How We Used Motivation Theory to Enhance a Recognition Program


Years ago, recognition consisted of a pat on the back with an exuberant “atta boy.”

But that was then, and this is now. And, let me tell you, the American work environment is a much better place than it was back then. The workplace and its recognition programs have evolved greatly on several fronts. They’re an important factor in retaining top performers, aligning employees to corporate goals and priorities as well as increasing employee satisfaction. Plus, companies are seeing the bottom-line benefits of having healthy and happy employees.

Recognition in the workplace works best when a program is built upon the needs and input of the employees being recognized.

According to decades of academic research, employees really want what you, I and everyone else wants:

  • Full appreciation for work done
  • Feeling “in” on things
  • Sympathetic help on personal problems
  • Job security
  • Good wages
  • Interesting work
  • Promotion/growth opportunities
  • Personal loyalty to workers
  • Good working conditions
  • Tactful discipline

Finding out what matters most to them is critical in planning and designing recognition initiatives. It’s not a one-size-fits-all program anymore—and complications can quickly add up when it comes to designing an initiative that appeals holistically to each individual.

From Plain to Strategic

One of our clients wanted to evolve their program from something plain to a more strategic, multi-level recognition program that tied positive behaviors to corporate core values.

While creating this program, we knew it was important to keep a balance of different motivators in place. At ITA Group, we call this approach to motivation Motivology℠. It’s our unique take on motivation and is rooted in psychology and behavioral economics research.

We wanted to help people feel a sense of accomplishment or belonging when they performed certain tasks and to acknowledge certain milestones with an award. By appealing to intrinsic (internally-driven) motivators, as well as presenting extrinsic (externally-driven) motivators, the foundation was set for a program that would align the 13,000 employees to our client’s priorities.

What's Motivology all about? Learn more about our approach.

Here’s how it worked:

  • We created a user-friendly system so employees could recognize each other through e-cards. The e-cards are tied to company core values, which their behavior supported, and include a personal message. This appealed to employees’ intrinsic sense of belonging and a desire for social contact.
  • For those who went above and beyond in displaying a core value, tangible awards could be earned by earning points from their peers.
  • One component of the program permitted participants to recognize vendors for actions that support core values.
  • Flexible, scalable technology provided a simple and efficient employee website and also helped manage and measure program operation and effectiveness.

And the results:

  • Nearly one out of every five employees issued at least one form of recognition in the program’s first year of operation
  • Nearly 70% of employees participated in the program
  • More than 13,000 recognition e-cards were processed through the platform in the first year

Read our case study to find out more.

What’s Next in Recognition

The next evolution of an effective recognition program is to consider your multi-gen employee audience and their particular needs and wants—beyond how they perform on the job. Considering a person holistically also means engaging and helping them to achieve their objectives when it comes to their feelings and perceptions about their jobs and their organization.

Harvard Business Review suggests that employees—across all generations—want:

  • Trust – “Don’t let me down.”
  • Enrichment – “Enhance my daily life, but don’t forget what my generation wants.”
  • Responsibility – “Do the right thing.”
  • Community – “I want to connect, to feel like I belong.”
  • Contribution – “How are you helping the communities I care about?”

How you design a program is just as important as how you implement it. Have you surveyed your employees? Are you caring for them holistically?

Helping your employees attain their financial, career, social, wellness and community goals ultimately results in a more engaged, happier employee who’s likely to stay longer with your company and provide a higher level of service to your customers.

According to a study from the Society for Human Resource Management, the more engaged your employees, the higher their willingness and ability to contribute to your company’s success by putting their discretionary effort into their work, in the form of extra time, brainpower and energy.

But wanting an engaged workforce and creating an environment where employees can thrive are different things. Read on to discover the different psychological forces that ultimately drive engagement.