Values Star Program: Why Employee Recognition Matters

By Kayla Sheely

What truly motivates a workplace? According to a 2014 study of 200,000 employees across 500 companies, money didn’t even rank in the top five motivators. But peers and recognition did (source). Maryanne Fiedler, VSE’s Recognition Program Facilitator, combined these two motivators to create our Values Star Program, a peer-to-peer recognition program. 

Prior to joining VSE, Maryanne worked for a music retailer that implemented a recognition program around its corporate values. While that program served as a starting point, Maryanne didn’t want VSE’s participation to be motivated purely by money. Instead, she wanted it to be motivated by positive feelings from being recognized by the people we work with. 

Peer-to-peer recognition programs are distinct from traditional, top-down recognition. One primary benefit is that it can create rapport among employees and build cultural value. Employees don’t want to just be a cog in the machine. Peer-to-peer recognition programs like the Values Star Program can shine a light on our humanity and recognize us for the work we are doing. Recognition coming from a peer can feel different than from a boss or a manager – we may have more appreciation since it is from someone who is not required to evaluate our performance.  

Employee recognition programs help foster “a collaborative environment where we respect one another and find ways to celebrate each other’s successes,” according to Maryanne. “That’s why we lean to a peer-to-peer format and not boss-to-subordinate.”

Additionally, peer-to-peer recognition programs can move the corporate culture forward. They are valuable in assisting a shift in a company’s culture. Before our current Values Star Program, VSE had corporate values, but the work to distill them throughout the company was limited. With the Values Star Program, our corporate values are present in the company in new, engaging ways. “Recognition programs help bring greater awareness to things that are influential to the culture of the company by crafting recognition around certain cultural initiatives — in our case the Values Star Program,” says Maryanne. “It’s helped create more awareness of our corporate values.”

How It Works 

Each month, employees can nominate coworkers they believe emulate any of our eight corporate values:

Customer First: We’re obsessed with understanding our customers and delivering an experience that surprises and delights.

Impactful: Deliver a deliberate and exceptional effort that moves us towards our purpose.

Caring & Honest: Share perspectives truthfully in a constructive and thoughtful way.

Collaborative: Work with others to create something greater than the sum of our individual contributions. Make 1 + 1 = 3.

Innovative: Disrupt. Create. Improve. Transform.

Judicious: Make open-minded and informed decisions.

Purpose Driven: Have a personal focus or calling towards an idea or ideal bigger than myself that also aligns to some degree with the Organization’s Purpose.

Self-Organizing: Respond to change in an agile, creative, resourceful, opportunistic, transparent, and accountable way for the benefit of the organization. Initiate and self-direct, practicing Holacracy.

To nominate someone, employees need to provide an explanation and example of how the nominee exemplified that value — what specifically did they do. During our monthly town hall meeting, the Values Star nominations are read and acknowledged in front of the entire company. At the end of each quarter, all the monthly Values Stars are put in a drawing for each respective value to win a gift card. At the end of the year, everyone who has won Values Stars is put into a final drawing for a free trip of the employee’s choice. 

The program has evolved over time. “Originally only those who got a quarterly award were eligible for the annual award,” says Maryanne. “We changed it so that everybody, every monthly value star, was eligible for the annual drawing as many times as they got a monthly award, so people felt that there was another opportunity to get something at the end.”

How It’s Going

 Like any cultural initiative, the Values Star Program has taken time to become widely adopted across the organization. But year over year, the number of nominations continues to grow exponentially. Maryanne has had to acknowledge that it can be difficult to get everyone comfortable with both offering and receiving recognition. She is hoping that some of her upcoming initiatives around badging will help draw people out who might be intimidated by having to get up and speak in front of the entire company. 

Despite the transition to virtual over the past year, the Values Star Program hasn’t suffered. We are continuing to see growth, signaling that the program is working and thriving in a remote environment. 

“I think these kinds of programs are really important, and the idea that it’s peer-to-peer feels even more important to me,” reflects Maryanne. “We want to work with people we like to work with and feel good about our interactions with people. Recognizing one another, patting each other on the back once and a while, and giving each other some praise is so incredibly important. It builds report, it builds trust, and it fosters collaboration.”

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