A little recognition goes a long way

Everyday recognition boosts engagement, improves effect of formal programs

Getting recognition right: Roy Saunderson, president of Recognition Management Institute, and Elvie Gee, director of HR at Johnson & Johnson Medical Products, spoke at a Strategic Capability Network event about how to put a strategic focus on employee recognition practices and programs. For more information, visit www.scnetwork.ca.

A little recognition goes a long way

Once more with feeling (Strategic capability)

3 powerful words: ‘I see you’ (Leadership in action)

Formal programs and everyday reality (Organizational effectiveness)

Next executive series

A little recognition goes a long way

By Shannon Klie

Everyday recognition — a simple “thank you” for a job well done — has the largest impact on the greatest number of employees but organizations tend to spend most of their resources on formal recognition, which has the smallest impact, according to Roy Saunderson, president of Recognition Management Institute in Montreal.

In doing so, organizations can actually breed resentment and disengagement among employees, Saunderson told a group of HR professionals at a Strategic Capability Network event in Toronto in March.

But when everyday recognition is in place, employees feel valued and respected so they can appreciate other employees who receive the formal recognition, instead of resenting them, he said.

Even the small proportion of employees who receive formal recognition aren’t likely to believe it’s sincere when managers, and higher-ups, never take time during the rest of the year to recognize the employees’ hard work, he said.

“That positive feedback along the way, those one-on-one opportunities on a regular basis, are so critical,” he said.

Even though most organizations have recognition programs, many don’t get it right, said Saunderson. While 89 per cent of employers surveyed by WorldatWork in 2005 have a recognition program, 65 per cent of employees polled by Gallup in 2004 said they hadn’t received any recognition in the previous year.

“We need to make sure these programs are designed effectively and strategically to make those programs work,” he said.

Johnson & Johnson Medical Products (JJMP) surveys employees every two years on how the company lives up to its values, which place customers, employees and community before shareholders (or profit), said Elvie Gee, director of HR at JJMP.

A couple of years ago, the organization’s recognition programs yielded some of the lowest scores on the survey.

So JJMP focused on the operations division and found one of the biggest problems was employees didn’t know what was meant by recognition, said Gee, who was also at the Strategic Capability Network event.

“We believe that training was important and building awareness around what is the difference between recognition and rewards and the various levels of recognition,” said Gee.

Employees didn’t understand the formal recognition program, or how it worked, so not many of them were using it, said Gee. It was a simple fix to communicate more with employees about the program, after which usage increased dramatically, she said.

While JJMP had informal, everyday recognition in place, it needed to be used more consistently and tweaked to be more effective, said Gee. That included training managers to not just say “Thank you” but to also explain the reason for the gratitude.

“Recognition is different for every individual, so to make it meaningful you have to make it specific,” she said.

That same specificity and awareness were also needed at recognition events.

“If it’s not known (what’s being recognized), you lose the effect,” said Gee.

In designing recognition programs, organizations need feedback from employees about what’s working and what they would like to see. The recognition needs to be meaningful for employees to have an effect on employee engagement, said Saunderson.

Organizations also need to ensure a strong connection between the recognition and the reason for receiving it and teach managers how to practise recognition more effectively, such as being sincere, doing it face-to-face and immediately recognizing employees for their accomplishments, he said.

“How it’s delivered, how it’s presented can make a huge difference,” he said.

Recognition programs should also acknowledge an individual’s talents, abilities and hobbies beyond just being a good worker, said Saunderson, because it’s these hidden talents that often drive organizations forward.

“We need to look and dig deep into the talents and abilities that individuals have that aren’t necessarily part of the job description,” he said.

Employers also need to write out the recognition strategy and ensure it aligns with the business strategy, he said. Only 48 per cent of organizations surveyed by WorldatWork in 2008 had a written recognition strategy, but 96 per cent of those had aligned it with the business strategy, said Saunderson.

“If you don’t have solid, livable, walk-the-talk values in the organization, recognition isn’t going to happen. Culture drives recognition, recognition reinforces culture,” he said.

