Awards Toolkit

Would you like to implement an annual awards program in your own school or division but aren't sure how to get started? We make it easy with this Annual Awards Program Toolkit.

Why implement an awards program?

Positive feedback boosts morale and helps employees see the value of their work! Employees are more satisfied and motivated in their roles when they are recognized by leaders and their peers.  

The annual Award of Distinction program typically only recognizes 10-15 employees a year, which leaves room for more outstanding Emory employees to be acknowledged for their contributions.  

Creating an awards program for your division/school allows you to tailor the award to your own culture and values which can make it feel more personal and meaningful to employees.  

This toolkit serves as a guide to creating an annual awards program that can be customized to your division’s resources and needs.  

Included in this Toolkit:

  • 6 Steps to Implementing an Annual Awards Program 
  • Pilot Implementation Task Checklist
  • Nomination Form
  • Sample Budgets
  • Sample Communications
  • Winner Selection Scoresheet
  • Additional Resources

6 Steps to Implementing an Annual Awards Program

Step 1: Form a committee for your awards program

The committee's role is to develop and plan an awards program for the division and review nominations to select winners.  

The following should be considered when establishing a committee: 

  • Selecting committee members: When establishing a committee for the awards program, select members from each work group/department to ensure there is diverse representation. Committee members may be identified by asking for volunteers, having them appointed by leaders, or elected by employees. Consider allowing former award winners to become a part of the selection committee after the pilot cycle is complete. 
  • Number of committee members: Having at least 4-5 committee members is recommended to ensure there are diverse perspectives when selecting winners. Members may have additional responsibilities such as sending communications and ordering awards. The group should be led by an HR Leader or other leader from your school/division.
  • Creating a communication plan: Determine when everyone is most available to meet and which communication platforms are preferred. Planning a calendar early allows all members to set aside time to attend meetings in advance. 
  • Frequency of meetings: The pilot year of the awards program will require a greater time commitment for committee members due to the initial planning needed. Be prepared to meet weekly to plan the awards program and review nominations. See the sample Pilot Implementation Task Checklist.

Step 2: Select categories for your awards program

After a committee is formed to establish the awards program, appropriate categories should be selected to determine the traits employees will be recognized for. The selection categories should be aligned with your core mission or values, or those of Emory. Be creative when coming up with names for categories to make the award feel fun and meaningful! For example, incorporate mascots or other symbols representative of your school/division.   

Potential categories may include*: 

  • Leadership: Demonstrates a high level of initiative, responsibility and resourcefulness. Actively involved in the development of others by empowering, challenging and inspiring staff to reach their highest potential. Promotes Emory’s mission and values in their work processes and interactions with others. 
  • Collaboration: Takes the initiative to collaborate and share resources contributing to group success. Inspires others to work collaboratively and creatively to promote engagement. Fosters meaningful collaboration with other offices and departments across the university. 
  • Creativity/Innovation: Consistently explores new ideas to enhance operations. Develops creative solutions to overcome barriers and simplify processes. Implemented a new process or service which promotes efficiency, productivity, or quality.
  • Operational Excellence/Customer Service: Goes above and beyond to provide the highest levels of service for the Emory community or other patrons. Provides consistent and exceptional customer service and shares enthusiasm for the department and university when engaging with others.
  • Flexibility: Embraces change and adapts readily to new situations. Helps others anticipate change, envision the future, and meet transformational challenges. 

*Add, remove or edit award categories based on the priorities of your division/school. 

Step 3: Create eligibility criteria

Next, the awards program committee will need to identify who is eligible to receive awards. 

Common eligibility criteria include: 

  • Any full or part-time regular staff members who have been employed by the department for at least 1 year. Temporary employees, student workers and interns are not eligible.
  • Nominees must be in good standing with the department. 

Eligibility criteria to consider: 

  • Do you want to allow fellows and post-docs to be eligible? If so, is there a specific category for these employees, or are they eligible for any of the awards. 
  • Are self-nominations allowed? 

