Program Best Practices

How to build a company values awards program that sets your culture apart

The past two years changed everything. The challenges brought about by the pandemic forced so many of us to stop and reevaluate what's really important. For employees, this has meant looking long and hard at the companies we work for and asking: Do I feel connected to this company? Do I believe in what this company stands for?

Your employees today want a lot more from their work. They don’t just want to trade hours for money. They want to be recognized for their efforts and feel deep alignment with their company and colleagues. 

This is where your company values come into play. Your core values in the workplace can be a galvanizing force for your team, uniting everyone around a common cause and a shared sense of purpose. But it’s not enough to simply define your values. If you want to ingrain them into your company culture, your team needs to live them out every day. 

Enter company values awards

What are company values awards? They’re the best way to highlight who you are as a company and what you stand for, and allow your team members to feel a part of that by being recognized for demonstrating your core values.

Of course, if you want to build a values-based recognition program that your employees will love, there are some best practices you should follow. Here’s a step-by-step guide for creating a winning recognition program, including real-world examples of celebrating core values in the workplace.

1. Define your company core values.

Your company values are the foundation of your culture, so you need to make sure they’re solid and still relevant to your company and brand before you build out your core values awards program. For example, if your company values were first established when you were a team of 10 and now you’re an organization of 500+ employees, it’s probably time to give them a refresh.

If you’re in this boat, consider following employee experience platform Culture Amp’s lead and host interactive workshops to help bring your company values to life. Their process involves hosting workshops with employees around a particular value. In each session, employees discuss three core questions:

  • Meaning: What does this value mean to you?
  • Relevance: Why is this value important to our company?
  • Mutuality: What is required from others to keep this value alive?

Then, each person is given the chance to share their own story of how they’ve seen the value play out. The storytelling element provides context and inspiration for the entire company on how to promote core values in the workplace, day in and day out.

2. Design your core values rewards program.

Once you’ve defined your values, you need to determine how someone would demonstrate those values to be rewarded and recognized. What’s the objective or milestone that someone would need to achieve or the model behaviors they would need to demonstrate? Are these goals attainable? Can you share examples of how employees have exemplified these core values in the past?

Here’s a core values award example. The Trade Desk is a media buying platform and a Blueboard client. Employees at The Trade Desk are able to volunteer for different values-driven opportunities. In June 2020, they created a virtual "bring your whole self to work" series to celebrate Pride Month. By volunteering to be on the event panel, employees demonstrated the company core values of openness, full-heartedness, and generosity, and The Trade Desk recognized their efforts with values-based rewards.

You will also need to determine a cadence for sending rewards (e.g. how many rewards will be sent out and at what frequency?), and decide on your reward budget and names. Another values award example comes from software company Unit4. Their KUDOS4U rewards program recognizes employees who live out Unit4 core values. Once a quarter, a committee selects 24 winners from each of their five regions and awards them with Blueboard experiences valued at $250 and $500.

Peer to peer recognition is an ideal complement to any values awards program. With the right peer to peer tool, your employees can give each other values-based recognition anytime within your organization’s primary messaging app. This always-on recognition keeps your core values top of mind for employees and helps to power your organization’s culture of appreciation.

Blueboard Peer-to-Peer Slack chat channel.
A snapshot of Blueboard's P2P app feeding peer-to-peer recognition into a public #shout-outs Slack channel.

You can use these insights to supplement your evaluation and decision-making processes for your higher value core values awards.

Best practices to create a covetable company values awards program.

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3. Create a nomination process for your core values awards.

Next, you’ll want to build out the nomination process. Ask: How should employees be nominated for a core value award? Are peer nominations preferred or should we rely on managers to nominate their direct reports? Your answers to those questions will shape your award’s nomination process.

There are two common approaches to values-based awards nominations: spot awards and rewards and company-wide core values recognition. 

For a spot rewards program, managers can recognize and reward their employees’ special contributions as they occur. For example, GoPro’s core values awards, called “The Legends Program,” is a spot recognition program that recognizes employees who exhibit their company core values: Obsessively Serve, Stay Agile, Be a Hero, Harness the Power of Wow, and Make Friends. 

GoPro uses Blueboard to deliver experiential awards and built a platform where managers can pull up a menu, select an award category and budget, write a brief description of the value the employee embodied and the action they performed, and then submit their nomination for approval. 

