team might be doing, but simply suggests that the recognition can be at its most powerful when pioneered by the ones most likely to drive it. Bersin sums up this sentiment by stating that "top-down recognition is often viewed as political and it rarely reaches the 'quiet but critical high-performers' in the company."

So, how can you go about creating a culture of peer-to-peer recognition in your workplace? For one, ensure that the program is innovative, flexible, fun and inspired by that aforementioned group of dedicated employees so eager to use it. No matter what your organization's recognition platform looks like now—it could either be in need of a serious overhaul or merely a tiny adjustment—don't be afraid to let management take a backseat when it comes to some of the creative developments. By allowing your employees to take ownership of a program that's ultimately going to benefit them the most, your organization is building the foundation for a relationship that's centered on trust and the tacit acknowledgement that their work is already consistently valued.

Of course, planting the seeds for an effective program is one thing; securing participation along the way can be entirely different. Perhaps the most effective way to keep engagement high is by making your program as interactive as possible.