Once eligibility criteria are established, define voting procedures to determine how winners will be selected. The Winner Selection Scoresheet includes a scoring section for each category to select winners based on the criteria they have met. Selecting the top 5 candidates for each category may be helpful if there is a large number of nominations. After each member has done an individual review, a committee meeting should be held to discuss the candidates and select a winner for each category. 

Step 4: Budgeting and selecting prizes

Planning the budget beforehand is essential to deciding what award prizes are feasible. Examples of prizes include trophies/plaques, event tickets, Emory-branded items, certificates, gift cards, leadership training, etc. (Note that monetary/gift cards must be reported to payroll). Consider incorporating the values associated with the awards or department-specific symbols into the awards.  

Sample budgets are included as examples of what kind of awards can be selected with different price points. If budget is limited, consider incorporating low/no cost recognition to boost the awards program. This could include giving winners a Friday off or creating a Wall of Fame to broadcast winners' achievements. A traveling award is another option that allows multiple people to be honored throughout the year. Incorporating additional recognition (webpage bio, social media, newsletter, etc.) are other cost-effective ways to further recognize the winners’ achievements.   

Award DescriptionNumberCost/EachTotal
Framed Certificate5$25$125
Rotating Trophy (purchased only the 1st year)5$60$300

Lunch Voucher


Approximate Budget (lower after 1st year)

Award DescriptionNumberCost/EachTotal

Trophy for each winner 


Visa Gift Card 


Snack & Beverage gathering (will vary depending on number of guests)


Approximate Budget


Step 5: Soliciting nominations

Nominations can be collected via email, paper, electronic forms, through the department’s website, or a combination. Nomination forms may include questions about how the employee displays the values of the award or ask to share a story about the employee. See the Sample Nomination Form for an example that can be edited. 

Promoting the awards program in multiple communication platforms is important to invite participation and emphasize the meaning of the award! Examples of where to announce the nominations include: 

  •     Email to employees    
  •     Department newsletter            
  •     Department bulletin boards   
  •     Department meetings
  •     Department communication channels (Teams, Slack, etc.) 

See Sample Communications for announcements that can be edited and sent to your division or department. 

Step 6: Presenting awards

The final step to creating a successful awards program is presenting the awards to employees! Proper presentation is important in bringing meaning to the award and ensuring the winner feels recognized for their accomplishments. Take time to describe the "Why" of the award and how the individual ties into the mission and values the award represents. Give examples of how their specific behaviors or character contributed to the success of the department. 

An awards ceremony allows everyone to come together for a special event celebrating themselves and their peers. 

  • Choose a date: Select a date that best fits the team’s availability. Consider religious holidays and people’s schedules to be considerate of people’s time constraints. 
  • Book your event space: See Additional Resources below for event spaces available at Emory. 
  • Determine food options: Depending on available funds, food options can range from snacks to a catered menu. Consider any dietary restrictions employees may have when selecting food to be provided.
  • Select speakers/entertainment: Select someone to emcee the event to keep the event running smoothly. Consider hiring an Emory student musician or other entertainment to enhance the ceremony.
  • Promote the event: Utilize the department's newsletters and communication channels to encourage employees to attend the event. Decide if winners will be notified in advance or if the winners will be surprised. 

If an awards ceremony is not possible due to time or financial constraints, incorporate the awards into an existing meeting to allow winners to still be publicly recognized.

Presenting awards in a hybrid/virtual setting 

It is important to include hybrid/virtual employees in recognition opportunities. Despite the limitation of virtual interaction, there are still opportunities to make employees feel appreciated and recognized for their accomplishments! Ideas to utilize in a virtual setting include: 

  • Inviting winners' family members to be a part of recognition
  • Reading notes submitted by peers 
  • Pre-recording acceptance speeches 
  • Creating a virtual recognition background
  • Incorporating additional team building such as trivia, superlatives, virtual escape room, etc. to increase participation in the awards ceremony


Melissa Morgan
Sr. Recognition and Engagement Manager
1599 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30322