Praiseworthy Blog

Three Employee Recognition Programs that Work

In building a positive company culture, there’s often no right way to do it. In this post, we share three ways to form employee recognition programs that have shown serious results. We’ll cover successful programs such as:

For some, it’s a handwritten note. For some, it may be winning a sales contest. And still for others, feeling recognized and important in their roles at a company may come through positive customer feedback.

Recognition is not some one size fits all approach.

Someone who has had a lot of experience in developing sustainable and meaningful employee recognition programs is Jamie Sunsmo, Director of Sales, Development and Employee Relations at Cell.Plus, one of the largest U.S. Cellular dealers.

In her role at Cell.Plus, she is one of the instrumental leaders in building a strong culture that highlights the importance of employees. In coordinating hirings, trainings and other related programs, she has developed wisdom and expertise in forming a positive company culture through employee recognition programs.

Building employee recognition

“My job involves people and building the culture around our company,” she says. In interacting with associates, “I make sure they feel appreciated and that they have the foundation they need to do what they need to do. Because they’re our front lines…so we want to make sure they’re set up to be the best that they can be.”

She has also witnessed low employee turnover at Cell.Plus, something that is often rare in the retail realm.

So what’s their secret?

“Certainly the business concept of servant leadership is huge,” she said. “We’re here to serve each other and we’re here to serve our customers.” This service-minded attitude is often seen in the nonprofit sector. But with a mission like that at Cell.Plus, businesses can approach their for-profit work with the same mindset.

In her relationships with associates, Jamie leads the emphasis of making sure each person has what they need to succeed in the roles they’ve been given. From managers to executives, the culture of Cell.Plus is of servanthood. Employees go to work not only to satisfy the needs of customers and generate profit, but also to build community.


That community can only happen if people are themselves, are genuine.

“Authenticity is so important,” she says. “And I think that so many companies miss that on a top level,” she says. At many organizations, coworkers often develop that sense of camaraderie and togetherness with each other, but that culture breaks in relating upper management to associates.

Even when it comes to personal conversations, the culture at Cell.Plus recognizes that once employees get to work, it’s not like all those problems experienced at home simply disappear. “There’s a lot of stuff that happens in life that is really earth shattering for a lot of people,” she says. “When they know that they can come into a work culture and they’re not going to have the threat of their job over their head because they need to take off a week because they had a miscarriage or their child is sick or just different things that are unavoidable in life.”

This focus on highlighting employees comes through their mission statement. “We want to be a company that really nurtures and equips our employees,” she says. That drive to equip and nourish comes through the desire to encourage one another.

“Humanity needs that these days. We need that love and care for each other,” she says.

Being genuine and others-focused also comes into play in nurturing those relationships. Humility is a key ingredient in company culture. “A big part of it comes in not being afraid to say you’re sorry,” she says. “That builds leadership and that builds trust.”

Fostering positive relationships is fundamental.

In developing recognition programs, Jamie and her team at Cell.Plus have learned a lot about employees. “People feel appreciated differently,” she says. They recognize through developing relationships, no employee feels appreciation in the exact same ways. As a result, they don’t ignore differences, but embrace them.

“We work really hard with each associate to figure out, what is their language? How do they respond to that appreciation?” she asks. Upon receiving that information, Jamie and her team work to use those recognition practices to best fit the employee- whether through customer feedback from Praiseworthy, sales contests or incentive programs around company relations.

1. Sales competitions: fuel the fighter [13.33]

While customer feedback has been so valuable, some associates at Cell.Plus fuel their drive to work through competition.

“We have sales contests, too. Different things that motivate people in different ways,” she says. “Some personalities really respond to sales contests.”

These associates take ahold of the competition and fight for those top sales. Jamie describes the people who feel recognized in these programs as highly competitive and high achievers.

2. Incentives through company relationships [13.43]

For some employees, their feeling of value comes through enriching relationships within the company. For example, “sometimes they’ll win a dinner with the owner,” she says. “It brings it down to that personal level.”

When employees aren’t treated as people simply needing to fulfill orders or quotas but are seen as dynamic and complex individuals, the culture improves.

“Others don’t respond to sales numbers but will work hard because they feel appreciated,” she adds.

3. Praiseworthy: the power of customer feedback [12.06]

The first employee recognition program that Jamie notes is Praiseworthy, which uses customer surveys to build and promote a better company culture.

“Praiseworthy has been huge.” Using customer feedback, associates get their feedback from the front lines. Jamie can recall many times where customers complete a Praiseworthy survey and then return to the Cell.Plus store and thank the associates.

“The customer felt appreciated that we asked them if they were appreciated,” she says. “It becomes a little bit of this pay-it-forward. It generates this kind of community between customers and associates.”

If you’re eager to start an employee recognition program that has results, give Praiseworthy a try. “Praiseworthy is a great place to start,” Jamie says. “It’s been a huge tool.”

Jamie notes the significance of the program comes through the source of the feedback. Rather than higher management or coworkers, the feedback, constructive criticisms or gratitude comes from the customer.

“When it’s your customer telling you, no one paid them to do that,” she says. “If they take the time to fill out a survey on their form and say how much they appreciate the person they worked with, you’re going to know they really appreciated it.”

When customers take the time to stop, think about the interaction they experienced with an associate and are willing to share their thoughts, then it’s genuine.

Using feedback

When Jamie receives customer feedback through Praiseworthy, she tells the associates.

“Every week, I try to find five or ten really good ones, print them out, cut them out and mail them to the associates,” she says. Because for her, receiving an actual, tangible piece of paper with encouraging words from a customer is more influential than just a quick email.

This feedback from customers is like gold for changing, updating and improving their company culture and how they go about their work. “I encourage associates to read all the content,” she says. “It doesn’t mean anything if they don’t see it. And they don’t see it unless it comes from the customer.”

Hearing first-hand experiences from customers has encouraged associates and other management at Cell.Plus. The program generates awareness of things they are doing right and things to improve.

Their pursuit of developing employee recognition programs has involved much trial and error. Jamie and her team have tried numerous programs in an effort to reach every employee and to build up a positive company culture. They recognize that no one is exactly the same when it comes to feeling appreciated and recognized in their everyday work.

“I don’t think you can summarize it into one thing,” she says about their employee recognition program. “Unless you were to generalize it to the point that every associate in our company is a person, they have a name; they’re not a number.”

Employees, each and every one, has a name, a personality, a face.

Perhaps it is this strong individual focus on each and every employee that has made Cell.Plus and its associates so successful.

Increasing employee retention and building a strong company culture is possible when both management and employees work together. Each member is vital to the organization.


This podcast is brought to you by Praiseworthy, where we give employees purpose in their everyday work by allowing them to learn and feel their recognition through customer interactions. To learn more and subscribe to this podcast, visit

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