From trinkets to a corporate philosophy

Leading service providers talk about recognition

Canadian HR Reporter talked to some of the leading service providers in the growing field of employee recognition. We asked them what companies are doing well, what needs to improve and what they see as the future of employee recognition. One overriding theme among all the responses: employee recognition isn’t just about getting a gold watch after 25 years of service. It’s becoming a major part of companies’ human resources strategies.

Gordon Green
Executive vice-president, recognition & reward strategy
Rideau Recognition

Companies are really starting to see it’s a good business strategy to build the crucial relationships between employees and their managers. They’re using recognition to get the desired behaviours they want and to acknowledge superior performance. They’re putting programs in place not only to recognize and reward simple milestones such as years of service, but also to reward employees who are making efforts in alignment with corporate values.

Service awards are no longer about recognizing a milestone, but about putting a tool in the hand of a manager to build a relationship with an employee. And that is critical to retention.

Many employers still treat recognition as an expense rather than an investment. So they aren’t dedicating enough attention and resources to make it as effective as it could be.

Employers aren’t doing sufficient benchmarking or data tracking so that they can overlay performance indicators and see if the recognition program is working. I think HR professionals aren’t used to having to justify their position with return on investment.

Philosophically, as they increasingly see it as a strategy, companies are starting to recognize employees for their behaviours. Before now, I think people often recognized only the end result. They recognized the achievements but not the behaviours that got them there.

You need an incremental approach for the various criteria when recognizing behaviours so a lot of companies are using a points-based system. This lets managers have access to a broader range of point levels versus just a gold, silver or bronze concept.

A person doesn’t get tired of getting points that can be redeemed for other products. Whereas, if you had a clock at a bronze level and you keep reaching the bronze level every week, the clock would lose its incentive value.

People can accumulate points from various behaviours and achievements. The points-based recognition system becomes an umbrella for all recognition efforts within the organization.

Mike Byum
Managing partner
Grand Rapids, Mich.

Employers are recognizing that there’s a real need to motivate and to give incentive and to give recognition of the accomplishments of their people. We see more people interested in recognizing that in their employees than they were five years ago.

One area that needs improvement — something that is very inexpensive — is the presentation. It’s an area that people don’t dedicate enough time to when it can have such a huge effect on how the award is perceived. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate banquet. Making some appropriate remarks about the individual, what the individual has contributed to the company, what the award is and what the award represents, can have a significant and positive effect on the employee receiving the award and those employees watching the award ceremony. It lets them feel that their efforts are appreciated and drives them to do more.

More and more companies are moving their recognition programs online. They’re streamlining the process and catering to employees’ timing by making it possible for employees to select an award online 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A significant percentage of our new clients in the past 12 months have had this online option.

Joyce Capes
VP sales administration
Canadian Spirit Inc.
Mississauga, Ont.

The ones that are doing anything are doing it very well. They’re spending a lot of money on their people. They recognize the fact that although employees may still leave, recognition does make them consider staying on and working with the company with a sense of pride.

There are still companies out there that feel if their employees get a paycheque, that’s enough recognition. Companies need to start doing more day-to-day recognition and more spontaneous recognition. If you’ve done a good job doing your telephone soliciting, you should be rewarded on the spot rather than on evaluation day.

A lot of companies are starting to do a productivity program, instead of just a service program that rewards people for number of years at the company. For example, if you’ve been there for five years, you would get X number of points but if you went above the call of duty you would get extra points.

In a service program, you are entitled to an award regardless of what you do at work. Whereas a productivity program actually recognizes the achievers. It’s more fair because it recognizes people who are overachieving. I think the trend will be going towards more productivity programs.

Way back when recognition started, the only people who got recognized were at the 25-year level. Everybody got the gold watch and it always had a logo on it. Now the workforce is getting larger and there are a lot of people saying, “I want gifts that don’t have our logo on it.” You’ve got the trend moving away from corporate identity, which the employees want. However, many corporations still want the corporate ID on the gift. There’s sort of a power struggle as to what kind of program to put in place.

Sheree Herr
VP employee development
American Express Incentive Services
Fenton, Mo.

Companies have begun to view employee recognition as an investment versus an expense. Studies, such as that by Northwestern University in Illinois, have drawn a direct link between effective employee recognition and increased employee engagement. Increased employee engagement translates into increased customer satisfaction and business results.

Companies are creating recognition strategies that drive measurable results rather than simply running formal reward programs. Companies are realizing informal recognition is just as important, often more important, than formal reward programs.

