Cultivate Blog

Posted by Jenny McGee on 11/29/22 8:00 AM

Does the name Dan Price ring a bell? He was the CEO of Gravity Payments, who shot to fame in 2015 for taking a pay cut while increasing his employee’s wages. A few months ago, he surveyed professionals on Twitter, asking them to share what made them quit their jobs. The overwhelming response: a lack of meaningful recognition.

The art of recognition has been with us since the beginning of time. The science of appreciating people has begun to influence the design and delivery of recognition programs everywhere. Yet, evaluating the impact of recognition programs has received little attention until recent years. An old management maxim says, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Recognition is no exception. Justifying the time, effort, and expense of any appreciation program means demonstrating its impact.

Recognition and appreciation programs are typically designed to meet multiple company objectives, but they often fall short of the ultimate objective: Does the program work? In this week's blog feature, our team provides the framework to help your organization answer that question.


Modifying a tried and true framework 

The multi-level framework for evaluating recognition programs that we will share is derived from Donald Kirkpatrick’s model for evaluating the impact of training. First introduced in 1959, Kirkpatrick’s model remains an industry standard for evaluating training results. Extensive research and application of the model indicate there are four basic levels in measuring the impact of training:

  • Level 1: Reaction - Did the participants like the training?
  • Level 2: Learning - Did the participants learn something?
  • Level 3: Behavior - Did the participants apply what they learned on the job?
  • Level 4: Results - Did the participants’ application impact the organization?

If you compare the impact of training programs, regardless of the content, to the impact of recognition programs, many similarities exist in how the programs are measured. A modification of Kirkpatrick’s model results in a method that can be used to measure the impact of appreciation. In this week’s blog feature, our team explores the similarities between measuring training and recognition and shares a framework that will help your company identify the impact of these programs.


Level 1: Reaction

Reaction is commonly obtained at the end of a seminar or workshop by simply asking the participants, “How did the training feel to you?” People’s reactions can help you determine the effectiveness of a program and how it can be improved. Kirkpatrick believes you can’t bypass the first level because, as he puts it, “If [people] do not react favorably, they will not be motivated to learn.” If people aren’t enjoying the program, you’ll have an increasingly difficult time keeping them engaged.

Applying Level 1 evaluation to recognition programs affords you the easiest and most common measure of recognition. Measuring people’s reaction to the program could include simple questions such as:

  • Is your team excited about the recognition program?
  • Did the program describe how and why you should appreciate others?
  • Are the program guidelines clear and communicated well?
  • Is it simple to understand, put into practice, and use?
  • Do you like the gifting options offered for the program?
  • How is it better than the previous program or activity?
  • What is your favorite part of the program?
  • Are there areas for improvement?

You can also use various formats such as short answers, complete-the-sentence, ratings, or collect data via focus groups. If you don’t measure anything else about your program, you should find out how employees feel about it. Positive reactions to appreciation can provide continued support and enable you to leverage the program's success.

Level 2: Learning

Evaluating whether people understand how and why they should use the program requires additional effort. Kirkpatrick defines learning as the “extent to which [people] change attitudes, improve knowledge, and increase skill as a result of [adopting] the program.” It’s typically easier to determine what new knowledge or skills people have acquired than how the training changed their opinions or beliefs. Nowadays, online quizzes and tests are the most frequent method of evaluating learning.

As it applies to recognition, you can measure if certain skills or awareness levels have changed since the program's roll-out. People can be asked how important it is to appreciate others, how often they should do so, in what types of situations, and in what ways. Your program can provide guidelines for effective appreciation and opportunities to practice. Other measurable recognition skills include:

  • Employing formal, informal, and day-to-day recognition
  • Knowing how to praise people publicly
  • Timing the appreciation appropriately
  • Knowing what forms of recognition work well for different types of people

Level 3: Behavior

Even if you can show learning has occurred, it doesn’t guarantee that learning translates to new behavior on the job. Alas, the third level of training helps assess the impact of learning back on the job. This form of evaluation can be time-consuming, but it’s critical in determining if knowledge transfers to the workplace.

