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Using Recognition to Inspire Your Training Team

by Sue Plaster, M.Ed.

Inage for Employee Recongition
Are you wondering how to bring more of a spotlight to the great work your organization achieves through your dedicated and strategic progress in learning and development? Consider using recognition to inspire them. All of us in a learning and development capacity play important roles in the successes our organizations achieve, and we see the results every day. Sometimes a boost of internal or external recognition adds momentum to our efforts, or gives us inspiration to keep achieving. Because we work with leaders at all levels and departments in all functional areas, we know where success has been achieved. We also know the backstory of how that success was achieved. We have unique insight into the role of learning and development when a change initiative goes smoothly, when an innovative new product succeeds in part due to training, or when an individual leader shows dramatic progress and maturity reflecting intentional development. But sometimes we may wonder if anyone notices what dramatic results we are gaining! To gain more recognition for your achievements and contributions, and those of your team, start with reflecting on purpose:
  • Do you want to recognize your staff more effectively?
  • Are you seeking attention for your incorporation of best practices?
  • Do you want to tell other professionals what you’ve achieved as well as how you did it?
  • If you gained attention for your success, would it contribute to your organization’s branding efforts with customers and the community?
  • Would you like to spotlight for potential employees the great workplace you have become?
Once you are clear on your purpose, your way will be open to review which organizational assets and successes to make more widely known through awards and recognition.

Assess Organizational Assets Worthy of Recognition

When you consider what assets you would like to present for additional recognition, look at these three factors: 1. Timeliness. Do you have a current or recently completed project, product or service that was supported or entirely based on learning and development efforts? Are there individuals whose career or recent achievements help to tell a broader story about the organization? 2. The Real Story. What would you most like shared or said about your organization? As an example, would you like the public to be saying, “Their customer support staff seem to really know the product lines,” or “They do a great job of developing articulate and broad-thinking leaders.” or “When they make a change that affects me as a customer, it is well thought through and employees seem to be on board with the change?” Your message will help determine what avenues you choose for recognition and whether you choose to spotlight the entire organization, particular departments, or individuals. Part of establishing your message is also gathering evidence – your best examples of what makes your story unique, timely, impactful, interesting and worth sharing. Those examples may come from individuals, departments, and divisions from across the enterprise. Your position in working closely with so many leaders puts you in a great position to gather the evidence that supports those messages. Look for visuals as well as words that will help convey the successes you most want to bring attention to. 3. Collaboration By enlisting the support of your communications or public relations department at the outset, you will gain valuable insight into the avenues they are aware of for potential recognition. They may know what areas of the organization would be most interesting to the local media, or they may have worked on external award programs that would be ideal for your message.

Exploring Award and Recognition Opportunities

News Media

Once you’ve determined your award-worthy messages and the stories behind them, your colleagues in communications or public relations may have immediate suggestions about local, regional or national publications who might find your story of interest. Or they may suggest industry publications or individual writers whose past work fits the examples you most want to share. Your communications staff may want to interview you to learn more about the recognition-worthy stories you have, or they may ask your client organizations for more details. They may seek your ideas about publications that learning and development professionals look to, or reporters you think are most likely to be interested in your story. Their suggestions for you may span internal news channels, both print and digital, well as external news outlets.

Publication-Sponsored Awards

Considering award programs sponsored by publications will be a task you wish to approach along with your communications team. Whether you are looking at national publications such as Industry Week, INC, or Chief Learning Officer, or local publications such as our Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal, many award and recognition opportunities are sponsored by publications. These programs vary in the type of opportunities offered – it might be to nominate organizations, functional areas, portions of organizations, or individuals. You might aim to nominate your learning and development leader for Chief Learning Officer’s Learning Leadership Award. Or, for example, if you nominated your finance leader for a CFO of the Year award sponsored by a publication, one of your focal areas might be the employee financial education program that he or she sponsored, and that your team supported, to help employees better understand the nature of your organization’s business operations. Through the nomination of one excellent leader, you spotlight unique aspects of the organization’s work.

