Moving with the times

The business world has changed. Has your recognition program kept pace?

Moving with the times
The business world has changed. Has your recognition program kept pace?

It seems all facets of the business world have been disrupted in the last five years but there’s one area that remains locked in the past: the approach to employee engagement. Have organisations moved with the times on this all-important driver of organisational success?

A recent global study by BI Worldwide indicates that although there is a keenness to learn about new approaches to engagement, many organisations are still playing catch-up.

Prior to undertaking the research, BI Worldwide established that there had been three fundamental changes in the relationship between employer and employee. These three changes included the great global recession; the rise of the millennials and having five generations in the workplace; and the rapid growth of the internet and social media.

BI Worldwide partnered with an outside researcher on the study, which was initially conducted only in the US. Once the initial results were returned, it was quickly realised that a worldwide study would add invaluable insights on engagement. The results were summarised as the 12 rules of engagement and outlined in detail in a book titled Widgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People by Rodd Wagner.

“The key was that the rules were universal, although naturally some of the rules are stronger in certain parts of the world than others. I think that goes to show that people are more alike than they are different,” says David Litteken, Vice President of Asia Pacific, BI Worldwide. “We’re living in this new age, but many organisations are still proposing ideas and concepts that are outdated and not appropriate to the new workplace. We wanted to know why.”
Two key themes
Two key themes emerged from the research. 

The first was that statements like ‘our people are our greatest asset’ were no longer appropriate. Litteken explains: “If you look at corporate annual reports or at corporate websites, these businesses think it’s great to refer to employees as their greatest single asset. But in today’s new world, people are actually finding this type of language off-putting. People are not owned by a company. You can’t put a tag on it and then say ‘we’re going to capitalise on you over the next three years’. We have to stop thinking about employees as belonging to the employer. Instead it’s a mutual relationship between employer and employee.”

The second theme was that employee happiness drives engagement. So in order to get engagement, people must be happy in their lives and in their work. Without the cultural aspect it’s impossible to get engagement, Litteken says.

“You can’t go out and tell your employees, ‘we want you to be engaged’. Or ‘we’re developing programs because we’re looking for an engaged workforce’. It’s a bit of a buzzword from that perspective. We must be careful about how the term is used and look at what we’re trying to accomplish with it.”

Recognition takes centre stage
One other recurring message from the study was how important recognition is to employee happiness and, in turn, engagement. There is one rule of the 12 specifically focused on recognition – the notion of an employee being recognised for their best work. However, recognition also impacts on and influences several other rules. For example, another rule is to create a cool or exciting place to work. A supporting reward and recognition strategy can certainly make work exciting – especially if it focuses on areas like health and wellbeing and having ‘fun’ at work.

Another rule suggests it’s critical to have ‘a manager who really understands me’. “Frontline managers are responsible for creating, enhancing and nurturing the culture of a company,” says Litteken. “However, too many times managers aren’t held accountable for doing that or not doing that. To me, a great recognition program also provides recognition to great managers who are doing a good job. These programs look at the levers and what the needs are for each type of employee and management group in the company.”

Even more important, a recognition strategy can reinforce values, desired behaviours or elements of a culture that need to be emphasised. They can also be used for rewarding high performance.

“Recognition programs can be used effectively in results-oriented workplaces,” says Litteken. “That is, they’re not purely used for creating a more collegial type of work environment – although they can certainly do that. But programs can be built around sales or productivity performance or innovation. These are the elements that connect to a larger purpose.”
How has technology changed how recognition is handled in organisations? David Litteken responds: “Gamification has been a big game changer. People can earn virtual badges, which can then be used to go into a lucky draw or be accrued to win rewards. It’s also very visual for people – it can be shared through social channels and they can take their badges and go online or into our app to choose an appropriate reward. But  even though today the delivery method has changed, it’s still the words that matter. Most people today, if they receive an electronic card with a great message, will appreciate the sentiment. It doesn’t matter if you typed it or you wrote it with a felt-tip pen – it’s the words that matter. Specific, timely and heartfelt recognition still matters.”

The power of peer-to-peer recognition
Litteken suggests that typically organisations will utilise a few fairly standard recognition programs (see ‘Model to create a highperforming culture’ chart on p31). The fi rst is manager-to-employee, where a manager can recognise someone who has made signifi cant accomplishments – these typically have a one- or two-level approval process.

Then companies will have programs that recognise results, which could be branded as ‘corporate-to-employee’ programs. Team of the year, employee of the year, handed out monthly, quarterly or yearly. Milestone awards like long-service awards or retirement gifts also fall under this category.

The newest addition – employee-to-employee recognition is currently making the biggest waves. “If you’re really going to have a culture of recognition it’s not always about receiving; it’s also about giving recognition,” says Litteken.

“When companies add employeeto- employee recognition – which really doesn’t have to include any type of reward – it’s going back to people thanking each other, and the beauty is you can have your manager copied in on the recognition. It can reinforce core values and behaviours – and importantly it can be informal and timely.”

Litteken adds that with so many people today working in cross-functional teams, particularly in service-oriented businesses, often managers may be unaware of exactly what everyone in the team does. This peer-to-peer recognition can go a long way towards highlighting what tasks are being worked on.

Because employee-to-employee recognition is really about recognising certain cultural attributes or values, it can also generate valuable data, as Litteken explains: “Which cultural values are being recognised? Which ones aren’t? That can give you some good insight into areas you pay some lip service to, things you classify as a value but really it’s not. Or it might be a value that people don’t understand; they can’t articulate it or see how it fi ts to their job. That’s the great thing about data – it tells you what is happening and also what is not happening. That provides you with some power.”

And that power can be used to bolster HR’s argument about the return on investment of recognition programs. Litteken says that while it’s difficult to isolate the impact that a recognition program has on certain metrics, including engagement, it’s a component that must be considered alongside employee satisfaction scores, staff turnover and other industry benchmarks.

“Looking at that dashboard of data, you know that a well-thought-out recognition program is going to give you a ROI even if you just look at employee turnover. Ultimately their employees will be more productive, more innovative,” he says.
1. Manager strategy. “The program needs to have the ownership and thought leadership of managers at the top.”
2. Manager training. “Managers should understand the power and responsibility they have for creating a recognition culture.”
3. Flexibility with program. “The program needs to be fl exible and the program structure needs to be varied.”
4. Measurement & accountability. “There’s power in measurement, and that comes down to the data you extract from your systems.”
5. Communications campaign. “There must be a communication strategy that is measured and generates its own data.”
6. Events and celebrations. “The events and celebrations are still very important – gala dinners, weekly roundup meetings to share anniversaries, birthdays, or sales wins.”
7. Recognition & rewards. “Too many companies just focus on the recognition, the reward. It’s far more effective to work on all seven of these best practice standards.”

BI WORLDWIDE is a global engagement agency that uses the principles of behavioural economics to produce measurable results for its clients by driving and sustaining engagement with its employees, sales and channel partners and customers. Today, BI WORLDWIDE is helping clients and their brands to engage with a new generation of socially connected, tech-savvy, multicultural audiences. We bring experience, with global reach and resources, with offices in Australia, Canada, China, Latin America, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.


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