Creating a culture of recognition in retail

By empowering employees to recognise good behaviour, employers can ensure retail experiences are memorable for consumers

Creating a culture of recognition in retail

By empowering employees to recognise everyday good behaviour, employers can ensure retail experiences are memorable for consumers – for all the right reasons. Mark Barling reports

Read the headlines and you might be tempted to believe Australia’s retail landscape is set for its biggest disruption ever, thanks to the arrival of Amazon on these shores. There are hints that such claims are being exaggerated. For example, a 110-page UBS report published in July analysed the likely impact of the behemoth’s entry to Australia’s $300bn retail sector. The report stated that Amazon was likely to capture just 2% of retail sales within five years of entry to the country.

However, there’s no denying the potential longer-term impact on retailer profits as consumers are lured away from bricks-and-mortar shops and into online stores. As retail is the nation’s second-largest employment sector with 10% market share, the steps taken next will be watched with intense interest. What can employers in this space do to both prepare and go on the defensive in this new war?

Making a difference on the front line
We’ve all has subpar retail experiences, and more often than not these are due to poor interactions with retail staff. Sitting at the front line of interactions with customers, retail workers are deeply linked to a retail brand’s value proposition. While appropriate training plays a critical part, HR can also impact this perception by creating a culture of recognition.

A culture of recognition means there is a shared belief in the importance of recognition and the values against which behaviours are recognised. A culture of recognition exists when recognition becomes an everyday behaviour within an organisation. As an organisation’s culture is the sum of all behaviours, a culture of recognition encourages employees to recognise value in all behaviours, big and small.

A culture of recognition can also produce two significant benefits: employees feel more connected and valued; and barriers between support offices and retail stores are broken down.

The actions of leaders are critical. If an organisation wants to create a culture of recognition, its leaders should be visibly active within a recognition program. A case study from an equally customer-driven sector highlights the benefits.

Dave Novak, previously CEO and chairman at YUM Brands, led a team of 1.5 million employees. During his tenure at YUM Brands, which included KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, Novak was an advocate of empowering employees to give peers recognition – in fact he was branded ‘the recognition leader’ by CEO Magazine and believes that recognition is the foundation for motivation. “Too much recognition? I’d love to have that problem,” he stated at the 8th Annual Achievers Customer Experience conference in New Orleans in September. He added: “If you’re gonna err, err on the side of giving too much”, and “I’m not doing it just to be nice. I’m doing it because it drives results.”

Creating a culture of recognition
The first step is to empower employees to recognise everyday good behaviour. This is made even more powerful if the behaviours and values held to be the most critical to business success are those being recognised. For example, if employees are rewarded for demonstrating exceptional customer service, it stands to reason that those behaviours and actions are likely to be repeated. By following Achievers’ four principles referred to as RISE, recognition cultures are built.

  1. Recognise on a REGULAR basis.
  • Recognition isn’t just something you only do annually at performance reviews or award ceremonies – there should be a regular cadence.
  • In fact, Gallup* identified that one of the core elements of engagement is if your employees have received any praise from a supervisor in the past seven days.
  • Giving recognition on a regular basis will not only help to create a culture of recognition, but it will fill you with more gratitude.
  1. Recognise IMMEDIATELY (or as soon as possible) after the behaviour, effort, or result.
  • When recognition is timely, it shows that you’ve noticed and care enough to celebrate their success.
  • We know that what gets recognised gets repeated.
  1. Be SPECIFIC when you recognise.
  • Don’t just say ‘thank you’, ‘great job’, or ‘I want to recognise you for all of your great work’.
  • Specify what behaviour, effort or result you want to recognise.
  • Describe the impact on you, the team and/or the organisation.
  1. Be ENCOURAGING when you recognise.
  • Personalise your recognition by expressing appreciation and celebrating success.
  • It’s important to remember what may be encouraging for one person may not be encouraging for another – some people are introverts and don’t enjoy the spotlight, while others are extroverts and enjoy being celebrated in a public way… so you will want to make sure you know how the individual likes to be recognised. Regardless of how recognition is given, there are three parts to an effective recognition message.
  1. Describe the behaviour, effort, or result of the individual(s) or team.
  2. Align it to a company goal or value and explain how they contributed to it.
  3. Express your appreciation and reinforce their value to you, the team, and/or the company.

Imagine you are the HR manager of a major sporting retailer and your area manager has just walked the floor at one of your retail outlets. They’ve just noticed a team member doing something amazing.

They might not be in front of their computer. But they will have their phone on them. On their phone they can access their newsfeed via an app and see all the great things done today within the company. They might also want to acknowledge the great work by the retail team member that they have just observed.

It’s critical that at the time of recognition, it’s specific, it’s relevant, and it’s timely.

It’s also important to link recognition to key values and initiatives that are important to the business.

Notice how timely it can be when you do it on the spot on your mobile.

Very simple, very straightforward, in the moment, and fast.

And just as important, smart recognition produces results. As Novak stated, “I drastically increased employee recognition because I had to turn around KFC.”

He summed up his approach: “It’s nice... and it works!”

For those doubting the power of recognition it’s worth remembering that human beings are motivated by more than money. They crave positive feedback, recognition when they put the hard work in, and acknowledgement from peers and leaders. It’s the inner glow one gets from knowing an achievement or goal has been seen, appreciated and celebrated. Magnify that by the size of your workforce and the benefits will speak for themselves.

*Gallup Business Journal, ‘‘In Praise of Praising Your Employees”, 2006

Mark Barling is regional sales director at Blackhawk Network (Asia Pacific) | Recognition and Incentives. With our Achievers Employee Success platform we help businesses better engage their employees through social recognition, helping increase employee engagement and ultimately creating a happier, healthier and safer workplace. Visit to find out more.

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