How to Start an Employee of the Month Program


When starting an employee of the month program, we get a lot of common questions:

  • How do I start an employee of the month program?
  • What is the criteria for employee of the month?
  • Do employee of the month programs work?
  • How do I celebrate employee of the month?

If these sound familiar, you can rest assured… you’re not alone. Lots of great leaders are just looking for a little guidance. Start an employee of the month program on the right foundation and it will be a success.

Start an Employee of the Month program with “The 3 Rs of Employee Recognition Done Right”

We answer these employee recognition questions in our 3 part series “The 3 R’s of Employee Recognition Done Right.” With 3 key focus points, you learn how to start an employee of the month program that will be a winner.

  1. Realize the goals of your business and how your team helps you achieve those goals.
  2. Recognize your winners with a presentation fitting for the award you’re about to hand them.
  3. Repeat by keeping your monthly recognition program current. Also look for reasons to recognize team members every single day in between.

The First R: “Realize”

“What gets measured gets done, what gets measured and fed back gets done well, what gets rewarded gets repeated” –John E. Jones

Think for a second about what Mr. Jones is saying there. It’s not enough to expect that a job duty will just “get done.” In any business, a leader must clearly describe what is expected of the team. Then track the results, provide feedback for performance improvement. After that, reward the behaviors that get the job done right.

Your employee recognition program has the power to skyrocket your results, inspire your employees, and turn your clients into raving fans. The secret to your success lies in proper preparation and planning of what you want to track and measure.

Plan it out

The first “R” is Realize. At the start of your employee of the month program, sit down with your management team. Discuss the goals of your business and how your team helps you reach those goals.

  • What job duties are essential?
  • What basic employment requirements must be met?
  • What company initiatives maintain and support the brand image?
  • What goals and objectives do your team’s performance affect?

Use these goals to determine the daily, weekly, & monthly behaviors you need your team to perform. Once you decide on these behaviors, make them the foundation for determining who gets recognized – the criteria to win.

Read: Picking Your Employee of the Month with the Right Criteria

Next, share the criteria for winning employee of the month with every team member. Make it available from the top down so everyone is in on the same page. Don’t forget to share why each behavior is important for your business to success. Employees who understand their contributions to the bigger picture will go a very long way, especially for millennials.

When your criteria is clear and available, everyone on the team knows what is expected of them. Use your business goals to set this criteria as the foundation of your employee of the month program. Solidifying your criteria will be crucial before building anything else.

Free Criteria Tracking Sheets

Download free criteria tracking sheets to help you start an employee of the month program

Once your goals are set, use these free criteria tracking sheets to track and measure their performance. When kept up-to-date and accurate, these easy-to-use sheets will give you a performance snapshot for every employee on your team. You will know who is going above and beyond and who could use some extra coaching.

Download free criteria tracking sheets to help you start an employee of the month program HERE.

Take serious time to REALIZE your objectives and turn them into criteria for selecting your winners. It is critical to the success of your employee recognition program.

Here’s what happens when you do:

  • You paint a clear target for your team to hit. Who can hit a target they can’t see?
  • You reward team members who help your business accomplish its goals. That is the type of behavior you want to encourage, right?
  • You can be super specific when rewarding and praising outstanding performance.
  • It’s easier to be more sincere when giving recognition that is more specific. People can spot a fake a mile away. And they don’t like it.
  • You reiterate your goal-based criteria so everyone knows what success means for the business.
  • You have data on what areas need to be improved and with which team members.

Here’s what happens when you don’t:

  • Your team doesn’t know what it takes to win so they won’t even try.
  • A team member asks you why another team member was recognized instead of them. Without clear expectations and verifiable data, it’s demoralizing for the folks who don’t win.
  • You essentially pick a name out of a hat and destroy the credibility of any recognition program. If the recognition holds no merit, it can’t be used to create positive reinforcement.
  • You may choose to let your employees vote for winners. This is another common pitfall that can kill the validity of your primary recognition program. There’s a chance it becomes a popularity contest. That can undermine your. You certainly want to encourage peers to recognize each other. Just make sure it’s in an appropriate arena & well-executed. (P.S. Most MyEmployees recognition programs include a Spot-On kit for peer-to-peer recognition!)