Many recognition programs or strategies are poorly communicated after the launch. Employees forget about the program without ongoing promotion or they are unclear as to the purpose and ways to effectively participate. Too few companies provide training on the why and the how of both informal and formal programs.

Online reward management tools simplify program administration and streamline communication. Companies are investing in recognition strategies that are tied directly to business objectives and results. They are implementing these strategies as they would any major company initiative or project, defining goals, establishing metrics for success and measuring return on investment.

It’s not a new trend but employee recognition continues to be focused on choice in terms of what is personally relevant to the recipient.

Jeremy Faria
Rembrandt Awards
Richmond Hill, Ont.

Companies are using more employee feedback to help craft their recognition programs. They’re offering a bigger selection of awards than they have in the past. They’re recognizing the diversity of their workforce and are offering a variety of awards — many that are lifestyle-oriented, for example, a television, a drill or a massage.

Organizations need to make sure that the presentation is done well and is meaningful. It’s one thing to give a nice gift, it’s another to make sure that whoever’s doing the presentation does a nice job of it.

We’re seeing two trends. First, more programs are going online. Second, there are more presentations being done on an employee’s anniversary date than just at the Christmas banquet or the summer picnic. I think that’s a good thing. It’s almost like a birthday.

Jo-Anne Pusateri
Director, consulting (incentive & loyalty strategy & rewards)
Maritz Canada Inc.
Mississauga, Ont.

Employers understand that recognition is an important component of their overall people strategy. There’s enough of a management awareness and commitment to start to deal with this more effectively.

However, employers need to improve on follow-through and execution. People understand what they need to do, they understand that it’s important to effectively recognize their employees, but they don’t really understand exactly what to do. They think that if they put a recognition program in place, that alone will fix their problems. But recognition is not just something you do; it’s part of your cultural fibre.

You can’t just put a program in place and expect it to change how people feel about their employment or their relationship with the company. Often when people aren’t feeling valued or appreciated, it may be due to the inter-personal or communication style of their manager. So recognition isn’t just about a program; it’s really about the relationship that managers have with their employees.

Organizations are recognizing the need to train their managers to be able to effectively promote the right behaviours. They are putting training programs in place to make sure that managers are skilled and trained and held accountable to the behaviours.

Organizations are looking at recognition more holistically. Before, recognition referred to different individual programs, a length of service program or an employee of the month program. Organizations are recognizing that they need to take all of these programs and bring them together and create an umbrella for all the different recognition and reward programs. You get much more mileage and much more excitement out of employees when you consolidate all these different recognition opportunities.

In terms of the actual reward component, as much as it’s still important to have something that has some trophy value attached to it, a lot of organizations aren’t as concerned about having their company logo on whatever they give someone. The key thing is providing the employee with choice and giving them the opportunity to use that value in a way that is meaningful to the employee — whether it’s merchandise or travel points.

Razor Suleman
Chief executive officer
I Love Rewards

Employers have recognized that the long-term success of their organization depends on the ability to recruit, retain and recognize the best employees. The ones that have allocated resources into making it a strategic initiative have seen a positive return on their investment. There are a lot of innovative programs that are both cost-effective and achieve the company’s goals. You don’t need to spend a lot to recognize employees.

Companies need to realize that their core competencies don’t include developing employee recognition programs. Outsourcing to a rewards and recognition company that has the expertise to design the right program will increase the likelihood of meeting a company’s goals. Rewards companies have developed sophisticated technology to administer employee recognition programs, which will save a company time.

More and more, clients have been requesting non-traditional products such as experience rewards where the employee can race a sports car, go whitewater rafting or have a chef come to their home and cook a gourmet meal for them and their friends. Companies are recognizing staff much more frequently. Gone are the days of waiting five years for a company pin. Above all, the biggest trend over the past year is that companies are dropping their dated manual, paper-based rewards catalogue and moving online to a points-based program that manages all aspects of their reward and recognition programs in real time.

Norman Fried
TDS Recognition
Concord, Ont.

Employers are realizing the impact that recognition carries. The question we hear most often is, “How do we as an organization retain our top employees?” Recognition alone will not improve employee retention, but it does have significant impact as part of the entire mix.

Gone are the days of dust collectors and useless gifts. We welcome state-of-the-art televisions, barbeques, bicycles, digital cameras, MP3 players, DVD players, computers and white gold jewellery as part of today’s modern recognition programs. Employees must be proud to work for and receive their awards. Recognition award recipients are putting time and research into their final selections. To be successful, your recognition program must compete with the retail environment — both on the web and at your local mall.

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