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Recognition Events

Designing an Effective Recognition Event (Recognition Series #3)

Effective employee recognition programs are an invaluable tool for retaining top performers in any company. And in survey after survey, employees cite public recognition as their preferred style of recognition. (One recent source: Gallup.)

It’s only fitting that events are among the most popular way of honoring employees.

All events, however, aren’t created equal. In fact, all-too-often, meaningful, measurably impactful recognition events turn boring — or are even conflated with the kind of boondoggles that are sexy but lack strategy. But those missteps can be easily avoided.

For each of the past four years, InVision has developed and executed recognition events for the multi-level marketing conglomerate Amway, ensuring that each one is beautiful and fun but also purposefully designed to inspire and motivate, recognize and retain the company’s top 4,000 independent business owners.

Here’s how we do it — and how your brand can, too.

Commit to the fundamentals.

Earlier this year, Senior Creative Director Jimmy Verrett identified five desires of event attendees, which he outlined in a series that should be required reading for experience designers — not least of all, those who design recognition events.

As Verrett explained, designers would be wise to imagine attendees repeatedly reminding them, Know Who I Am, Care About What I Care About, Optimize My Time, Reward My Investment, and Don’t Be Boring.

After all, recognizing employees is all about the attendees, so it pays to keep their desires at the forefront.

Own your priorities.

Is your recognition event a sexy gala designed to give honorees something to brag about and others something to strive for? Are there key brand messages you need to advance in more of a business meeting format? Employee recognition events can be one or both — but it’s critical to own what you’re doing and design for it every step of the way.

Balance legacy and novelty.

At the Amway Achievers event, more than 75 percent of attendees are not first-timers. That results in two key considerations:

  • There are certain event elements they’ve come to expect, strived to be a part of, and would miss if they disappeared. In the case of Amway, that means employees who have reached a new tier of success want to walk across the stage when their name is called. But in the case of any recognition program, it means giving ’em what they came for.
  • And yet…they don’t want to see the same show year after year. Each iteration of Achievers hits certain key notes, but from one rooted in Nashville tradition to another inspired by the Academy Awards, the creative construct completely transforms each year.

When you balance legacy and novelty, you acknowledge that even when you “mix it up” or deliver something “no one’s ever seen before,” there are still certain things that have to happen programmatically. But the packaging can and should up the ante.

Design to cultivate aspirations.

Don’t just hope that a fancy affair will drive employees’ aspirations — design for it.

In addition to Amway’s awards banquet, a Leadership Growth Forum educates and inspires those people who are the cusp of the highest levels of achievement. Investing in an event component like this expands the reach of your event, sure — but it also works directly toward getting more employees striving harder and aiming higher.

Go beyond the ballroom.

Your typical employee recognition event includes a big ballroom experience. Nothing wrong with that — unless you stop there. If you’re honoring employees, they should feel honored at every single touchpoint. What this looks like will vary from event to event, but it might include luxe high-sheen invitations, VIP entrances, Instagrammable honoree installations, and souvenirs to show off at home.

Connect with culture.

An employee recognition event for Intuit should be quite different from one for Costco. Both are well recognized for their exceptional corporate cultures, but those cultures are different, and their events should reflect that.

Indeed, what’s authentic to Amway’s culture — a real spectacle that makes honorees feel like celebrities — might draw cynicism from another company. No matter. The important thing is to do what’s right for your audience. What aligns with the voice, the values, the purpose, and the personality of your brand.

And because it bears repeating: Keep things fun and engaging.

No one wants to watch thousands of people walk across a stage, like some sort of graduation ceremony for the professional set. They want an emotionally rich experience. As you develop your recognition event, think about each step in the run of the show and the emotions it inspires. Are there moments where things flatline, or is there a cadence to the peaks and valleys? Ask yourself, “Would I want to be there, even if I weren’t being honored?”

To engage InVision’s team of creative and strategic thinkers on your next employee recognition event, send us a note at

Recognition Series #1 - Boost Employee Engagement: Building a Strategic Recognition Program

Recognition Series #2 - Sales Recognition Best Practices