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4 tips for building DEI into your recognition programs

Updated: Jun 16, 2023

Let’s start with the good news, which is that we’re finally in a place where the majority of companies have a strategy that addresses diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Companies are also investing in programs to drive awareness and change in this important area. Great, but let me ask you a question - what are you doing to build DEI into your recognition strategy and programs?

Do your recognition programs apply and work effectively across your entire diverse workforce? Or, do they create a divide or wedge between it, with the “haves” and “have nots”, those being recognized and those feeling under-appreciated, unnoticed, demotivated and disengaged?

Recognition is an absolutely critical, and yet often ignored, area to address DEI. And to help you with this, let me share four tips that I write about in my books and use when working with clients.

1. Look for recognition everywhere in everyone

One of the biggest reasons that recognition does not drive and support DEI is that important recognition moments are being missed. Great things are happening all around us that deserve to be recognized, but we’re missing them because we’re not looking for them everywhere and we’re not looking for them in everyone.

To illustrate, let me take you to an all-employee meeting I attended where they announced the winners of the quarterly recognition awards. As they called out the names, I could hear people whispering to each other, “Oh it’s them again, the only people who are ever recognized are the ones working in sales and customer service. What about everyone else? Don’t they know that these people are only successful because of us?”

This happens way too often as companies don’t have a mindset and practice to look for opportunities to recognize in everyone. I’m almost certain that if you look closely, looking in “all directions” as I say, then you will find actions and behaviors that deserve to be recognized. If you’d like to read more on how to do this, check out this blog where I share eight places to look for recognition moments.

“All employees deserve to be recognized, to feel appreciated, regardless of their job, department, manager, and anything else that makes them who they are and what they do.”

2. Remove limits in who can give recognition

The next tip moves from what is being recognized to who can and should recognize. Ask yourself, “am I being inclusive in who I allow to give it?” When companies limit it to just managers a few things can happen. First, it creates a “them” and “us” situation as employees miss out on the opportunity of giving recognition, which has been proven to be just as important as receiving recognition. And second, it limits the number of recognition moments that are given as it reduces the number of people involved, which can directly or indirectly lead to feelings of exclusion.

For this reason, more and more companies have adopted a peer-to-peer approach to recognition, or what I call a “crowdsourcing” approach, as it encourages your people to work together to create and have collective responsibility for recognition.

“Crowdsourcing recognition means that you have eyes, ears and hearts looking for and capturing recognition moments.”

3. Remove limits in who can receive recognition

Next, and still addressing the who, has to do with who can and should receive recognition. At many companies there are limits that are put in place, e.g. only one person can win employee of the month, or only six people can win employee of the year, etc. This can lead to others feeling excluded, creating what I mentioned earlier with the “haves” and “have nots,” closing the door on recognition for many of your hard-working employees.

For this reason, I encourage companies to challenge traditional ways and thinking when designing their recognition programs. Here are two examples of companies doing this from my book (Appreciate it! The Playbook for Employee Recognition):

  • At Chelsea Football Club, they have no set number of winners for their quarterly “Pride of Chelsea Awards”, being flexible based on the achievements of those being nominated.

  • At HomeServe, for their quarterly “Shining Star Awards” they have 11 categories to cover a wide range of situations and people, giving more people the opportunity to be recognized. These include six that represent their values plus additional ones such as ‘HomeServe Hero,’ ‘CEO Choice award,’ ‘Community Contributor’ and ‘Career Developer.’

“We need to practice ‘equal opportunity’ recognition, looking at recognition through an inclusion lens, making sure that everyone has an equal opportunity to be noticed, appreciated and recognized.”

4. Remove hurdles and barriers that prevent participation

And finally, for recognition to truly be inclusive it needs to have the opportunity to be used in a consistent way. Far too often we put up hurdles or barriers that prevent some of our people from participating and engaging with recognition. If recognition is to be fair and inclusive, these barriers must be removed, so that everyone can use recognition in the way in which it was intended.

An example from my book of a company removing barriers is Burton’s Biscuit Company, who go out of their way to make sure bakery employees don't miss out on recognition since the majority don’t have access to a company phone or laptop. One way they do this is by having a live feed of the recognition awards from the social recognition wall to the T.V.s located across the bakeries so they can be a part of recognition even while baking cookies. This not only gives them the opportunity to celebrate recognition moments, but it encourages them to recognise one another.

Another example is Atlantis Resorts Dubai, who go out of their way to give all of their employees an equal chance when it comes to nominating one another for recognition awards. With 87 different nationalities, for many of their employees English is not their first language. So for every nomination that is received for recognition awards, the HR team ‘beautifies’ them, making sure that they all read well and thus all have equal chances for being selected as a winner.

Let me end by encouraging you to put on your DEI lens as you look at your existing recognition program, making sure that you have one that aligns with all of the other great work you are doing to create an inclusive culture and workplace.


If you’d like to discuss how to design and deliver a recognition strategy and program that looks through a DEI lens, please contact me, I’d love to help you achieve this important objective.


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