Brilliant basics – Employee recognition ideas for small-medium sized businesses


At some point in our lives, we have all been recognised and potentially rewarded for something. Whether it was winning the egg and spoon race at primary school, coming first in a pub quiz or beating your friend in some kind of competition. So, when it comes to work, why do businesses ignore the need to recognise staff? Yes, you may have an “employee of the month” but how much value does the employee and you as a business get out of that?

Recognition is a low cost, quick to implement and high return strategy that so many businesses do not make the most of. As a business leader, try to empathise and think about a time that you have been recognised at work (or not) and how did this make you feel?

Not only can a recognition strategy engage your staff, but in the modern day with social media, it can be used as a key branding tool to show clients, prospects and even future employees what it is like to work at your company.

Many of you will have noticed that my recent content has been focused on what I am calling “brilliant basics”. This is because I am tired of seeing small-medium sized businesses run before they can walk, bringing in shiny new systems, without the foundations to underpin the technology. Although some of this information may seem simplistic, I can guarantee that most businesses do not execute it consistently and if they do, it is done as more of a tick box exercise, with no measurable results.

So, here’s a couple of ideas…

It is more than likely that you’ll have tried some of these initiatives in the past, my question to you is, do you do them consistently and measure the results?

  • Performance
    • The most obvious one. If an individual or a team performs well (wins the egg and spoon race), then as humans it is natural to assume that the person(s) should be recognised. But let’s go a little bit deeper, what does good performance look like in your organisation? E.g. finishing a project early under budget, winning a new client or reducing the costs of your business in one way or another.
  • Birthdays and length of service
    • You’d be surprised how many businesses do not recognise their staff’s length of service. Director’s love to talk about how their staff stay for 10+ years, but do they get recognised? A close contact of mine has been with his business for 10+ years and hasn’t been recognised since his 5 year anniversary!
    • Birthdays is a little different but why would you not? There seems to be an expectation that this should just happen on a team by team basis – what message does this send out from the business?
  • Values
    • How often do you see company values on a wall or on their website? Now think about how many of those businesses have a behavioural framework linked to those values, ensuring that every single day they impact the way in which people interact with each other and clients. In order to embed your values, recognition is absolutely key – again, there’s opportunities to use social media to recognise staff for living the businesses values.
  • Peer to peer and team recognition
    • A lot of small businesses bang on about how they want to improve collaboration across teams, but they don’t do anything to facilitate that. Having a simple nomination scheme where employees can recognise each other or even at a team level, is simple, low cost and also a bit of fun.
  • New starters
    • Starting a new job can be daunting. Imagine if you were taken out for lunch by a member of the leadership team with all of the other new starters during your first 90 days? Would you feel more at ease? A great opportunity to interact with others, have fun and make some friends!
  • Promotions
    • You’ve given someone a promotion, great. Now what? How are you going to recognise their efforts? We all know it isn’t easy to get into a managerial role so when someone achieves this they deserve recognition!
  • Leadership recognition
    • From my experience, leadership teams receive very little recognition for the work that they do. What could work in your business? Employees voting for which leader has gone the furthest to help them or how about other leaders voting for who they feel is giving everything?

But, we’re talking about recognition and not reward, so what can we give staff when we recognise them?

The answer to that question is completely up to you. From my perspective, recognition strategies should be low cost and therefore, there’s no need for shiny rewards. Here’s a few ideas below…

  • Take a number of employees out for lunch or even to a bar if that’s more your vibe
  • A simple email to say well done or thank you is fine!
  • Cards/E-cards work well
  • Order pizza for their team
  • Give people an early finish
  • Team trophy’s

Although the above may seem small, the impact that a simple thank you or well done alone can have is significant.


This blog is aimed at those small-medium sized businesses that are failing to consistently recognise their staff. It is by no means re-inventing the wheel but the whole point of brilliant basics is to focus on the foundations and work up from there. If you’re already doing most of the above then great, are you seeing the benefits? If you’re not, then you may need to look at alternative ways, as every single business is completely different!

As with any of my brilliant basics initiatives, I encourage people to try it out for 3 months, with consistent weekly actions. If at the end of the 3 months it is not working, then reconsider.

As always happy to answer any questions, so please like/comment and share with your thoughts.

Harry Wright

Employee Engagement & Client Delivery Consultant

Rencai Group