Recognition & Rewards

Navigating Change Through Recognition

When embarking on a business transformation, HR leaders should emphasize employee appreciation to support core organizational values.

By Maggie Mancini

Business transformation can be rife with chaos, as employees and senior leaders grapple with how to navigate uncertainty, keep employees motivated, and prepare for the future. For GE Vernova, which launched an independent, public energy company after spinning off from the GE Corporation in April, balancing the legacy of GE while pushing its industry-focused business into the future was not without its challenges. However, doubling down on its people practices and maintaining its employee recognition program aided the success of the years-long transition, says Kelly Lafnitzegger, business separation leader for the organization.

“As GE, we’ve had a long relationship with Workhuman and leveraging their programs and infrastructure to reward and recognize our employees,” Lafnitzegger says. “As the decision was made two years ago to split the company into three independent companies, it was important to maintain that same standard of recognition as a way to help keep our employees with us during a period of a lot of change.”

Lafnitzegger says that GE Vernova has prioritized its recognition program throughout the transition, specifically focusing on performance, values, and the culture the organization was trying to cultivate. When the decision to create a standalone company was first announced in late 2021, leaders wanted employees to remain focused on running the business and delivering for their customers, and not get distracted by the transition. In fact, for 95% of employees, nothing would fundamentally change, while a small group of people were focused on transitioning GE Vernova into an independent organization.

“We understood that there were people nervous about the future, especially depending on which business you were going to or if you were at GE’s corporate headquarters, which would ultimately go away,” Lafnitzegger says. “Each of these companies needed to build their own corporate headquarters. In some cases, there were retention programs put in place to ensure we could keep our critical talent. Rewarding and recognizing employees during the transition period was important.”

68% of employees plan to stay at their organization for five years or more when their recognition needs are fulfilled. Source: Workhuman

In addition to GE Vernova, there is also a healthcare organization (GE Healthcare) and an aviation and defense company (GE Aerospace), each tasked with helping bridge their employees from the past to their newly defined futures—no longer a conglomerate, but rather three separate, industry-focused companies. To do so, each company set out to establish their new values and ways of working that are separate from its legacy with GE. This, Lafnitzegger says, is called the “GE Vernova Way.”

The “GE Vernova Way,” Lafnitzegger explains, includes five key principles through which the company creates value for its people, its shareholders, and the planet. These elements include the following:

  • driving innovation to electrify and decarbonize the world;

  • serving customers with pride and a focus on mutual success;

  • challenging themselves to be better every day;

  • breaking boundaries and crossing borders to win as one team; and

  • remaining accountable individually and collectively to deliver on commitments.

While some of these principles have been brought over from GE, the focus is on engaging the workforce to enable operational success, she says. As the organization transitions its recognition program, leaders are linking the recognition strategy to the core values of the “GE Vernova Way” and making it the anchor by which the organization manages and evaluates performance.

“I’ve been at GE for 35 years (including my internship) and have had an amazing career, working across many industries,” Lafnitzegger says. “But, as we shift from being a conglomerate to an energy company, how we work also needed to change. It was an opportunity to, in many ways, take a white sheet of paper and define what we wanted to retain and what we wanted to add new.”

She explains that some of the elements they plan to retain include things like GE’s performance-based culture, focus on continuous improvement, leadership development, talent recognition, and an overarching talent strategy that showcases the company as a great place to build a career.

Lafnitzegger says that recognition must be woven throughout, to ensure their actions and words align, and ensure the vision and core values of the business are rewarded. She explains that, by recognizing employee contributions, organizations can mitigate the impacts of organizational transformation. When prioritizing employee recognition, Lafnitzegger suggests keeping the following top of mind.

  • Understand that recognition is not one-size-fits-all. Lafnitzegger explains that while everyone likes to be recognized for their contributions, not everyone likes to receive recognition in the same manner. Understanding who employees are and what they value is key to maintaining their support throughout business transformations.

  • Invest in peer-to-peer recognition. While it’s nice for bosses and senior leaders to recognize and reward employees for their performance, having colleagues or team members recognize each other is particularly important during times of change. This is because, Lafnitzegger explains, managers don’t always see that employees are doing every day. Enabling peer-to-peer recognition is helpful in making people feel valued and seen.

  • Utilize employee feedback to help support recognition. During times of major organizational change, it’s important to listen to employees as often as leaders listen to customers. Letting employees know that they are heard and valued is vital, she says, and bringing them along for the journey can give them hope for the future.

Tags: May 2024

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