Bring back that lovin’ feeling

How global firms such as Nortel, Fairmont use strategic employee recognition programs

On the first day of a new job, people are excited and ready to make a positive impression on colleagues and the company. However, keeping employees engaged and willing to give that discretionary effort beyond the first three months is a challenge.

And when trying to manage employee engagement globally, regional and cultural differences, distance from headquarters and a perceived lack of communication can all contribute to flagging employee motivation and engagement.

Two of the most common mistakes global companies make with a strategic employee recognition program are not tying recognition to the company’s goals and values and not effectively communicating the program to employees.

This can result in disjointed and haphazard divisional recognition programs scattered around the world, preventing universal adoption of the program. A company misses the opportunity to not only re-engage employees but also drive business goals and corporate values through a positive performance management experience.

Nortel spreads the word to rally employees

Nortel, a Toronto-based telecommunications company, wanted to take a more innovative and strategic approach to recognition. Called Excellence@Nortel, its strategic employee recognition program is designed to motivate, inspire and engage 26,000 employees spread across 60 countries.

To achieve this goal, Nortel needed to rally employees who, because of their experience with the old program, believed recognition only went to a select few on an infrequent basis.

The company’s HR team worked closely with senior management and the recognition program vendor to launch a comprehensive, multifaceted internal marketing and communications program comprised of old and new media.

Video links and webcasts of employees receiving awards for business success above and beyond expectations were posted on the company’s intranet. Field reporters spread the word about recognition by interviewing award recipients and broadcasting on RNN, Nortel’s Recognition News Network.

E-mails from senior management to managers about the importance and success of the program were forwarded to employees, highlighting the executive-level commitment to the new program.

“We wanted a user-friendly, non-cash program that accommodated our language and currency needs worldwide, allowed for a simple process to ensure tax compliance while minimizing financial impact on our employees, and gave us a centralized budgeting and reporting mechanism with the ability to track all program activity,” said Rob Schmitter, global program leader of rewards and recognition at Nortel.

In the past, it took an average of six weeks for a reward to be delivered to Nortel employees. Now, 70 per cent of awards, often a gift certificate, are approved and delivered to the recipient on the same day. The remaining 30 per cent are delivered within days of the achievement.

Fairmont ties recognition to business goals

In the hospitality industry, service is directly tied to a company’s bottom line and profoundly affects its brand. Innovative companies therefore need to create an employee engagement strategy that is not just motivating, but also meaningful to employees and the company’s reputation.

Toronto-based Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, which has 30,000 employees in 60 countries, implemented a global strategic recognition program in 2007 called Service Plus. Awards are presented directly to a deserving employee in the lobby, dining area, hotel corridor or anywhere an appreciated moment occurs.

“We wanted to align our recognition program with Fairmont’s mission statement and brand promise, and also to incorporate suggestions from the field,” says Matthew Smith, executive director of learning and development at Fairmont. “With the help of a task force and multiple colleague focus groups, we learned our hotels wanted more opportunities to recognize more individuals for memorable service moments. They also wanted to reward them in a more meaningful, personalized way.”

To tie recognition to goals that enhance Fairmont’s brand, the program features various award levels such as “Memory Maker” for an outstanding show of thoughtfulness or creativity, and “Star of the Month” for role models who embody company values, leadership and years of service.

Creating a work environment where every day feels like the first day is motivating and encouraging for employees. However, recognition cannot be done just for recognition’s sake, and it should not be done just so HR executives can check recognition off their to-do lists. A thoughtful, global approach to implementing a long-term, meaningful recognition program will be rewarding for both the company and employees.

Derek Irvine is the vice-president of global strategy at Globoforce, a Southborough, Mass.-based provider of global strategic recognition solutions. For more information, visit

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