Today’s technology allows organisations to provide instant feedback and help improve company culture and employee retention.
By Jo Faragher
Building engagement is a top-ten priority for HR, with almost 80 per cent of executives rating employee experience as very important, according to Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends research for 2017. If organisations want to improve productivity and business results, a “culture of recognition”—with regular feedback to employees and clarity on their goals—is a step in the right direction.
“With multinational models, multigenerational workers, and digital acceleration, the workplace has grown increasingly complex,” explains Vanessa Brangwyn, vice president of customer success at reward and recognition company Achievers. “By providing a meaningful employee experience, companies reduce flight risk, stabilise morale, and diminish recruiting costs.”
From a technology perspective, it’s easier than ever to let workers know they’re doing a great job. There are a rapidly-growing number of apps and cloud-based systems available to support regular feedback and to give employees a pat on the back. These include pulse apps that allow employees to rate one another’s performances via social recognition systems that operate similarly to Facebook.
Gary Beckstrand, vice president of the O.C. Tanner Institute, believes the growth in the recognition technology market has been fuelled by changes in the way organisations manage people’s expectations of the workplace. “Before, the notion was that if you did X and Y, you’d get something—it was more like a transaction,” he says. “Now we understand motivation and Engagement a lot more, and it’s about acknowledging the person, not just what they have done.”
Technology has become a facilitator, says Derek Irvine, vice president of strategy and consulting at recognition specialist Globoforce. With annual appraisals, HR was more of an enforcer of culture, but now these tools can help HR become a facilitator of culture. “Old-school recognition between manager and employee can be ineffective, and managers often forget to do it,” he says. Bringing recognition onto a technology platform also ensures that managers are consistent in their approaches to recognising employees. “Otherwise, managers do different things in different countries and departments everyone makes up their own thing,” he adds.
Recognition tools also generate and collect a lot of very useful data—organisations can analyse who is doing the recognising, who is being recognised, and what they are being recognised for. Integrating this data with output from other HR systems makes it even richer. One of Globoforce’s customers, a major technology company, has discovered that for every nugget of recognition received, it reduced an employee’s probability of leaving the company by 6 per cent. A consumer goods company analysed its recognition data alongside its engagement scores, and it found that employees with multiple moments of recognition tended to record engagement scores two percentage points higher than those without.
Having this data means HR can offer evidence of the connection between a positive employee culture and results. “[Organisations] used to know we’d successfully recognised people because we’d given out a series of awards. Now because it’s web-based, we can track it,” adds Beckstrand.
Using technology to offer these more frequent “moments” of recognition in is part of a broader shift away from traditional modes of performance management, notably the annual appraisal. Companies are beginning to realise that scoring someone’s performance on an annual basis can be very back ward looking. If someone is not meeting targets, then it’s best to address this before it escalates rather than waiting for a formal meeting every 12 months. “By incorporating real-time engagement pulse surveys, employers are able to capture real-time employee feedback, so managers can make adjustments quickly in order to avert negative situations and better support their teams,” adds Brangwyn from Achievers. “Sharing employee successes reinforces desired behaviours and drives better business results.”
The social aspect of some tools can amplify this message. Facebook-like news feeds mean that if an employee in accounts has received praise from the CFO for their help in compiling the annual report, colleagues can comment, whilst others in the organisation see the types of behaviours that are gaining recognition. “Employees give greater value to feedback from people they work with. They love to get honest recognition from people in their team,” Irvine says.
It’s important, however, to avoid getting hung up on the technology. The growing arsenal of recognition tools and apps offers an overwhelming degree of choice—but if a company is not recognising the right behaviours or is Just doing so for recognition’s sake, it might not see the desired results. Apps can offer “likes,” thank-yous, and points that employees can build up to spend on rewards, but all of this must be driving forward the culture.
“Technology makes the process of recognition more efficient, but it can be a double-edged sword,” says Mark Hanes, vice president of strategic business development at Meridian Enterprises. “If you’re focusing on the tech and not the behaviour of the individual, then you’ve missed the middle of the target.” Certain apps may be popular with some in the organisation (such as millennial workers), he adds, but HR executives should be wary that they could create a disconnect with others.
Jason Kennedy, an adviser on talent for CPL, Ireland’s largest recruitment agency, says that for the best results, employers need to ensure these tools are integrated with other systems and are “equitable” in the way they are applied. Businesses increasingly outsource work from freelance or project-based workers, who all have a role in getting the company to where it wants to be. “Currently employers are using these tools primarily, if not exclusively, with permanent employees,” he says. “Work has evolved, it’s moved on, so what’s wrong with moving recognition to cover the contingent workforce as well?”
Rolling recognition out globally should be relatively straightforward, however. When it comes to customising a U.S. system for different markets in EMEA, the basics remain the same, but nuances around language and emphasis can be customised. Beck strand explains, “When we design systems with multinationals we show them the basics and then they can tweak. Germany is very performance-focused, for example, so it’s important to connect recognition to a result. In the UK, there’s still a degree of formality in employees’ relationships with managers and more hierarchy compared to the U.S., so we bear this in mind.”
In terms of what’s next, there will be more of a focus on recognising team efforts as well as individual performance, predicts Irvine, and businesses will use the tools to offer constructive criticism as well as praise. We might even see this mirrored in pay. “If the conversation around recognition is more continuous, how do we reflect that in how we reward people?” he asks. “We could see pay being structured in a completely different way.”
“Be at your Best” Programme Yields Recognition Results
For Bank of Ireland, recognising employees’ contributions is perhaps more of a challenge than it is for other employers. This is the result of the measures introduced after the financial crisis in 2008, which capped salary increases and prevented the company from offering bonuses.
“This meant there was not much we could do from a financial perspective to recognise people. There was no consequence from your performance grade, no financial impact,” explains Eamonn Eaton, head of group learning.
Bank of Ireland needed to get creative, so it came up with a new initiative called “Be at your Best,” which focuses on mind, body, and career. This has included a company-wide, 5,000-meter running event, a cycling challenge, and staff signing up for lifelong learning courses so they can boost their career.
Managers are empowered to recognise their teams in the ways that they see fit, and if they find something successful, this will be rolled out more widely across the bank. Events such as internal “graduations” celebrate employees’ career progress and involve staff from every level of seniority.
Performance management has been standardised across the company (there had previously been around 50 different systems) and includes quarterly reviews to track employees’ progress towards their goals. Career paths have also been made more transparent, with fewer “levels” to work through, and staff can see what they need to do to progress.
The results have been impressive, says Eaton: “People are more energised—24 per cent of staff are enrolled in third-level [university] courses. We’re seeing greater levels of discretionary effort and all indicators show people are highly engaged.”
Jo Faragher is a UK-based editor and writer on HR topics.