To create an effective recognition statement that reflected JJMP’s core values, the company gathered a team of employees from different levels of its operations division.

“If you want people to apply it, you need them involved, their buy-in, from the beginning,” said Gee.

Other key factors in an effective recognition program include senior leader involvement, taking a company-wide approach and holding managers accountable for recognition, said Saunderson.

Return to the top of the page

SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies

Once more with feeling (Strategic capability)

By Karen Gorsline

Most companies have reward and recognition programs. Yet, employee surveys continue to show employees do not feel they are recognized in the workplace. Why? Here are four potential reasons:

The ‘fix-it, close the gap’ syndrome: Most organizations, HR departments, successful managers and even employees succumb to an analytical, problem-solving, goal-oriented line of thinking. Day-to-day activities focus on meeting goals, standards and closing gaps. There are balanced scorecards, assessments around training, HR dashboards and metrics, performance standards and bonus targets. All of these focus on improving performance where the current state is viewed negatively. This type of activity needs to occur, but not to the exclusion of celebrating what is going right.

The golden few: Many programs offer reward and recognition for a handful of individuals. These programs do not impact the vast majority of employees and have the potential to de-motivate.

Managers or supervisors think their job is to solve problems: Managers have been promoted to their roles because they get things done, solve problems and meet or exceed goals. They may or may not be good coaches. The old advice of “Find someone doing something right” gets lost in the day-to-day pressure where organizations focus on formal recognition programs. Coaching is seen as an improvement exercise related to a job or career. The focus is on “What do I need to do or change?” rather than “What do I love to do?” or “What can I teach others?”

People not just employees: When employees say they are not recognized, what they are really saying is they do not feel recognized. Are courtesy, respect and relationships part of daily experience? Is there a feeling those who represent the organization know and recognize what they do? Are they appreciated as a whole person with interests and talents outside their job?

An organization not capable of leveraging the talent of all employees is wasting resources. Small organizations will often know Anna can speak Mandarin and can help communicate with a Chinese customer who does not speak English. They may also know if something has happened in Ali’s life where he needs extra time and support for a while. As organizations grow, they lose touch with these practical and emotional aspects of employees. Relationships get lost and employees don’t feel recognized or valued.

Organizations need formal recognition programs but also need to place more energy into developing daily recognition throughout the organization. The challenge is to put in place more robust approaches to management selection and training, to support communication and communication systems that are more social or interest-based and less hierarchical, and to develop systems to channel energy rather than just direct work.

If people feel their contributions are recognized and they are valued as people, many potential problems are nipped in the bud and there can be more energy available to channel into productive activity.

Karen Gorsline is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on strategic capability and leads HR Initiatives, focused on facilitation and tailored HR initiatives. She has taught HR planning, held senior roles in strategy and policy, managed a large decentralized HR function and directed a small business. She can be reached at [email protected].

Return to the top of the page

3 powerful words: ‘I see you’ (Leadership in action)

By Trish Maguire

The common greeting among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa is, “I see you.” Three simple words yet they’re powerful in how they radiate an unreserved sense of recognition of the other person.

Knowing we are appreciated, recognized and encouraged makes us feel good, more confident and motivated. So when we talk about corporate recognition versus reward programs, do we mean programs that are designed to build positive relationships, to improve people’s energy, sense of ownership and performance?

Roy Saunderson, president of Recognition Management Institute, confirms regular and positive recognition (not rewards) has a significant impact on performance. However, many employees do not feel recognized. Why is setting people up for success by noticing, acknowledging and encouraging such a hard habit to practise? Has the workplace become so focused on driving performance for profitability with systems of order, processes and procedures that we overlook the simple act of paying attention to people?

Is the “leave people alone” philosophy the common default style for some of your colleagues until something goes wrong? Why is it people are quick to let us know when we screw up and if we hear nothing make the assumption “No news is good news?”

