Employee EngagementRecognition & RewardsTalent Retention

Showing Appreciation Strategically

Rewards and incentives are proven to increase employee retention and productivity. Here’s how.

By Audrey Roth

In today’s global market, engagement and retention of employees is more important than ever. What are organizations doing to help drive this? Leveraging recognition and incentive programs. According to Globoforce’s Workforce Mood Tracker Report, 80 percent of workers who have been appreciated intend to stay with their companies, while 55 percent of employees would leave their current position for a company that has a formal recognition program. The impact of incentives and rewards is obvious: The proof is in the numbers. But what steps do global organizations need to take in order to develop a well-constructed recognition program?

First, organizations need to consider motivating high performers. Don’t take your top employees for granted by not recognizing their efforts just because of their frequency. According to Michael C. Fina’s 5 Myths of Employee Engagement, companies that invest in high- performing recognition programs are 12 times more likely to have strong business outcomes. “It’s vital to celebrate high performers successes publicly, and every day,” says President and CEO of Achievers, Eric Lochner. “Clearly (you want to) support the behaviors and values that you want other employees to adopt.”

Take, for example, JetBlue. “About six or seven years ago, our crewmembers started telling us that they wanted to be recognized for more moments where they lived the values or where they performed above and beyond what was expected of them,” says Executive Vice President, Customer Experience at JetBlue, Joanna Geraghty.

The forward-thinking airline partnered with Globoforce to create their Lift Program, an approach that directly links recognition to their company values of safety, caring, integrity, fun, and passion. This is helping retain high performers who are recognized for their accomplishments. JetBlue’s recognition program Lift allows both peer-to-peer recognition and mobile recognition.

“When crewmembers are inspired, they can nominate peers for awards with messages of thanks that can
 be accompanied by rewards (redeemable for a choice of gift cards). These rewards can then be turned into memorable experiences or items from favorite retailers, transforming recognition moments into lasting memories linked to employee achievements and company values,” says Geraghty.

Within three months after integrating Lift, an internal monthly JetBlue survey revealed an 88 percent increase in crewmember satisfaction from the rewards and recognition they receive for demonstrating positive behaviors.

Tying rewards to company values is an effective way for organizations to recognize employees while promoting their culture. What are some other success approaches?

  1. Make sure the rewards are meaningful. “Rewarding a non-coffee drinking employee with a Starbucks gift card? Not going to motivate them. Empowering employees to choose their own reward will result in a meaningful and motivating experience and 
will ensure you’re optimizing your investment 
in rewards and talent,” says Lochner. Throwing irrelevant prizes at top performers is not necessarily going to help. There is no cookie-cutter approach for what the most meaningful reward is since it’s a personal preference. Giving employees options can solve that problem.Peter W. Hart, CEO of Rideau, emphasizes that the recognition needs to be individualized for it to be successful. “Know the individual, know how they want to be recognized in the workplace,” he says. “Is it public recognition they’re looking for? Is it private recognition that they’re looking for? Is it just the actual reward?”
  2. Don’t let a high performer pass by unnoticed. “While some high performers in your company might
 stand out, others may fly under the radar,” says Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce. “It’s hard to know who employees help and influence on a daily basis, so it’s necessary to use crowdsourced recognition data to map employees’ interactions outside of formal channels.” Tracking employee interactions and peer-to-peer recognition reveal organization influencers.
  3. Find ways to incorporate results-driven recognition. Motivate teams with some friendly competition with an end goal in mind. “We’ve seen an increase in the competition-based software directed primarily at sales teams to maintain employee motivation and drive results,” says Lochner. Programs like the Achievers’ Results Driver intuitively launches sales campaigns, showcases progress, tracks and automatically rewards results, and analyzes success to improve future campaigns. With recognition programs directly endorsing results, employees will be motivated to keep up with the game.
  4. Listen to the people. Measuring data around employee engagement can be challenging, but recognition programs are innately delivering data. “Quickly fading are the days of annual engagement surveys, a practice that is too infrequent to maintain and track engagement,” says Lochner. Early adopters can leverage recognition programs that collect feedback and employee input. “[This allows] the company to motivate high-performers by quickly responding to concerns or red flags.”
  5. Learn what they are doing right. The O.C. Tanner Institute recently conducted a study involving 1.7 million people across all industries positions, and pay-grades, examining high-performance work. The research found that high-performing workers and their counterparts are not that different in terms of traits -and they do not even work harder or longer. “Instead, they share common activities, which means that they do things differently than their co-workers,” says David Sturt, executive vice president of O.C. Tanner Institute.

“What we found is that there are five activities that ‘high-performers’ do to drive unexpectedly higher results, outcomes that make such a difference that they are rewarded for their performance,” says Sturt.

These activities include:

  • asking curious and provoking questions;
  • seeing and understanding how things actually work;
  • having frequent engaging conversations;
  • always looking to improve upon things; and
  • making a difference by seeing things through end to end.

Get Social

Social recognition programs help form relationships and exemplify good work by allowing employees at all levels to share feedback and appreciation. They can also help promote company culture.

