In boxing it’s always the punch you don’t see coming that knocks you down. The punch you weren’t expecting, the punch you never thought would hit you.

The employee recognition industry has been around for decades. It used to be pretty simple. An employee reaches a milestone – like a work anniversary – and they receive a gift from the employer. A couple of service providers became huge businesses by buying gifts in bulk, storing them in a warehouse, and then providing fulfillment services to their customers. For many years this is how the employee recognition industry worked – track the milestones, let the employee choose a gift from a catalog, deliver the gift to the employee.

Today, the service providers talk a different game around employee recognition. You see a lot of industry buzzwords – social recognition, employee engagement, metrics and ROI – and that gets you excited. You convince your leadership that the big name recognition vendor will be able to deliver the results that will help get your business to the next level. So you sign the contract.

Then comes the punch. The punch you never saw coming. The program that looked so good on paper fails to materialize.

The hard truth is most companies fail to get the expected value out of their employee recognition programs. The vendors certainly deserve some of the blame for overselling their capabilities and under delivering on what they promise. But it is more than caveat emptor.

Employee recognition must be viewed as a tool in your talent management arsenal. With the right strategy and execution plan it can help drive the behaviors that will positively impact your business. Understanding how you will use employee recognition – and where it fits into your overall strategy – before you buy a solution will help you duck that punch.