“It’s like an Instacart for experiences,” says Tim Betry, Vice-President of People + Places at GoPro. Hear more from Tim about how GoPro crafts a meaningful employee experience with values awards in this recent webinar:

For a company-wide recognition program, the nomination process is often a little more formal. A committee picks award winners at regular intervals (e.g., once a quarter) with the company’s HR or leadership team overseeing the nomination process. Managers can submit nominations through an online survey, such as a Google Form, and the evaluation committee selects the winners. 

You could also have the best of both worlds and have a quarterly company-wide program and provide your managers with a supplemental budget for spot recognition. Up to you!

4. Set up your values awards evaluation process.

In setting up your nomination process, you'll also need to determine evaluation criteria. Who are the decision-makers? What should they be looking for as they evaluate award nominees? How will peer-to-peer recognition activity feed into your decision-making?

For a spot recognition program, the evaluation process is relatively simple: Usually, People managers submit a short nomination note detailing the employee’s achievement and reward value based on their observations. In some cases, this note acts as a request, which needs to be approved before the actual reward is sent. In other cases, managers can send rewards to employees for embodying one of their company core values without going through an approval process. 

In either case, you’ll want to be clear about how frequently managers should reward people and over what time period so that there is consistency across the entire company. 

For a company-wide program, the leadership team typically acts as the evaluation committee. You could also have a mix of both leadership and more junior-level employees on your committee, or have previous winners make up the panel. Peer to peer recognition insights can be particularly helpful for this type of committee, as they sift through different nominations.

5. Reward and celebrate your award winners.

And now for the fun part! After you pick your award recipients, publicly recognizing them is a critical part of the process. It helps the recipient feel seen, heard, and appreciated. It also reinforces your company culture by painting a clear picture for your other team members of what it looks like to live your values. 

Here at Blueboard, we reward our culture champions with one of our signature Blueboard experiences and celebrate them during all-hands meetings and with shout-outs on Slack. We also encourage all of our award recipients to report back to the team on how their experience went—and we urge our clients to do the same with their awards programs. For instance, GoPro created a space in their Workplace from Facebook hub where award winners can share stories, photos, and video memories about their experiences. 

Connecting over shared experiences is one of the many benefits of rewarding your employees with an experience compared to more transactional options like gift cards or cash. “[Your employees are] not going to remember a $250 gift card, but they will remember some sort of an experience,” says Tim. 

Compared to monetary gifts, an experience is something that your employees can look forward to and look back on for years to come. Plus, research shows that experiential gifts for employees often elicit more intense emotions than material gifts, which makes the gift all that more meaningful and memorable. 

Tim adds: “With our values and our corporate philosophy around unlocking opportunities for employees to really live the moment and live their best lives, it's really important to create these experiences that employees can embark upon that they might not have had otherwise.”

Values-based recognition programs: An antidote to employee disengagement.

With your employees likely spread out over multiple time zones and work schedules, it can be tough to make sure everybody’s on the same page. And no, we’re not talking about your daily touchbase calls or 1:1s. We’re talking about that strong sense of alignment, connection, and community that only comes from feeling locked into your company values.

This is the power of values-based recognition programs. Not only do they help your employees feel seen and appreciated for their efforts but—when you add Blueboard to the mix—core values awards can also help your employees bond over shared experiences. By encouraging your award winners to talk about the pottery class or surfing lesson they took, it creates those watercooler moments that help your employees get to know each other on a deeper level.

However, your program only works if you work it. It needs to be part of your employee onboarding experience from day one. When you’re onboarding new employees, tell them about your recognition program. Show them how it works and what type of values-based behaviors they should try to exemplify. Talking about your program from the get-go shows your employees that your values aren’t static ideas that live in a slide deck but are a genuine priority within your organization. 

You know your employees are worth more than the tasks they complete. But in our more distributed work climate, it can be challenging to let your team know they’re on the right track or show them their efforts are being noticed. Implementing a values-based recognition program is a great way to show your top performers that you care about them and want them to thrive, both inside and outside of your company. 

There’s also an element of inclusivity to core values awards that can be missing from other types of recognition. Anyone can demonstrate a value, and anyone can recognize a value; it’s more democratized recognition, which can be really empowering for your more junior employees who may feel left out of the running for other awards. 

If you’re interested in learning more about using experiential awards and gifts for your values-based recognition program or to help identify other programs to support your core business challenges, we’d love to connect. Schedule some time with our team, here.

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