“The peer component of the program is critical in ensuring that peers have the opportunity to recognize one another for moments of extraordinary acts, and
 is fundamental to unifying the team-based approach that we have at JetBlue,” says Geraghty.

Save Mart Supermarkets experienced similar success. After using Achievers’ social recognition platform for six quarters, the grocery store saw a 112 percent growth in customer satisfaction across all locations.

There are a few recommended steps to take to ensure an effective social recognition implementation.

  • Focus on the launch. “The way you roll-out your social recognition program is critical to its success,” says Lochner. “Employees should feel energized and inspired to use it, spreading adoption across the company.”Companies cannot just throw the workforce into the social recognition pool without teaching them how to swim first. There needs to be explanation
 of why to use the program, training on how to use the program, and communication on the strategy within the bigger picture. Organizations should also focus on communicating the goals of program to managers and leadership. “Invite local leadership, human resources, and managers as early as possible into the planning process. This will provide a
 sense of ownership to each locale, leadership support, and endorsement, and creates recognition champions,” says Heather MacArthur, content director and managing editor for O.C. Tanner.
  • Execute after the launch. In addition to a strong and informative rollout, there has to be a sustainable strategy. Rideau’s Hart explains that there should be continual efforts to revitalize the program, whether it be three months, six months, or 18 months out. Innovate introductions -adding new cards or contests -will keep employees interested. “You do things that keep it alive and make it a destination opposed to a program, so employees want to be there,” says Hart.
  • Have leaders embrace it. Without managers and leadership utilizing the program, the workforce as a whole will be less likely to hop on the bandwagon. “Social recognition is vital to implement, but won’t exist for very long or very successfully if leaders and managers do not lead by example,” says Hart.”In order to create a culture of recognition, your executive team should be a part of the excitement, voicing their support and participating in the program,” says Lochner. “Social recognition should be an extension of your brand, highlighting the positive values and behaviors that your company believes in to drive results.”
  • Don’t dismiss the data. “One of the best ways
 to leverage social recognition is through data analysis; however, many companies don’t yet realize the benefits,” says Mosley. By leveraging social recognition platforms, information about your workforce -such as high or low performers -can come to light that could have easily slipped through the cracks, especially in a large organization. “When you analyze [employees’] patterns, you can gain insights into how jobs get done, how teams should be configured, and where to find your company’s ‘hidden influencers’ or ‘flight risks,'” says Mosley.

Best Practices

According to a 2014 CareerBuilder report, of the 18 percent of employees who said they intended to
leave their positions that year, 65 percent of them cited not feeling valued as one of the top reasons for leaving. This is largely preventable employee attrition. A strategically applied recognition program can improve engagement and retention issues for global organizations. Some best practices to follow to ensure positive outcomes:

  • Be sure an actual strategy is in place. Finding a recognition program is the first step in the strategy, but actually implementing it is a different story. The strategy cannot be to just recognize people for their tenure or just for the sake of having the program. “The strategy has to be clearly linked to the
 mission, vision, and values of the organization, or to specific business objectives,” says Hart. If turnover 
is the problem, then make sure there is a focused approach in using recognition to prevent it.


  • Educate leaders on the purpose and process of the program. “Ensure that you set up your managers 
for success by coaching them on recognition best practices, the power of engagement and alignment, how to use the program, and how to effectively use all the features and reporting tools available,” says Lochner.


  • Encourage authentic recognition. Without genuineness, feedback is meaningless. “Recognition is an intangible thing; it’s a feeling. Rewards are very tangible. And if you cannot make people feel valued and appreciated with words, no amount of tangible awards or rewards are going to do the trick,” says Hart.


If employers focus solely on rewards, they are missing the bigger picture. “While rewarding the achievement is a critical component to a successful recognition program, the emphasis should remain on recognition itself,” says Lochner. “Remember, recognize the journey, reward the result.”


  • Customize recognition to the individual. Employees should be able to choose from rewards based
 on their own interests, creating a more personal experience. “Today’s global organization has a multigenerational, multi-geographic employee base, which means a vast range of tastes and values. Even the largest merchandise-based programs are limited in their offerings, so make sure you choose rewards that will be appreciated by everyone,” says Mosley. One size does not fit all.


  • Have a committee designated to this recognition program. “Create a recognition committee to energize employees, increase user adoption, and highlight support across the entire organization.
It’s important that the committee represent as many parts of the organization as possible to ensure that all employee voices are heard,” says Lochner.


  • Create a strategic balance for when the recognition takes place. Focusing on one category of recognition is irresponsibly dismissing the rest. “Design solutions that recognize performance, but also acknowledge effort and celebrate career achievement over time,” says MacArthur. “It’s common to only reward results, while failing to appreciate the critical day-to-day, and peer-to-peer efforts.”

Recognition programs have the ability to give organizations a competitive edge. “Disengagement
 is currently at its highest rate, and the war for talent has never been hotter with unemployment at the lowest rate we’ve seen in a long time,” says Lochner. “Act now, implement your recognition program now. There’s an opportunity for companies to create a culture of recognition in which employees feel invested in and motivated to work together toward a common goal -the company’s overall business strategy and objectives.”

Tags: june-2015

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