From 2010 to 2019, Colliers—a commercial real estate company that employs 2,500 employees in Canada alone—held its annual Colliers Service Excellence Awards.
A panel of judges rewarded select employees for their outstanding work across the marketing, research, IT, HR, finance and accounting departments with a monetary perk (cash or credit towards vacation time), company recognition, and bragging rights. It was so competitive that some employees called it the “Colliers Oscars.”
But after its near-decade run, the Toronto-based company wanted to refresh its employee recognition program. Amy Clark, Colliers’s senior vice president of people services for North America, says the awards started to “feel outdated and stale.”
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Feedback from Colliers’s employee engagement survey suggested there wasn’t enough transparency when it came to how people were nominated for awards, or what behaviour was recognition-worthy. And, while the program was focused on service excellence, Clark says it wasn’t tied to the company’s greater core values of be enterprising, collaborate, invest in relationships, be experts, and do what’s right.
The HR team went to work updating the program, keeping in mind the company’s growth and diversification over the past 10 years. They brainstormed new awards that would include more people and teams.
Creating a new employee recognition program
In 2020, the new recognition program, the Spirit of Colliers, launched. Value awards were created to acknowledge employees who embody the organization’s core values, while other rewards celebrate leadership, innovation, rising stars, and workers who embrace diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.
Crucially, the company switched to peer nominations so everyone could get involved. “Your peers can nominate you, your leader can nominate you, or you can nominate your leader,” Clark says.
The HR team put out a call for nominations over a period of a few weeks. The process was straightforward and admittedly low-tech: HR created a SharePoint microsite with information about the awards and a video message from the president and CEO. Staff filled out a nomination form, outlining in one comment why they felt the nominee deserved the award and how they went above and beyond their role to meet the criteria.
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The new program resonated with staff. In 2021, there were 700 nominations Canada-wide; the next year, 1,200 nominations came in. Each January, submissions are reviewed by a 15-person committee made up of senior leaders who select winners based on their alignment with the categories. Up to 27 individual awards and three team awards are given. Winners receive up to $1,500 for each award, and also take home a plaque. So far, Colliers’s president and CEO has announced the winners via pre-recorded video, but the company is aiming for an in-person or live virtual ceremony next year.
Employee recognition benefits workplaces
In an increasingly competitive hiring landscape, employee recognition seriously matters. Research from Gallup found that it helps engage and develop workers—and makes them more likely to stick around. Keeping tabs on employees’ needs is paramount: If employers are out of touch, the company may lag behind competitors and lose talent. A 2022 survey from Achievers Workforce Institute found that more than half of employees say feeling recognized would reduce the likelihood they would take a call from a headhunter.
But it’s not just the winners at Colliers who get recognition; the transparent process means when someone is nominated, they find out right away. An email pops up in their inbox with the nomination category, and their manager is cc’d. “So even if you didn’t win the award, you still feel good you were nominated,” says Clark.
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For Colliers, peer recognition is the secret sauce to making all employees feel appreciated and celebrated. Clark explains that people who may be working behind the scenes aren’t always as visible as some of the frontline employees. “Those who maybe weren’t being recognized before now have more profile,” she says.
Recently, Colliers has been winning a few awards of its own: In March, the company landed on The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Women Lead Here list, and in 2022, Forbes named Colliers one of the world’s top women-friendly companies. Clark says these awards started rolling in once they started paying more attention to staff recognition. “I’m attributing all of that back to us really listening to our employees—putting our arms around programs to show them that we care.”
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