A simple and effective recognition system

I was recently working with a group that wanted to recognize collaborative behavior and inspire more people to work that way.

Pretty quickly, we started talking about badges and point systems. But these kinds of systems are hard to get right, often producing unintended consequences.

As we wrestled with producing something new, it occurred to me that we weren’t making use of methods we already had.

So, if you’re trying to engender more collaboration, here are 5 basic things you can do right now.

1. Formalize a few collaboration roles

People can certainly volunteer to collaborate, but there are limits to what purely voluntary grassroots efforts can accomplish.

One of the best ways to let employees know that your organization is serious about collaboration is to formally recognize key collaborative roles.

“...grassroots change movements as diverse as charities, open-source software, and crowd-sourced content actually all have well-defined structures.

Even in wikipedia, in which anyone can make an edit, there are key roles of administrators, bureaucrats, and stewards, each with clear guidelines on what to do and how to do it.”

Formal roles recognize the additional contributions of certain people while signaling the entire organization that collaborative work is important.

Thing to do: Approach your HR staff with some specific job descriptions that fit collaborative work in your firm. If you don’t have any clear roles, then consider forming internal communities of practice as a way to bootstrap your company’s social business efforts. Roles like Community Leader and Community Manager are then natural roles to add.

2. Get the boss to write a letter

Does this sound old-fashioned? Yes.

Yet, even with the social business revolution, your boss still matters. As long as there is an org chart, it’ll be the hierarchy that determines pay and promotion.

So, a simple thing like a letter from a manager recognizing collaborative effort makes a difference. It’s a formal statement to the employee - and to all the people he tells about it - that collaboration is recognized and rewarded.

Thing to do: every time you see collaborative work worth recognizing, write it up and send it to the person’s manager with the suggestion they send the employee a letter.

3. Use existing awards

Many firms already have awards to recognize employees. They tend to be great for the individual but they recognize a very broad range of achievements.

By submitting applications based specifically on collaborative achievements, you’ll be using another formal mechanism to endorse collaborative work.

Thing to do: submit an application for a specific example of collaborative work. Then, tell everyone else who cares about collaboration to do the same. Helping a greater share of public awards go to collaborative work helps demonstrate the importance of collaboration.

4. Use existing communication channels

The people in your internal communications department are hungry for stories of good work going on throughout the firm.

You’d be making their job easier - and using one of the best recognition channels in your firm - by writing up stories for them. A story in your division’s newsletter or on the company portal goes a long way to raising awareness about the kind of work the firm values.

Thing to do: write up a story of collaborative work and send it to your local comms person. Then share the story widely once it's published.

5. Say “Thank you”

Finally, the simplest of all techniques is a hand-written thank you note:

“A personal note written by your own hand inside matters far more than a few lines of type into a window that’s so easily available at your fingertips. It shows you care enough to take an extra step.”

Thing to do: buy a pack of Thank You cards and a nice pen and tell someone you appreciate the way they collaborate.

It starts with you

You can recognize someone today with a simple thank you note. Or send a story of remarkable collaborative work to a person’s manager or your communications person. More formally, you can submit someone’s work for an internal award or talk to HR about new roles. Or start a community of practice if you don’t have such roles.

You can do any of those things now. Or you can wait for a new system or for someone else to organize something.

If you truly want to change how your firm works, which one will you choose?