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How to Strengthen and Sustain Workplace Culture Using Recognition

How to Strengthen and Sustain Workplace Culture Using Recognition

by Lance Stevens and Andy Kemp

Story Highlights

  • Strategic recognition helps build a strong, embedded culture
  • Recognition helps employees feel significantly more connected and engaged
  • Leaders can take four steps to leverage recognition in their culture

When it comes to fostering a strong workplace culture, many employers overlook a simple yet powerful resource in their culture-building toolbox: recognition.

Prior research shows that recognition has the most impact when it is embedded in the workplace culture, but new data from Gallup and Workhuman reveal that only 34% of employees say their employer has a recognition program -- and among those employees, just 13% rate it as “excellent.”

Fortunately, there are steps that can be taken to remedy this. When leaders truly understand and define their organization’s culture, they can start to use recognition as a tool to vitalize the unique elements of that culture and ultimately achieve the organization’s goals.


Step 1: Establish your workplace culture goals and values in alignment with your business strategy.

Your organization’s culture should be cohesive and uniquely tailored to your business strategy, and it should play a pivotal role in helping you to engage employees and achieve goals. But knowing the attributes of a strong culture and effectively nurturing and sustaining one are not the same. Many organizations do not have a clearly defined, strong culture; only two in 10 U.S. employees strongly agree that they are connected to their organization’s culture.  

A weak, misaligned culture can be detrimental to your organization, both internally for your employees and externally for your customers. Gallup research has long shown stark differences in the ways engaged and actively disengaged employees speak about their companies and has shown that the language they use has wider implications for an organization’s brand reputation.


When harnessing recognition to build culture, begin by pinpointing the culture goals you wish to achieve. By defining the practices that will best support your organization’s goals, you can move forward knowing exactly where strategic recognition should be directed.

Step 2: Use recognition to reflect your workplace culture goals and values.

Once your organization’s culture goals and values are firmly established, recognition’s full potential can be unlocked. You should strategically recognize employees who exemplify the actions and behaviors you most want to see. In doing so, you tap into key principles of social learning, including positive reinforcement and modeling. When employees are publicly recognized for a certain behavior, it communicates that behavior is valued, which helps strengthen people’s connection to and understanding of your organization’s culture.

Employees who strongly agree that recognition is an important part of their culture are 3.7 times as likely to be engaged, 3.8 times as likely to feel connected to their culture and half as likely to experience frequent burnout as those who do not.

Step 3: Continuously evaluate and refine your recognition strategy.

As with any culture transformation, ingraining recognition into your culture and mastering how to effectively use it takes time. It is essential to frequently evaluate recognition programs to ensure they accurately promote your previously established workplace culture goals.

Over time, and with the reinforcement that recognition provides, your employees’ understanding of what is acceptable, encouraged or even taboo within the organization grows.

Employees who say their recognition program is aligned with the values of their organization are 4.9 times more likely to strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work.

Your leadership team needs to continually check in with employees and monitor the quality of your recognition program to ensure you are truly offering great recognition. Employees who receive great recognition -- that is, recognition that is perceived as excellent across each of the five pillars of strategic recognition -- are 20 times as likely to be engaged as employees who receive poor recognition.

Custom graphic. Strategic Recognition Generates Employee Engagement: Five pillars are fulfilling, authentic, personalized, equitable, embeded.

Step 4: Promote quality recognition across your organization so your culture can flourish.

If recognition is not truly embedded in a culture, its effects can be seriously diminished. As a leader, you are responsible for setting the precedent when it comes to practicing and promoting recognition -- but to be a true element of culture, recognition must take hold at all levels of the organization.

Leaders, managers and individual contributors alike should be giving recognition that is frequent, fulfilling and authentic, and they should practice doing so for both big and small achievements. Among employees with great recognition experiences, 72% say that performance for little things is commonly recognized at their organization, compared with 16% of employees with poor recognition -- defined as the worst recognition experience across all five pillars.

You are responsible for setting the precedent when it comes to practicing and promoting recognition -- but to be a true element of culture, recognition must take hold at all levels of the organization.


Changing your workplace culture is not easy, but starting with recognition is an efficient, powerful and relatively simple place to begin. Recognition has a unique duality to be implemented not only as an element of culture itself, but also as a tool to reinforce unique elements an organization views as important to its culture. Beyond recognition’s cultural benefits, prior research has shown that it has a valuable impact on boosting productivity and reducing losses related to employee turnover.

The four steps outlined above offer a practical framework that leaders, managers and individuals in every organization can use to cultivate and sustain a unique culture that will empower them to achieve their objectives and fulfill their mission.

Start transforming your organizational culture:


Lance Stevens is a Managing Consultant at Gallup.

Andy Kemp is a Researcher and Analyst at Gallup.

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