3 Tips on Building a Culture of Peer-to-Peer Recognition at Your Company

by Jennifer Miller on June 11, 2012

in Team Effectiveness

A Guest Post by Ginni Chen

I read an incredible statistic the other day that summarizes the epidemic of worker disenchantment: 53% of people at work are dissatisfied with the amount of recognition they get on the job.  A recent study by Towers Watson concluded that whether employees feel their efforts are appreciated is the number one determining factor of engagement at work.

If everyone knows how good appreciation makes them feel at work, why is it so hard to come by?  It’s a question that has taken me quite a while to wrap my head around.  It’s almost impossible to build peer-to-peer recognition into your company culture if you don’t make intentional endeavors to do so. Focused efforts to encourage appreciation are required for two reasons:

1. Appreciation Isn’t a Language We Know How to Speak at Work

At work, we’re simply out of habit when it comes to giving our peers appreciation.  As Tony Schwartz put it in his Harvard Business Review blog post, Why Appreciation Matters So Much, “We’re not fluent in the language of positive emotions in the workplace. We’re so unaccustomed to sharing them that we don’t feel comfortable doing so.  Heartfelt appreciation is a muscle we’ve not spent much time building, or felt encouraged to build.”

Appreciation has to be part of the day-to-day process of getting stuff done and reporting on it, just like brushing your teeth is a habitual part of the process of going to bed.

2. We Don’t Know What’s Getting Accomplished in the Company

Peer-to-peer recognition is impossible when employees don’t know about each other’s accomplishments.  Individual employees add tons of value to the company every day, but with limited information on these accomplishments, it can be difficult to realize that value and employees’ hard work can go unacknowledged.

Information flow often goes through managers, so they’re traditionally relied upon to show appreciation and bring recognition to their teams’ accomplishments.  However, when managers fail to recognize employee accomplishments, the whole culture of appreciation can disappear because other employees are in the dark about what’s getting accomplished.

3 Real-World Tips from Innovative Companies on How to Build a Culture of Peer-to-Peer Recognition

Innovative technology startups are engineering solutions to these problems.  With a little creativity, these tech startups are becoming the most sought-after places to work for top talent. This is in no small part because they strive to be awesome, fun places to work where people share gratitude and thanks in their work, every day.

Crowdsource Employee Bonuses: Shopify is an e-commerce software startup that’s doubled to a 100-employee headcount in a year’s time. They’ve figured out a way to make peer-to-peer recognition an integral part of their work culture by tying it to every team member’s bonus compensation.  At Shopify, appreciation by your peers means cash.

Here’s how it works.  Shopify built their own internal system called Unicorn. When a team member reports a job well done, other employees go into Unicorn, log her accomplishment, and give her one, two or three unicorns by way of thanks.  Everyone else can pile on more unicorns to show their appreciation.

At the end of each month, every employee in Shopify gets allocated a proportion of the company’s profits that are set aside for Unicorn bonuses. Each employee’s allocation is divided amongst those that he or she has thanked that month by giving out unicorns. Simply put, each employee’s bonus is determined by peer recognition for a job well done.

Turn Gratitude into a Meme: At Vungle, a mobile video advertising company that’s the subject of a documentary series on Mashable, they show gratitude  and celebrate major accomplishments by requiring that employees smash a gong.
The sounding of the gong brings the accomplishment to the attention of everyone in the company.  It’s a big gong.  It gets people to stop what they’re doing, look up and smile.  The gong itself serves as a gathering place to find and congratulate the person who has contributed something important to the company.

Make Communication Transparent and Open: Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz created Asana, a task management application. Unlike traditional task management applications, Asana not only makes it easy to divide and assign tasks and deadlines, it makes that process totally transparent so that everyone in a company can see the tasks and objectives of everyone else.  That makes it easy to see how individuals are contributing to the company’s progress.

Both Shopify and Vungle rely on iDoneThis, an email-based application that turns transparent communication into a habit.  Every day, the whole company gets an email asking, “What’d you get done today?”  Team members simply reply to the email.  The next morning, everyone gets an email with the team’s accomplishments, so that they know what’s getting done.

The email reports are a launching point to share gratitude and celebrate accomplishments.  At Shopify, these email reports are channeled into Unicorn and later into employee bonuses; at Vungle, the email reports often trigger much merry-making and gong-smashing.


Perhaps these innovative examples have stirred your creativity about how to make appreciation a daily habit at your company.  I’m curious to know whether you’ve tried building a culture of peer appreciation at your company.

What helps you make gratitude and thanks a part of your company’s culture?


Ginni Chen is the Chief Happiness Officer at iDoneThis, the easiest way for companies to track and celebrate what’s getting done.

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