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Community Living Services, Inc.’s Program To Recognize Exemplary DSPs  

Submitted By: Brooke Austin, Executive Director, Community Living Services, Inc.

The Best of CLS Recognition Program showcases the extraordinary direct support professionals (DSPs) from Community Living Services (CLS) throughout the year. All employees of CLS are invited quarterly to nominate any DSP at our agency that they feel deserves recognition. Additionally, the CLS Quality Assurance Department submits nominations for DSPs who have been entered into a positive performance log by Case Managers or Supervisors. 

Those nominations are given to the ‘Best of CLS Committee’ for review and selection. Between five and eight DSPs are chosen per quarter to be celebrated as The Best of CLS, and they receive a gift, a certificate, and they are publicly recognized on social media and on a bulletin board at the office. 

All of The Best of CLS recipients for the calendar year are also recognized at the CLS holiday party in December. At that party, one of the recipients is named as the “Employee of the Year.” The “Employee of the Year” receives a trophy, gift, and gets their name on a recognition plaque at CLS. Additionally, the “Employee of the Year” is nominated for the North Dakota Association of Community Providers’ DSP recognition event. 

The Impact Of The ‘Best of CLS’ Recognition Program

All positive recognition increases morale at the agency. Employees like having a chance to nominate their peers, and recipients feel valued and appreciated. Highlighting their positive attributes can showcase what successful DSPs do. The recipients are viewed as role models, and can help shape our future DSP workforce. This program also helps build connections among coworkers, and encourages DSPs to recognize the strengths of their peers. 

DSPs appreciate being recognized by their peers and by administration. The validation that comes from recognition is long-lasting. It provides a sense of pride to our DSPs who have received this award. It also provides motivation for DSPs to do their best work. The DSPs who have received this award have become leaders and role models for newer DSPs. 

Steps To Implement A Similar Recognition Program

This program is easily replicated, and can be tailored to any agency. Seeking positive feedback for DSPs is often done formally or informally already, so taking that information and applying it in a formal process is an easy next step. The awards given and how the recipients are celebrated can be specific to the organization. The number of recipients can also vary based on the size of the organization. 

Here are specific action steps you can take to establish your recognition program: 

  1. Establish a committee with members who serve different roles at the agency (HR, Case Management, Department Managers, etc.). 
  2. Create the criteria on which the candidates will be considered (some examples include: developing relationships, helping peers, flexibility, responsibility, and creatively promoting independence). 
  3. Establish what the rewards will be for recipients. 
  4. Create a system by which feedback can be sought. We send out nomination surveys to the entire agency that people can use to nominate their coworkers and peers, specifically highlighting the positive attributes of the DSP. We also utilize a positive performance log in which supervisors and Case Managers can share positive feedback to employees. In addition to receiving recognition from the Quality Assurance Department, any DSP entered into the positive performance log receives a nomination for The Best of CLS. 
  5. Designate a member of the committee to compile the nominations and relevant performance notes 
  6. Meet five times a year (4x quarterly and once for Employee of the Year). 
  7. Pick the winners, and have committee members complete write-ups for the winners. 
  8. Share the award with the winners. 
  9. Publicize the event and the winners. 

Potential Challenges Involving A Recognition Program

One challenge is getting people to share positive feedback for their peers. This can be overcome by really publicizing the award process, so people see that their contributions matter. 

Another challenge is recruiting committee members. People are short on time and stretched thin. By showcasing the positive impact committee members can have for DSPs, people may be more willing to join the committee. 

Also, this type of program could easily become stagnant and less meaningful as time goes on. Re-evaluating the rewards given, and diligently staying on track will keep the ‘positivity ball’ rolling. 

Finally, it is important to be inclusive. Consider all DSPs who work in all programs. Even if a DSP only works one shift a week, if they demonstrate the traits needed to be selected, then they should be considered. This should never be viewed as a popularity contest. 

About Community Living Services, Inc.

Community Living Services is a licensed, non-profit organization which has been providing individualized community-based support services to persons with disabilities since 1980.  

The organization provides a range of training and supportive services designed to assist people and families to live independently in their own homes and apartments. Services are developed to enhance integration and to maximize individuals’ own skills and abilities. All services are individualized and developed based on the specific needs of the person. From period general support to 24 hour per day on-going assistance, services are developed to maximize self-esteem, self-sufficiency and integration into the community. 

You can learn more about Community Living Services, Inc. by visiting the organization’s website: 

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Since 1969, CQL | The Council on Quality and Leadership has been a leader in working with human service organizations and systems to continuously define, measure, and improve quality of life and quality of services for youth, adults, and older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and psychiatric disabilities. CQL offers accreditation, training, certification, research, and consultation services to agencies that share our vision of dignity, opportunity, and community for all people.