Isn’t recognition really about catching people doing something right or better and letting them know how much they are appreciated for doing that? Do we not want to set people up for success by acknowledging what they are doing right, building on their strengths and encouraging them to keep learning and do even better? Genuine praise or, as Saunderson advocates, “real recognition” has to be a daily habit, immediate, specific and encouraging.

Managing people’s energy is a leader’s permanent challenge and opportunity. As a leader, it may be time to rethink your HR talent versus reward and recognition strategies. Are they designed to attract and retain “the best fit” talent, encourage winner mindsets and drive high performance? If so, how do your recognition and reward policies succeed in realizing or even exceeding those objectives? Or are the outcomes restrained because they were traditionally designed to fit into a normal distribution model?

Recognition is not about giving mechanical responses or praise just because an organization has made it a program or policy. Moving people to acknowledge themselves when they do something right is the paradigm shift. It’s about encouraging them to trust, respect and believe in their own abilities and to recognize the result of their efforts for themselves, rather than relying on external sources for praise.

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on leadership in action and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions, focused on developing customized talent management strategies for small entrepreneurial businesses. She can be reached at [email protected].

Return to the top of the page

Formal programs and everyday reality (Organizational effectiveness)

By Tom Tavares

Work occupies 60 per cent or more of our waking hours. We work to meet our basic survival needs. Our job helps define our identity and status. Being productive is fundamental to self-esteem — we add value, we are needed and we matter.

Given the basic psychological needs met by work, it comes as no surprise almost all organizations report having some kind of formal recognition program. Oddly, however, the majority of employees say they receive no recognition at work. This gap between a structured program and everyday behaviour is not confined to the area of employee recognition.

Most companies have a formal performance management program. Yet as many as one-half of workers report never having a review. In the area of employee engagement, surveys consistently reveal about 50 per cent of employees feel disengaged from their work. It is hard to imagine these sorts of numbers being tolerated in any other area of business. Would a CEO sit still if only one-half of production plants or working capital was being utilized?

Low levels of employee recognition, engagement and performance feedback are not all different problems. They all stem from the psychological environment inside organizations. When managers and employees spend their days focused on doing their job, they become isolated from one another.

Communication is needed to reduce isolation. However, most business leaders start out as specialists and are more comfortable with activities that lead to tangible results than with “soft” issues. When change was slower, the impact of weak internal communication on business performance was difficult to detect. With change becoming faster, the cost to companies is growing in leaps and bounds.

As issues grow more complex, the 10 per cent of people in management jobs work in isolation trying to solve 100 per cent of the problems, which is impossible. The harder they work, the more isolated they become. The solution is right at hand: Engage the minds of the other 90 per cent of employees. It’s not just a matter of more communication; it’s about communicating in a more disciplined way.

Executives and managers need to keep people aligned as changes unfold by providing guidance in translating shifting priorities into action and solving problems. Employees have a part to play, too. Rather than getting frustrated and complaining, they need to stay alert for strategically significant issues and recommend solutions that improve performance. This shift takes time and effort.

However, the rewards are worth the investment. When companies access the 90 per cent of minds under-utilized in most firms, issues are identified more quickly by the people closest to them. This reduces the number of crises, it boosts performance and it energizes people. This approach to management recognizes the worth of every mind and enables employees to be creative and have an impact on the business.

When activities are at a fevered pitch, what could be more counter-intuitive for leaders than taking the time to talk and listen to employees? But then there was a time when many people in business thought marketing was a waste of time.

Tom Tavares is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on organizational effectiveness and a senior organizational psychologist. In addition to managing in large corporations, consulting in varied industries and coaching executives, he is also the author of The Mind Field, published by Carswell. He can be reached at [email protected].

Next executive series

Would you like to attend one of the upcoming Breakfast Series in Toronto? Here’s a look at the next session:

May: The importance of values through crisis, with Jeannette Jones, vice-president of communications at Maple Leaf Foods (May 21).

Visit www.scnetwork.ca for more information.

Return to the top of the page

Latest stories