Employee recognition

5 Peer-to-Peer Recognition Ideas That Likely Won't Work

George Dickson
February 10, 2016
Table of Contents
Free Trial! No credit card required.
Get started with a Free Trial to see how effective & engaging our platform is. You'll get the full Bonusly experience like any paid user would. Invite teammates, & start recognizing & rewarding today!

Most leaders implement their peer-to-peer recognition ideas with the best of intentions at heart, but that doesn't mean their plan is solid.

Although peer recognition is one of the most efficient and impactful ways to recognize all the contributions being made across an organization, it can fizzle, and even backfire, when it's implemented poorly.

Here are five peer recognition ideas that are likely to fail, why they're prone to failure, and how you can improve on them:

Want our newest blog posts straight in your inbox? Sign up for our bi-weekly newsletter!

1. Winner-take-all competitions


Although some healthy, spirited competition can be useful here and there, winner-takes-all peer recognition plans are destined to fail. Here's why:

  • They can only motivate a small fraction of a team. Every employee will eventually realize where they sit in the rankings, and whether or not they have a chance of winning. If they don't have a strong chance of winning, they won't feel a strong incentive to participate.
  • They can motivate employees to consciously decline to recognize their peers. If they're pushing themselves further down the rankings each time they recognize a colleague's contributions, employees will feel less motivated to give that recognition.

If you want sustained engagement with your peer-to-peer recognition program, make sure everyone is being rewarded. It's important to recognize and reward employees appropriately, but equally crucial to reward everyone else for great work they do.

2. Unequal power distribution


It's common for managers and others in leadership positions to expect their opinions to carry more weight, but in a peer-to-peer recognition program, they shouldn't.

Part of the magic of peer-to-peer recognition is the equality it promotes. When there's a major discrepancy between the value behind the recognition certain members give, the weight behind the recognition they give is perceived to be considerably larger.

Unequal power distribution undermines the foundation of peer-to-peer recognition. Under an unequal power dynamic, peer-to-peer recognition gives way to top-down recognition. Participants in a program like this aren't incentivized to make contributions that their peers appreciate; they're incentivized to compete for the favor of their boss.

You can avoid this by ensuring that everyone who participates in the program has an equal ability to show their appreciation and that everyone's appreciation carries the same weight.

3. Boring rewards—or none at all

Rewards are a crucial element of any effective peer-to-peer recognition program. The recognition participants receive is the most impactful element of a program, but without some kind of tangible value attached to the recognition, engagement is likely to plummet. 

How do we know that? We tested it.

Gamification Deficit

By their eighteenth month, companies that went with non-tangible "kudos" or "pat on the back" recognition, with no real-world value as their reward, saw participation rates that were 50% lower than those that chose tangible rewards.

Sure, a digital "pat on the back" is probably going to perform better than nothing at all, but it's not going to outperform a peer recognition system with real rewards.

You don't have to break the bank to provide meaningful rewards, either. Check out this list of low-cost, creative rewards you can offer.

4. Exclusivity

The more people participate in a recognition program, the better. If your peer-to-peer recognition idea excludes members of your team who would willingly participate, you're missing out on a great opportunity.

Just like each member of your team makes unique and valuable contributions to your organization, each member also provides a unique perspective on the contributions their colleagues make.

Give everyone a chance to participate, whether they're senior executives or new hires on their first day. Doing this will improve the cohesiveness of your team, and the effectiveness of your recognition program.

5. Mandatory fun


Everyone's idea of fun is different, but the one thing most people can agree on is that mandatory fun isn't.

Forcing people to unwillingly participate in a system, even one that is designed to be enjoyable, is a surefire way to produce poor results and inspire poor engagement. Those who are actively disengaged can even negatively impact the engagement of others.

A great peer-to-peer recognition idea is one that your team will find irresistible to participate in but isn't forced into.

How do you come up with one that is good?

Feedback is a gift. Learn to accept it—even crave it—and use it constructively to improve your program. The harshest critics of your current program might have only one sticking point, and their point could be valid.

The takeaway

Peer-to-peer recognition is an incredibly impactful engagement tool, but just like any powerful tool, it's important to understand what makes it work and play to its advantages. Take a look at your current peer-to-peer recognition initiative, and make sure you're giving it the best chance for success.

Want to keep reading? Check this resource out!

Share this article