The APAC region is beginning to realise the value of employeeÂ recognition programmes.
By Michael Switow
âCatch people doing things right,â advises TomÂ Mehrmann, the president and general manager ofÂ Universal Studios Beijing, in âTaming the Mouse,â aÂ business leadership book that he published this year.Â âFor too many bosses, criticism is easy whilst praise isÂ scant,â he writes.
Mehrmann makes a point to send personalised,Â handwritten thank you notes to employees who doÂ good work. Each letter specifically acknowledges whatÂ the employee has done right, often quoting customersÂ who have submitted positive feedback.
During the 12 years that he headed a marine themeÂ park in Hong Kong prior to taking on his current role,Â Mehrmann estimates that he wrote nearly 15,000Â such letters. They were well received; employees evenÂ laminated them.
âPeople are the core of any business and how you treatÂ them speaks volumes about you and your corporateÂ values,â Mehrmann reflects. For the moment, theÂ California nativeâs pace of writing acknowledgementsÂ has slowed as his team paves the ground for the firstÂ Universal Studios theme park in China. He plans to getÂ back into the habit when the resort opens in 2021, butÂ in the meantime, still acknowledges the âextraordinaryÂ effortsâ that contribute to its development.
Employee recognition is an important tool to createÂ a positive corporate culture, maintain morale, andÂ improve staff retention.
âThereâs a massive cost savings to be made in termsÂ of reduced recruitment costs as well as incrementalÂ gains in performance and productivity,â says Dan Kelly,Â vice president of strategic accounts and alliances at CRÂ Worldwide. âWhen we track our client programmes, weÂ see companies with high attrition rates reducing thatÂ attrition by up to 25 per cent.â
âIf the employee is an ambassador of the company,Â they are more likely to stay and bring others on board,âÂ adds Jacqueline Gwee, the founder and director ofÂ aAdvantage Consulting, a consultancy that builds HRÂ capability systems and processes.
And if you ask people what features they wish wouldÂ characterise their workplace, employee recognitionÂ tops the list. According to aAdvantageâs survey ofÂ Singaporean citizens, recognition ranks ahead of work-lifeÂ balance, learning, and even health.
âThe region is investing generously in workforceÂ well-being and seeing a real pay-off from reward andÂ recognition programmes,â says Kelly. âWithin theÂ APAC region, the average reward budget has doubledÂ over the last 12 months and countries such as IndiaÂ are among the top global spenders on gifts for theirÂ workers. Thailand, Taiwan, and South Korea top our listÂ of countries for reward redemptions.â
Software platforms can ensure a consistent approachÂ towards employee recognition and rewards amongÂ offices in multiple countries, as well as complianceÂ with local and national tax laws. Companies like CRÂ Worldwide also leverage networks of suppliers toÂ provide reward fulfillment. Prizes include gift cards,Â merchandise, travel, and other experiences. Whilst CRÂ Worldwide offers a free solution, most services start atÂ Â£5000 per month and can quickly rise from there.
Providers like Humu are trying to automate processesÂ even further. Started by Googleâs former Head ofÂ People Operations Laszlo Bock, Humu uses artificialÂ intelligence (AI) to send âelectronic nudgesâ to companyÂ managers. Texts and emails encourage them to praiseÂ their colleagues during meetings and elsewhere inÂ the workplace. The AI tool uses inputs from personnelÂ surveys, productivity information, and HR files.
As of last year, Humu had raised U.S.$40 million. ButÂ whilst the company tells HRO Today APAC that it hasÂ plans to expand internationally, it is not currentlyÂ working with any companies headquartered in Asia.
Whilst the market for high-tech platforms is growingÂ across the region, it can be a tough sell. Asia-PacificÂ companies are still more likely to adopt low-techÂ employee recognition solutions.
âWe have a partner that provides a technologyÂ platform,â says Gwee. âHe told me just this week thatÂ the uptake in the last couple of years in Singapore andÂ even in Asia is super low. But for his customers in theÂ States, Canada, and Europe, the uptake is easily one toÂ two dozen new customers a day who want to leverageÂ and discuss more.â
Resistance to new programmes can be found amongÂ employees, not just managers. Gwee discovered this theÂ hard way when implementing a pilot programme in herÂ own company.
âThe uptake was very poor,â she says, noting that halfÂ her workforce are millennials. When she asked herÂ team why they didnât use the platform, several concernsÂ surfaced. One, there was no incentive to go into theÂ system; it felt like more administrative work. And two,Â her staff wondered how the data would be used.
âMy intention was to build a culture of appreciation. ItÂ was not about converting points to dollars and cents orÂ whoâs going to be the top-ranked, but they didnât getÂ it. [I realised] the mindset has to change first beforeÂ they adopt such a system. If we were to implement thisÂ with our clients, there is a lot of change managementÂ that needs to be thought through as part of theÂ implementation of these new tech tools.â
Similarly, many Asian companies are slow to adoptÂ peer recognition systems that allow staff to commendÂ colleagues.
At Ocean Park Hong Kong, Mehrmann ran intoÂ resistance when adopting a recognition programme thatÂ encouraged recommendations from staff. ManagersÂ feared employees would abuse the system to give prizesÂ to their friends. It turned out that front line employeesÂ were even more judicious with their praise thanÂ supervisors.
âPeople are concerned about abuse,â says Gwee. âThatÂ always comes up in this conversation. My perspective isÂ if abuse comes in, you handle it, but by and large, youÂ should aim to create a very positive culture and part ofÂ that drive is awards and recognition.â
Editorâs note: Author Michael Switow co-wrote âTaming the Mouseâ with Tom Mehrmann.