A poorly managed recognition program can do more harm than NO recognition program

How to get employee recognition right

In How to Get Employee Recognition Right, David Drickhamer, of TBM Consulting Group, interviews MyEmployees COO, Adam Tartt, and talks about important things to remember when you start an employee of the month program

Check out How to Get Employee Recognition Right by David Drickhamer of TBM Consulting Group. Drickhamer interviews MyEmployees COO, Adam Tartt, and talks about how a poorly structured employee recognition program is worse than having no program at all. You avoid that danger when you start your employee of the month program with your goals up front.

Read more at How to Get Employee Recognition Right.

When you decide to start an employee of the month program, don’t take this first “R” lightly. Everything that comes next depends on it.

REALIZE your business goals, team goals, & your goals as a leader. Set yourself up for exponential success by syncing them up with your team’s recognition program. This is the foundation for employee recognition done right.

R2 to the rescue! “Recognize”

Imagine a succulent steak cooked to perfection with your favorite side dishes. It’s served on beautiful china & white linens on a neatly-set table. The waiter pours the perfect beverage to accompany your meal. Now imagine that same piping hot steak served on a garbage can lid in the alley out back.

Do the setting & presentation make a difference in your experience? The same concept applies to your employees’ experiences when you present them with their awards. That’s why the 2nd “R” of Recognition Done Right is RECOGNIZE.

Presentation is everything

Did you know that employees’ levels of engagement will closely mirror that of their leaders? If your team sees your recognition program as something that is important to you, it will be important to them. So make a HUGE deal awarding employee of the month winners in a public setting.

making a big deal about the presentation is important when you start an employee of the month program

Use the biggest company meeting each month that involves the most team members. If this scenario doesn’t currently exist, make it exist. It’s that important.

“That some achieve great success, is proof to all that others can achieve it as well.” —Abraham Lincoln

Take a picture of the management team with the winning employee and their award. Make the most of their “moment in the sun.” Give the employee a copy of the photo so they can remember their special day forever. Share their pictures on social media (and tag @myemployees, so we can share it, too!).

sharing winners pics is important to remember when you start an employee of the month program

Check out some ways our clients share winners’ pics on social media at the Customer Stories tab in our Learning Center.

We can tell you from experience pictures make awards ceremonies feel way more official. It increases the trophy value of each award & that of your entire program.

Timing is everything

Yes, we just said presentation is everything, but timing is just as critical! The sooner your team members get that pat on the back, the more impact it will have.

The reasons you RECOGNIZE them will be more closely tied to the behaviors they exhibited. That geos a long way toward reinforcing that behavior.

Keep. your employee of the month program consistent (meaning every month, without skipping). Awarding winners as quickly as possible once the month is over maximizes the impact of your appreciation. It also proves to employees how important it is to your team’s leaders. Falling behind with your recognition program (and worse, staying behind) has the opposite effect.

Unfortunately, poor planning often robs managers of the chance to show employees how important recognition is to the management team. Recognizing employees daily & on-the-spot is essential too and MyEmployees provides tools for that: Spot-On!

SpotOn kits are a great way to start an employee of the month program

To order your Spot-On kit or get a refill, click HERE.

Need more proof that timing is indeed as critical as we’re making it out to be?

Think about this analogy: A 12-year-old has just shown responsibility by taking out the trash, a behavior the parents would like to see repeated. Would they wait three months, or more before, saying “great job”? Not if they want it to happen again during the next three months.

Planning the best time & place to properly RECOGNIZE your winners is an integral aspect of any employee recognition program’s success. But there’s one more factor that could be a deal-breaker…

Sincerity is everything

Beginning to see the pattern with how crucial all of these things are, and how they all work together?

Ever hear the old saying, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?” Sincerity is the ultimate follow-through with the ultimate payoff.

Awards are great tools to help express appreciation. To harness the full power of giving an award, be sincere. The presentation is where it all culminates; one of the most significant & public opportunities to create “Patriot” employees instead of “Mercenaries.”

Built to Lead

Built to Lead has tips on how to start an employee of the month program

Our CEO, Dave Long, addresses this principle in his bestselling book, Built to Lead:

If you show your employees that you “genuinely care about them,” they will “appreciate you in return.” They will be “loyal to you and to the company.”

Your leadership team sets proper criteria for picking winners, measures performance, purchases awards, and sets a time & place to award winners.

