Employee recognition is widely recognized as an important tool for encouraging employees to do their best work. But done right, it can also be a useful, and deeply satisfying way to grow your company culture and make sure that your company values are embedded in the way you do business--not just written down and forgotten. 

Live Your Values

At Techstars, one of our most important values is that we Give First

This means that we try to help anyone--especially entrepreneurs--with no expectation of getting anything in return. This is not to say that we're purely altruistic. It has been my lifetime experience that giving--time, advice, and connections are the most common things I'm asked for on a regular basis--always comes back to me in a big way. The Techstars network includes entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, corporate leaders, community leaders, government officials, universities, and more--all the many kinds of people that together make up a complex startup ecosystem in any community around the world. We encourage the whole Techstars network to live and work Give First, and when that happens, everyone wins, because everyone is giving, helping, advising, and connecting. 

A Give First network is very powerful. 

Royalty For a Month

We do our best when we hire people who already live Give First, because they're going to be a good fit for the organization. And we have a Code of Conduct, cool signs and posters, stickers, a hashtag, even a podcast. Those are all great. 

But one of my favorite ways that we promote Give First within the company is the Give First crown. Yes, the Give First crown is an actual crown. It has gone around the world several times by now. 

We hold short all-company meetings every week, with a longer one once a month. At each of these monthly meetings, the Give First crown is ceremoniously passed. (Well, digitally passed, and then put in the mail.)

It is the responsibility of the current holder of the Give First crown to choose the next recipient. The holder must make a short speech about why they have chosen the next wearer of the Give First crown. They explain how this person Gives First, every day. We all listen. We all applaud. Many people post congratulations and affirmations in the Slack channel we use for these meetings. 

The recipients of the Give First crown tend to be well known throughout the company, even as we grow, because living Give First means that you help a lot of people, in lots of ways, all the time. 

I love a few things about the Give First crown. 

It is not an honor that leadership bestows, but one given by a colleague. It has no monetary value, but a huge amount of emotional value. It is truly meaningful. And I, as a company leader, get to learn more about who our most amazing, giving employees are. I am constantly wowed by the speeches, and I love learning about how terrific these people I work with are, and how far they go beyond the basics. It makes me proud of all of us. 

DIY Your Own Crown

I absolutely encourage every company founder or CEO to create their equivalent of a Give First crown. You will quickly learn whether your employees are living your company values. You will hear about acts of awesomeness that might otherwise slip by unnoticed. You will bolster your company culture. And, not to cheapen the experience, but you will do all this without spending a dime.