Industry Association Awards

Local and national quality awards recognizing exceptional approaches to product and service quality are one example of industry association recognition programs that gain local press attention. They also may come with plaques, trophies or logos that allow you to share the award quite naturally with employees, customers and the community. And as for your role in the story — rarely is quality improved without a learning and development element! Another great example is industry-specific award efforts. From my own background in the healthcare industry, for example, the Minnesota Hospital Association sponsored awards in numerous categories as does the Minnesota Rural Health Association. In 2009, our Office of Diversity department for the 18,000-employee Fairview Health Services won a Large Hospital Category award for Employee Engagement because of a system-wide effort called “benefits tutors.” Benefit tutors were trained volunteers, employees from many cultural, ethnic and linguistic groups who worked together to help their fellow employees understand their employee benefits and make sound enrollment choices. Employee survey results demonstrated the impact on engagement and satisfaction. Looking closely at industries your organization participates in may yield a short list of associations that sponsor annual award programs expressly for the purpose of recognizing greatness.

Professional and Functional Association Awards

In the learning and development profession, we can take as one example the Association for Talent Development (ATD), which offers annual awards for excellence. The ATD Excellence in Practice Awards which recognizes results achieved through the use of practices and solutions from the entire scope of workplace learning and talent development. There are several categories of awards to choose from, for both organizations and individuals. The ATD website offers particulars, including deadlines (www.td.org). Nataliya Harkins, Ph.D.,is a learning and development leader and consultant as well as a former board member for the ATD Twin Cities Chapter. Harkins explains,
“When you enter a professional or industry awards program, you’re not just potentially gaining recognition but also offering other professionals a view of a best practice. ATD, for example, sponsors a broad range of awards for organizations and individuals so that we can learn from one another about methods, results, opportunities and successes. It often starts with small steps toward willingness to be bold and empower your organization with new tools and solutions. Part of being a leading organization is being willing to share how you achieved business results through learning and talent development.”
For each functional area of your organization – finance, communications, IT, operations, engineering, clinical departments, manufacturing, etc. there may be functional award programs offered by professional organizations. If learning and development have played a role in the success of that functional area, you may have the opportunity to apply for recognition, using recognition to inspire your entire team.

Mobilizing Your Resources: Preparing Award Entries and Communicating About Your Awards

Once you have determined the award and recognition methods best suited to your purpose and your message, you’ll need a project management process to pull together your award entries and, presuming that your results are successful, communicate the recognition received! Remember that even the process of putting together the nomination is an opportunity to let staff know how important and impactful their work and their results are.

A Reminder

Now that you’ve succeeded in increasing your award entries, and hopefully gained additional recognition and exposure, let’s think about this as part of an overall recognition and branding plan for your department and the organization. As you prepare annual goals and strategies, incorporate recognition and best practice sharing among your tactics, always starting with purpose to be sure that your recognition efforts are well-grounded and make good business sense. And don’t forget the value of internal award programs: external nominations are only one portion of your annual plan. For Honeywell Inc., I led a unique leadership award program called the Lund Award. This program recognized leaders across the globe who excelled in developing others. Each year nominations poured in and were evaluated locally. Then thirty winners from numerous countries, cultures and backgrounds brought their spouses and partners for a one-week learning and development conference to further educate and inspire them. Top executives participated in the week’s activities. The message about the importance of mentoring and developing staff was made clear through actions as well as words. Just to be nominated for this award was an honor. It was internal recognition at its finest, and it was one of the hallmarks of the Honeywell culture of that era. Whatever you do to gain recognition must resonate with employees, with your learning and development staff, and with your customers and communities. When that resonance occurs, you have gained recognition that will sound a favorable note for you and for your entire organization!

About the Author

Sue Plaster holds a master’s degree in education from the University of Minnesota, with a focus in leadership development. She advises individuals in job search, career transition and onboarding, and consults with organizations on diversity, succession planning and leadership development. Sue’s corporate career includes communications and human resources roles with the Fairview Health System, Honeywell Inc. and Boston Scientific. You can connect with Sue through Writing Assistance, Inc. at www.writingassist.com or sales@writingassist.com

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