Don’t waste all that effort by having someone casually or insincerely present your team members their awards!

The awards may still have some benefits if you’re doing everything else right. However, not near the impact they could have.

Recognition must come from the heart, not just the teeth.

If your heart is in the right place, it will be apparent. It benefits your winners & the whole team. Anyone presenting an award should want to be doing so & for the right reasons.

Bonus pro tip

Here’s another tip for painlessly achieving sincerity: Explain precisely why each person is being recognized. Getting specific makes recognition more meaningful and (when done publicly) reaffirms what it takes to win for your entire team!

“Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free and worth a fortune.”  —Sam Walton

Want more advice on how to make your recognition more specific and meaningful?

Check out this popular & helpful article: The Audrey Hepburn Guide to Employee Recognition

The 3rd R but the Number 1 Killer: “Repeat”

“Of course motivation is not permanent. Then, neither is bathing; but it is something you should do on a regular basis.” —Zig Ziglar

Now we reveal the #1 pitfall of most recognition programs. You’ve already read both articles leading up to this one. Your interest in growing, learning, and becoming better leaders is what engagement is all about.

Engaged team members don’t exist without engaged leaders cheering them on and leading by example, so “Thank you!” for contributing to a more committed and efficient workforce in the USA! We discussed how to first properly REALIZE your team’s goals. Then we showed how to RECOGNIZE the team members that contributed the most to reaching those goals.

So… what now?

Simple. REPEAT.

Keep your monthly recognition program current and look for reasons to recognize team members every single day in between.

It’s the long game that counts here. One excellent 40-yard putt will not win you the engagement game forever. Nor will a single hole in one. It takes consistency. Period. And that consistency always pays off in spades.

Did you know? A Gallup study revealed that to keep your team members engaged (especially “Millennials!”) it’s best to recognize them individually every 7-10 days for their jobs well done.

And now, for the moment you’ve all been waiting for…the #1 destroyer of most recognition programs is — drumroll, please — CONSISTENCY!!

Why consistency is important

If you don’t consistently recognize your team members, they won’t make a consistent effort either. They won’t think the recognition is important to you, so it won’t be that important to them. It won’t feel significant and will be less likely to build loyalty to your team.

Your employees might not even know there is a recognition program in place. They certainly won’t know what it’s for (i.e. your business’s goals that should be tied to the recognition program- see The 1st “R”).

Recognition won’t have the same impact if it’s 3 or more months later. Studies show that monthly recognition is 400% more effective than a quarterly approach.

Saving the worst for last: recognition, praise, and continuous improvement will not become a part of your team’s culture.

Keep it new

Creating a warm and fuzzy feeling when awarding your team can have some positive effects for a while. That “new car smell” will wear off quickly if your recognition program isn’t executed properly.

The benefits of permanently incorporating praise and continuous improvement into your team’s culture are incomparable to any other approach.

Otherwise, you find yourself looking for the next recognition “flavor of the week” to seemingly appease your team. Then that “new car smell” wears off again…repeat (and not the good kind).

Always be thinking of ways your leadership team can improve the overall program. New initiatives are launched all the time. Are you re-aligning your recognition program to match your company’s new initiatives and goals? You should be.

“TRAIN, PRUNE, REPEAT” – CEO David Long from his bestselling book, Built to Lead

This practice is crucial to your team’s overall success, and to your success as a manager. Find the team members who aren’t being recognized and figure out why. Then, invest the necessary time and effort to help them improve.

There’s good news

If you’ve already taken the time to REALIZE your goals, then you’ve already created a roadmap! As Zig Ziglar said, “a goal properly set is halfway reached.” Now make sure everyone has what they need to accomplish these goals.

Recognition programs are not solely about identifying top performers. Consistently using rewards and praise correctly will certainly help detect and cultivate your company’s future leaders.

Employee of the month programs should also clearly define the path to success for everyone on the team. Think especially of that middle ground group of employees. They are susceptible to influence either in a positive way towards engagement, or negatively towards actively disengaged behavior.

Final thoughts

When a recognition program gets into trouble, often that is just a symptom of the real problem. Avoid most issues by employing these 3 Rs when you begin.

Start your employee of the month program by Realizing relevant goals, Recognizing your team members in an appropriate setting, and Repeating the process consistently.

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Customer Stories

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