The Secret Sauce

Recognition may be the answer to your engagement and retention challenges.

By Debbie Bolla

Today’s recognition programs have quite a heavy load to carry on their shoulders. Organizations expect them to increase loyalty, productivity, and retention. And when executed properly, they are doing just that. Globoforce’s 2014 Workforce Mood Tracker survey found that 51 percent of those with values-based recognition programs are happy at work compared to only 35 percent of all respondents. The study also reveals that 73 percent of respondents name recognition as having a positive impact on their overall happiness at work.

The Yankee Candle Company is looking to their newly formed recognition program to drive loyalty within the organization. Working with Michael C. Fina for one year, the company enlists a services recognition program to award employee contributions. The program has a custom feel, which Donna Vance, benefits and HR administrative services manager for the firm, calls “uniquely Yankee.”

“At each service level, employees receive an iconic gift that represents a Yankee Candle product or tradition,” she says. “We have received a lot of positive feedback from employees on the uniqueness and meaningfulness of our custom awards, as well as the quality and selection of our gift items.”

Vance’s own 5th year anniversary was marked with a Yankee Candle Vanilla Cupcake candle and a pair of amethyst earrings that she selected. She is half way to earning her 10th year service reward—a brick in the sidewalk at the flagship store in Massachusetts or at the EMEA headquarters in the U.K. That reward is very well-received among the entire staff.

“Some of our U.S.-based employees have even made a special trip to our Flagship store to locate their brick and to take pictures of it to share with their friends and family,” she says.
Tying recognition to the values and culture of the company
is key to increasing an employee’s commitment to the organization. “Employees need to feel recognized for
their work as though they’re contributing meaningfully to company objectives,” says Cord Himelstein, vice president
of marketing and communications for Michael C. Fina. “Higher engagement correlates with higher productivity and lower turnover, all of which lead to overall greater financial health.”

Program Types
While the basis of all recognition programs is essentially the same—rewarding employees for a job well done—company culture tends to dictate their execution. Recognition can
be delivered through several different avenues including service awards, peer-to-peer, points-based, and on-the-spot recognition. Paul Hebert, vice president of solutions design for recognition provider Symbolist, is seeing two growth opportunities in terms of programs. Service anniversary rewards can be expanded to cover more than work anniversaries. Companies are looking to their programs to reward their workforce throughout more of the employee lifecycle: recruiting, onboarding, training, and major career milestones.

He also says that customer-facing organizations are thinking outside of the box and enlisting customers to deliver feedback on employees and their work. Some even provide access to the recognition platform customers can share their experiences with the organization and a particular employee. He notes it’s becoming more prevalent in organizations where customer satisfaction is a key element of company and brand success.

Adding an Element of Fun
A large part of a successful recognition program is that the platform is easy to use and has an element of fun. Derek Irvine, vice president of client strategy and consulting for Globoforce, says that social recognition—interfaces that resemble social media channels—provides an interactive experience and visibility into how colleagues are being recognized and rewarding others. “It adds an element of camaraderie and fun to the review process,” he says.

Introducing gaming to the employee experience through gamification is a newer approach that can get employees involved and engaged in several HR initiatives like training and onboarding. Sounds like a perfect fit for recognition, right? Not so, reports Globoforce’s Workforce Mood Tracker survey. Only 30 percent of respondents felt that gamification would be a positive addition to a recognition program.

This may stem from the innate competitive aspect of gaming. Irvine says, “Sixty-two percent of respondents said recognition would be less meaningful if they knew someone received points on a leaderboard for giving that recognition, and 79 percent would not work harder if the number of recognition awards given or received was ranked on a leaderboard.”

Impacting Performance Management

Performance reviews have taken some heat in recent years with opponents arguing that they are invaluable and archaic. Earlier this year, The Washington Post published an article on its website entitled, Study finds that basically every single person hates performances reviews. The piece, based on research from psychologists at Kansas State University, Eastern Kentucky University, and Texas A&M University, looked at how damaging negative feedback can be on employees.

There are other ancillary problems with annual performance reviews—emphasis on annual.

“The annual performance review can be uncomfortable on both ends—especially when the manager/employee relationship doesn’t include regular feedback, and communication is weak,” says Himelstein. “Frequent recognition and feedback provided throughout the year not only gives employees those quick boosts and greater sense of purpose, but eliminates the mystery and awkwardness of the annual review.”

Razor Suleman, chairman and chief evangelist for recognition provider Achievers, argues that while recognition happens all the time, a performance review happens only once a year. Tracking recognition can allow managers to see trends, achievements, and milestones
for a more effective performance review process. “The reality is that managers only remember 30 percent of
what employees do on a daily basis,” he says. “Recognition programs provide managers the visibility into the successes and achievements employees are being recognized for every day.”

Herbert offers an interesting consideration when tying recognition to performance management: “I’m not sure that recognition programs as a standalone entity are great for either performance management or succession planning unless they have something built in from the beginning that links proven behavioral assets to future leadership.

For example, empathy has been shown to be a great leader asset. Does your recognition program allow for people
to identify and recognize ‘empathetic’ behaviors in the nomination process? If so, then I think you might have a way to incorporate that information into someone’s permanent record,” he explains.

Suleman argues that organizations can leverage the visibility recognition delivers to track the performance of key employees. “Recognition programs provide the opportunity for employers to identify who their high performers and high potential performers are. Managers and executive teams are able to view what the entire company is saying about a certain individual, and don’t just have to reply on one manager’s feedback. From a succession planning standpoint, this information is integral to determining career paths and internal movement for employees,” he says.

High-Tech but High Touch

Today’s technology allows companies to capture and track vital employee information—and that is no different for recognition. SaaS-based platforms deliver the effectiveness and speed organizations seek for program deployment and innovation.

“As workforces become increasingly global, the ability to recognize coworkers at anytime from anywhere in the world is a key factor in achieving the highest level of success in a recognition program,” says Globoforce’s Irvine.

Himelstein warns that while technology does have its place, it should be leveraged accordingly. “Truly thanking and acknowledging someone shouldn’t happen with an automated email or ping from a mobile app,” he says. “Recognition needs to originate from a genuine place.”

Herbert agrees. “Whenever you have social sharing without a real life, face-to-face component, you can get unintended consequences—understating what is really valuable—and overstating what has little value. Recognition is a very ‘human’ issue and without the human, the technology is simply a way to quickly give non-emotional praise,” he says. “Unless companies spend time training how to best use the technology to enable human connections, it will not work.”

When it comes to something as personal as recognition, organizations should focus on the touch not just the tech.

Posted June 13, 2014 in Engaged Workforce

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