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Apr 21'

Employee Recognition Lessons We Can Learn from the Military

In many businesses, employee recognition is something to aspire to. However, when it comes to the military, ensuring that everyone feels valued can be a matter of life or death.

Indeed for thousands of years the world’s most successful militaries have succeeded not just because of the heroism of a few individuals, but because thousands of men and women have been honed into the ultimate team. 

And while their circumstances may be different - after all how many of us have to deal with tanks and aircraft carriers on a day to day basis? - the armed forces still have to contend with many of the same people issues that conventional organizations have to tackle. 

So what can we learn from the military and how can we implement those lessons within our own employee recognition programs? 

Give your people something to aspire to

The armed forces have a carefully mapped out hierarchy that ensures that the chain of command is maintained from the highest general to newest recruit. That structure is vital when you’re in a warzone, but it’s not just there to ensure that everyone knows their role, it also gives people at every level some to aspire to. 

Think of it this way - in a military structure everyone knows what they need to do to reach the next level of their career. There is a clear line of progression that takes you from the bottom to the top and shows you just what it takes to succeed. That means that everyone has a clearly-defined goal to aspire to, a system that ensures that everyone is rewarded for their progression and encouraged to take themselves to the next level.

Military training
Source: Bootcamp Military Fitness Institute

Compare this to the outdated “Employee of the month” style programs that are rolled out by many businesses and it’s easy to see why traditional approaches to recognition and engagement fall flat. The lesson here is not to create a token award, but to give your employees tangible recognition that revolves around continual progression and ongoing achievement. 

According to a report by McKinsey, 91% of companies with effective management systems say that their employees’ goals are closely linked to their business objectives. The message is clear: employees are more effective when they can see how their individual achievements fit into the bigger picture. 

Recognize their achievements

The practice of awarding soldiers with medals dates back to Roman times, when leaders would hand out a range of honours to recognize victory and valour. Fast forward 2,000 years and medals are still an intrinsic part of military life, so much so that they have transcended the armed forces and become a universally-acknowledged symbol of achievement across the globe. 

military award

While we don’t expect you to start pinning pieces of ribbon and metal to your employees’ chests, creating a system that recognizes their accomplishments is essential to creating a great culture. 

That’s because recognition is a basic human need, one which our brains are hardwired to respond to. We’ve previously written about the biology of recognition, but the bottom line for businesses is that employee recognition results in higher levels of motivation, engagement and productivity, lower staff turnover, and an increased ability to retain and attract top talent.

Get ceremonial 

It’s not just enough to recognize peoples’ achievements, you’ve also got to celebrate them. In the military this involves elaborate ceremonies with brass bands, formation flyovers and 21 gun salutes, but while no-one is expecting you to go to such great lengths in your own organization, we can still learn a lot from our friends in uniform. 

man with lots of badges

Firstly celebrating success creates recognition and awareness among your entire workforce. It’s that feel-good factor that permeates every aspect of your organization and gives everyone the opportunity to share in each others’ success. Public recognition also creates buy-in within your teams, which means that your employee recognition programs will be all the more successful. 

So don’t just recognize your employees, shout about their success from the rooftops. It will motivate your entire organization to celebrate each other and aspire to achieve even more together. 

Implement a program 

Military life is carefully managed, and from the day you enter service there will be a career roadmap laid out in front of you. That means you will know exactly what you need to do and what you need to achieve to reach your desired goal in life.

Military HonoursEmployer Award Ideas
Victoria CrossInnovation Award
Cross of ValorInitiative Seeker
Order of MeritMost Enviable Lunch Award
Star of Courage Mission Impossible Award
Meritorious Service CrossStandout Performer
Medal of BraverySocial Contributor Award
Long Service MedalLiving by Our Values Award
Happy men walking

While that approach might be too prescriptive for everyday businesses, the idea of creating a clear path to success for your employees certainly isn’t. In fact one of the most effective things any business can do to boost their engagement is to implement an employee recognition program that delivers real results. This is where Bucketlist can help.

Bucketlist employee recognition software is customizable to your business so you can coordinate awards and automate them too. For example, once a quarter staff could nominate a colleague to award the ‘Innovation Award’ for a great idea. Read more information about the employee recognition programs though Bucketlist.

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