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Employee Awards: How to Surprise and Delight Award Winners

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Employee recognition is more than saying, “Thank you.” 

Great employee recognition programs lead to increased productivity, higher retention, and better employee satisfaction. And, according to Deloitte, companies with strong employee recognition programs are 12 times more likely to have strong business outcomes due to a more robust company culture. 

While it’s easy to understand the impact of employee recognition, it’s harder to come up with employee award ideas that stick. 

That’s why awards should always include employee stories. Employee stories around individual and team achievements spotlight well-deserving team members, reinforce culture, and show others what great looks like. 

This post shares one way to uplevel your employee awards by using employee stories — with a unique twist.

Employee awards idea: Make it a surprise with a ‘Big Reveal’ campaign 

In our recent guide, 5 Employee Engagement Campaigns that Delight and Retain Talent, we shared an example of surprising employees through a “Big Reveal.” 

To summarize, a leading gaming company pulled off an epic surprise: under the guise of filming a company culture video, ten employees were awarded a core value award, on camera, by their manager. The footage became ten videos shared at the company’s annual core value award ceremony — inviting the rest of the company to also enjoy the reveal as they celebrated their colleagues. 

Take a look at what that looked like behind the scenes:

Here’s how you can pull off a Big Reveal campaign, too, featuring our playbook from years of executing surprise award campaigns. 

What is a Big Reveal?

The premise of a Big Reveal is to surprise an award winner when they least expect it. And, to capture their reaction on camera. A Big Reveal campaign can apply to always-on programs like Employee of the Month or for annual events like core values awards. 

Employee awards winner

The surprise can be done in-person or virtually but relies on another employee or leader delivering the news to the award winner while the conversation is being filmed. This usually means finding a “fake” reason to be filming the award winner so they can be surprised.

Why film the conversation? Because you want to capture their genuine reaction so it can be shared across the organization. 

There are six steps for a Big Reveal:

  1. Select award winners
  2. Identify the “fake” idea for filming and get award winners scheduled for time in front of the camera. This could be a filming day to gather culture content, recruitment marketing content for their specific team, or any other initiative they’re a part of. 
  3. Connect with the award winner’s managers or leaders to get them involved with the reveal
  4. Coordinate filming logistics while keeping the surprise under wraps
  5. Film award winners and capture the live reveal
  6. Create video content of the reveal to share internally across the organization

With employee awards, the success is in the details

Employee story content for a variety of employee engagement use cases
Anna Lippe, Director of Customer Success at Stories Inc., uncovering employee stories on camera.

As someone involved in numerous projects like this, Anna Lippe, Director of Customer Success at Stories Inc., knows what it takes to pull off something this big but in secret.

“The planning that goes into surprising an award winner takes a lot of foresight and organization,” says Anna. “You have to work backward from the end goal of the filmed reaction and identify all the little things that will get you to that point.” 

Anna’s top tips for planning a Big Reveal:

  • Know the filming plan ahead of time. Will the award winner be in conversation with someone else or will someone come into the room to surprise them while they’re being filmed? The filming strategy will dictate how involved other team members will be and how much coordination needs to happen. 
  • Keep the secret! You’ll send a lot of emails to award winners, managers, and other team members. Just like planning a surprise party, make sure the award winner never catches wind of the upcoming surprise!
  • Prep the “revealers” well. The person doing the reveal needs to know why the award winner was selected and the plan for revealing the award. It’s critical to spend time prepping revealers well so the surprise is meaningful to the award recipient. 
  • Little details make a big difference. Including props like confetti, balloons, and cake look great on camera and make the award winner feel extra special. 
  • Have tissues on hand. Reveals are often emotional (in a good way) for both the award winner and the revealer. 

In addition to creating the ‘Big Reveal,’ you’ll want to facilitate a meaningful conversation between manager and award winner that highlights why the person won the award and what they mean to the team. 

Here are three questions to ask “revealers” to capture meaningful moments:

  1. What impact has the award winner made on your team and the organization?
  2. When was a time they embodied the spirit of the award?
  3. How does it feel to work with someone who goes above and beyond?  

Get the tone right

When the end goal is a video that emotionally connects the viewer to the award winner, several things need to happen in the production and post-production process.

“Things like camera angles, lighting, and music selection are important when creating content with an emotional appeal,”  says Doyle Maurer, Stories Inc.’s Creative Director. 

Doyle’s top creative tips for Big Reveal content:

  • Use multiple camera angles. You want to film the award winner and the person revealing the award to ensure you always capture every reaction. 
  • Be flexible when filming. Be ready to pivot and film other things during the reveal like other team members coming into the room, or confetti flying through the air.
  • Select the right music. In emotionally-driven stories, the music needs to reflect the content. Follow the lead of the reveal and add a music track that complements what’s being said.

Where to use Big Reveal video content

An employee recognition idea like a Big Reveal will generate substantive content that can be used across many channels.

Share it on your company intranet, in email newsletters, and on TV monitors in offices and facilities. 

But the most impactful way of sharing is through a live event. When colleagues get to see the reveal content in real-time, it allows for even more kudos to award winners and inspires others. 

Employee recognition is great no matter how you do it. But with an idea like the Big Reveal, you have the opportunity to recognize your team members in a fun, meaningful, and exciting way.