Evaluating behavior change from implementing a recognition program offers several opportunities for determining follow-up interviews and surveys. Evaluation of behavior is somewhat easier if the measurement is established as part of the program, for example, a tracking report or checklist — not an activity to be done independently of the program.

The most effective strategy for evaluating people’s behavior change from a recognition program is to build the measurement system directly into the program. Tracking systems, either centralized or at the department level, enable evaluators to determine if the program is being used. Simple forms of behavior change from introducing recognition programs include:

  • How frequently do managers recognize their employees?
  • How many people receive tangible appreciation from managers, peers, or customers?
  • Are recognition tools, such as the Platform, being used more often?
  • Are program guidelines adhered to accurately?
  • How often and to what extent is appreciation a part of the organization’s communication vehicles?

The data you collect can be useful in examining variations over time by manager or department, by level in the organization or by facility, by comparisons of corporate offices versus field operations, by comparisons among different regions, and so on.

Level 4: Results

Even if you’ve measured the first three levels of a recognition program, you still don’t know what impact the program has on the organization. The fourth level of training evaluation focuses on the impact of behaviors on performance. This measurement is the most critical in evaluating training but the least pursued.

Measurement of results has broadened to include indirect benefits such as opportunity cost savings, increased performance, and decreased turnover. By including these measures, you can examine many opportunities and take credit for significantly more dollars earned or saved.

The results of a recognition program can include both direct and indirect measures of impact. Many recognition programs already include criteria based directly on increased performance, capacity, or goal improvement. Sales incentive programs can help increase sales revenue, and employee programs often tie rewards directly to productivity and leading by example. Indirect measures can focus specifically on the behavior or performance the recognition is designed to reinforce. The programs could be evaluated for the intent of their design, for example: 

  • Service awards that improve attention and care given to clients
  • Team awards that enhance cooperation and collaboration
  • Quality awards that enhance product quality

Even when the reward program’s focus is simply to increase the organization's morale, surveys can be built to examine the results of the program’s effectiveness. In this instance, satisfaction surveys and exit interviews can include questions that evaluate the level of recognition and indicate the program’s effectiveness. For example, when morale is low, employees typically rank one or more of the following survey items very low:

  • My manager recognizes me when I do good work.
  • My manager makes time for me when I need to talk.
  • I feel appreciated for the work I do.
  • I feel I am a valuable member of the team or department.

Surveying peoples’ attitudes can help determine whether their perceptions of the company are improving. Surveys also help quantify morale at the individual, group, and organizational levels. The more that recognition and appreciation programs are geared toward driving performance and strategic results, the easier it is to justify supporting the programs. We all want to have recognition programs that are liked, easy to learn, and readily applied back on the job.

The challenge for sustaining and improving appreciation initiatives is evaluating the program’s organizational impact. To do this, reverse the evaluation strategy and begin with the end in mind. Define the results first to be sure the program can achieve them. Starting with a clear idea of your goals and the performance you want will strengthen the link of recognition to results.

A recent survey reveals that 87% of employees report a high level of company inclusion when there’s an established culture of appreciation and recognition. Yet, nearly one-quarter of those surveyed said they’re not recognized frequently enough. A Gallup report found that employees are five times more likely to feel connected to their company’s culture and four times as likely to be engaged when they’re tangibly recognized. A recent Achievers survey revealed that 48% of leaders said their culture has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic because of a lack of employee input and their failure to connect with remote employees.

When times get tough, appreciation through gifting is needed to increase output, achieve better results, and drive employee engagement and satisfaction. To ensure inclusivity and sustained productivity and to drive a positive workplace culture, companies should double down on their recognition efforts. While billions of dollars are spent annually on these programs, it is often difficult to find studies that show the value of these investments.

To learn more about how to measure the impact of recognition and appreciation in the workplace, connect with the Gifting Experts. We’d love to tell you more!

Topics: Experts

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