Strategic ways to drive the bottom line through recognition.
By Mike Ryan
In spite of steady unemployment rates, top talent is in demand, and the majority of global CEOs are focused on ensuring that their organizations are attracting, hiring, and retaining A-level players. In PwC’s 15th Annual Global Survey, 47 percent of CEOs said they are very confident about their growth opportunities during the next three years, but only 30 percent think they’ll have the talent they need to succeed. Today’s corporate value proposition isn’t just about building and delivering the best products; it’s also about being able to advise and counsel customers on how to use and leverage those solutions. In this environment, a worker’s knowledge and insight is a source of competitive advantage, elevating HR’s role even higher as a key business function.
Executives are looking at HR to develop strategies to ensure that employees deliver more value. This is signaling a call for workforce recognition to do more. Sure, employee engagement is important, but it is just a measure—a survey result. The C-suite wants all employee initiatives focused on driving the corporate objectives. That includes encouraging collaboration among an increasingly virtual workforce, leveraging workforce innovations, breaking down barriers to change, and embodying the key brand attributes that customers demand.
Innovative people flourish in workplaces that reward employees. A recent poll by Babson Executive Education indicates that employees working at “rewarder companies” (organizations whose leadership overtly rewards execution of new ideas) are two and a half times more likely to develop new ideas on a regular basis than those working for “non-rewarders.” Rewards can also play a role in mitigating the fear of failure. Only 18 percent of employees at “rewarder” firms felt that avoiding a negative outcome while pursuing new ideas was a main concern. In fact, showering positive attention on new ideas is considered a best practice at innovative companies.
Making Virtual Work
Advances in technology and communication tools have made virtual work environments the norm for many organizations. A virtual work environment includes employees who telecommute from dispersed physical locations, as well as cross-functional teams with employee groups from different departments. One of the biggest challenges in managing these groups is trust, a challenge heightened by the physical and emotional distance that virtual workers experience. As this disconnect can cause employees to pull away and keep to themselves, managers must motivate them to deliver as they would in an office environment. Managers can accomplish this by showing appreciation and using recognition to create an environment where people are willing to offer discretionary time and actively collaborate with a new group.
By using recognition solutions early and often in collaborative tasks to acknowledge successes, project leaders can encourage employee participation at elevated levels, break through apprehension, and create a more open environment that is prime for sharing. This could be achieved through something as simple as recognizing a team member for offering new ideas or volunteering to lead one of the project initiatives.
Recognized employees buy into a manager’s vision faster and with more enthusiasm. Recognition can be rewarded via positive feedback on a recognition portal, with reward points, or even in a team meeting. For example, a computer software company needed to create a team from their different primary departments for a unique development project.
As the employees spanned several departments, the manager developed a set of recognition targets to motivate and reward team members who contributed in a positive manner. The program also allowed for the employees to rate each other through existing feedback loops tied back to the recognition solution. Comments included whether or not team members adhered to schedules, gave enough lead-time to complete a task, and treated co-workers like internal customers. The project manager was able to reward strong team members with points and other accolades and promote the positive characteristics to the team.
Many organizations are growing through increased collaboration among teams, and a growing virtual workforce means that their solutions for everyday challenges can go unnoticed and unshared.
To help drive and share virtual innovations, HR should be using the recognition platform as the place to solicit, acknowledge, and socialize new ideas. Don’t discount the mash-up potential. Share insights with appropriate workgroups early and often for maximum collaboration and operational impact, then funnel communications outward to other segments as a new concept emerges. Incorporate adoption and utilization evidence into your reward schemas, and, in the spirit of true ”intrapreneurship,” reward those who take that good idea and make it better.
A company’s ability to change—and to do so efficiently—can be a significant source of competitive advantage. Whether revamping a process, a solution, or the way the company goes to market, a change manager’s ability to effectively manage change is key. Change is constant, yet many change initiatives routinely fail because of a lack of communication about why it is important—on both a professional and personal level.
HR has an opportunity to help organizations speed the time to employee acceptance by using the company’s recognition program to help employees adjust and adapt. HR can help change leaders create communications that inform employees about why the change is being made, why it is important, and what is in it for them. It can introduce recognition tools that help establish and maintain a clear connection between the organization’s goals and an individual’s actions. Recognition can also be used to better identify employees who need additional training or motivation to transition completely.
Recognizing the Brand
Companies spend millions on external branding campaigns but many are missing the opportunity to ensure that their employees are echoing key brand attributes—especially in their customer interactions. Traditionally, marketing efforts have been guided by product, place, price, and promotion, but it’s time HR and marketing work together to address the influence that employees have on the brand’s promise. Employee recognition programs can help translate brand attributes into employee behaviors. The most desired brands realize this connection and utilize recognition as a way to promote increased customer satisfaction and profitability.
Take the case of one luxury automotive manufacturer that wanted to extend what their promise of “luxury” meant beyond performance to all phases of the customer experience. To reinforce this premise with their sales teams, they implemented a web-based incentive portal that simplified the presentation of employee performance measures—sales results, customer feedback, and training certification qualifiers. This integrated view, including customer survey data collected after the initial sale and subsequent service interactions, offered greater visibility into each sales rep’s strengths and weaknesses. In addition, the system automatically identifies performance patterns such as whether the sales person is successful with some models but not with others, and if they perform better with some customer types than others. Then, based on the individual’s performance, the recognition system suggests relevant “refresher training” courses from the library to help them improve. After just a few months, sales increased considerably, and customer satisfaction scores climbed to an all-time high.
Offering leaders the tools needed to effectively recognize and encourage employees is crucial for increasing workforce productivity, while retaining top talent and maintaining a competitive edge. Workforce recognition today is about more than engagement scores: It’s about making a real impact on the company’s bottom line by ensuring that the company’s biggest expense and most valuable asset—its people—are motivated to collaborate and innovate.
Mike Ryan is senior vice president of marketing and strategy for Madison Performance Group.