As Enterprise Minnesota recently celebrated our annual “Esteemed Colleague” event, I was reminded of the Norwegian-Minnesotan who loved his wife so passionately that he almost told her.

It is not good enough for managers to truly appreciate the contributions of their employees and almost tell them. Employee recognition, especially through special events, should comprise any manufacturer’s overall HR strategy. Face it: a typical company performs no better than the quality contributions of its employees. The company that takes for granted its productive, creative, and collaborative workers simply doesn’t function optimally. And, worse, today’s employee-starved marketplace will ensure self-involved management teams will eventually appreciate the efforts of those workers when they’re gone.

Today’s HR market demands that employee recognition goes far beyond the traditional pat-on-the-head acknowledgments of yesteryear. Employee recognition has significantly evolved from the days when some chunky banker with a handlebar mustache in a three-piece pinstripe suit would commemorate an employee’s lifetime of service through a ceremonial gold watch. Tenure has merit, to be sure, but recognition should thoughtfully honor employee contributions.

To me, the most effective—and authentic—employee recognition model develops from a peer-to-peer process. That way, the award becomes less about which apple-polishing employee is most skilled at managing up. It focuses instead on colleagues’ perceptions about employees who work best with each other and whose quiet contributions may have improved productivity or overall morale.

The empowerment of a peer-to-peer nomination process also fosters an overall sense of team-building. Nominating a coworker enables the entire workforce to appreciate that their opinions matter, that the “winners” reflect the skillsets and attitudes they respect. Peer opinions, therefore, become part of something bigger than being merely expendable tools. Employees who feel well-appreciated will be more likely to stay with their team.

Candidly, the peer-to-peer model of recognition benefits managers as well. Employees who elevate the performance of a worker may give insights to managers about hidden talents or effectiveness that has slipped under their radar.

It also contributes to employee development. Employees will look at the “winners” for ways to model the kinds of attitude, behavior, and performance that are appreciated by their colleagues. Smart managers will place these awards in the context of the purposeful, goal-oriented attitudes they want to see in their employees. By focusing on how these employees bring value to the shop floor or the office, managers can showcase how these behaviors fit into the overall mission of the company.

Featured in the Fall 2019 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine.

Return to Fall 2019 magazine