There’s a big difference between knowing your company’s core values and understanding what it means to live by them. Core values are, at their best, guiding principles fundamental to the way an entire organization operates. They transcend short-term company objectives, roles, and departments.
Because core values are so high-level, they have the potential to bring a sense of cohesion to company culture. But the flip side of that is that they can also feel abstract and hard to grasp — nice enough in theory, but much less clear in practice.
For companies looking to build a strong culture, having core values in the first place is only step one. If you want them to become true pillars of company culture, you also need to have a strategy to reinforce them. One of the most effective ways to do that is by implementing a values-based employee recognition program. This article explains why and how.
Recognition as Behavioral Reinforcement
Before addressing what it means to practice values-based employee recognition, it’s important to lay the groundwork by discussing the psychological principles that underlie employee recognition.
Employee recognition programs can powerfully influence employee behavior because they capitalize on one of the most fundamental rules of human psychology: the law of positive reinforcement.
The law of positive reinforcement states that behavior that is rewarded will be repeated. This happens by a mechanism known as “conditioning,” in which the subject is conditioned to associate a given action with a positive outcome. This can be as simple as teaching a child to associate doing their homework with getting a treat, but also applies in more complicated adult settings. When a person is repeatedly rewarded for a given behavior, they develop an association between that action and its outcome. Whether implicit or explicit, this association will encourage that person to display more and more of the rewarded behavior, presumably as a way to obtain additional rewards.
By now, you’ve likely already connected the dots and understand how deeply embedded positive reinforcement is in employee recognition. When you recognize an employee for good behavior, the praise functions as the positive outcome that the recipient will learn to associate with said behavior. If you have a rewards and recognition program that also features redeemable credits, the points awarded in the recognition become part of that desired positive outcome.
This means that whatever behaviors you recognize employees for will become more frequent as members of your team learn to associate them with rewards. Thus, when you use your recognition program to reinforce behaviors aligned with company core values, you effectively encourage employees to live by them every day. The following section shares the details of what this looks like in practice.
When designing an employee recognition program for your company, one of the most important decisions you’ll have to make is what, exactly, employees should be recognized for. If you center your program around core values, suddenly you have a highly impactful, psychologically-backed strategy for helping employees live up to them.
The most obvious way core values-based recognition encourages employees to behave according to company core values is by literally rewarding them when they do. Not only does this create an incentive for employees to operate according to company core values, but it also contributes to a positive association between those behaviors and the related outcomes. When employees understand that living by company core values results in direct benefits for them, they (unsurprisingly) become highly motivated to do so.
That’s just the most direct way that recognition can help reinforce your company core values. In addition to that, employee recognition programs can support company core values in a variety of ways.
- Employee recognition provides clear examples of what core values look like in action. Employees can look back to see what their peers have been recognized for in the past to gain a better understanding of what it means to live by company core values.
- Employee recognition programs provide great reference points to be incorporated in performance reviews and other evaluations. When it comes time to discuss how employees are doing, it’s great to have concrete examples of how they’ve lived up to core values.
- Employee recognition programs help keep core values top of mind by displaying them in a social feed that employees can access every day. When they see their peers being recognized for living up to company core values, other team members will be inspired to do the same.
Through these combined benefits, employee recognition programs work to make core values an integral element of the way your employees operate day-to-day. When you make core values the center of your employee recognition program, you take the first step in transforming them from high-level ideals into actionable behaviors that employees can strive for in their work.
Aligning Employee Rewards With Culture
The cherry on top of any values-based recognition program is the rewards that come with it. Similar to how you can customize your recognition occasions to fit your culture, the best employee recognition programs will also offer the ability to curate a custom employee rewards catalog featuring an array of rewards that make sense for your company. These can be tailored to reinforce your company culture.
For example, say that one of your company’s core values is “perpetual learning.” You might design a catalog that lets employees use points to fund tuition for courses aligned with career development. In another example, if your company values giving back to the community, you could design a catalog of charities and give employees the option of donating their earned points to these organizations.
When your rewards and recognition program is aligned with your company culture, the entire program becomes a powerful tool to influence employee behavior and solidify the culture that defines your company. With so much room for customization, this tool offers a unique opportunity to build a program tailor-made for your team.