If you build it, will they come?

Simplistic, one-size-fits-all approach to recognition will fail to deliver results

Remember the baseball movie epic Field of Dreams? In it, Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) hears a voice saying, “If you build it, they will come.” And, of course, he builds a baseball diamond in his cornfield and “they” — the 1919 Chicago Black Sox — do come.

Hoping life imitates art, many HR leaders and managers assume getting recognition right is as easy as signing up with a gift vendor, putting their company’s logo on its standard website and giving out points, gifts or some other awards.

If only effective, strategic recognition was so easy. In reality, once it’s built, not too many come, not too much is accomplished and, sooner or later, senior management starts asking, “So why are we doing recognition again?”

A simplistic, one-size-fits-all approach to recognition fails to deliver business results and fails to drive lasting, positive cultural change.

Don’t pre-suppose you or a vendor knows what solutions are best for your company without doing some homework. And don’t be positioned into a standardized program.

Your focus needs to be on working with the vendor and stakeholders to design a recognition solution that produces the maximum impact within your business environment.

So how do you do this? A good way to start is by working through a recognition solution design process. As a first step, do a thorough assessment of your current recognition state by reviewing relevant employee survey data, holding focus group sessions and conducting executive interviews. Better recognition vendors or HR consultants can help with this process as well.

Next, conduct a facilitated design session where all the key stakeholders come together. Find a seasoned facilitator or design consultant either internally or externally who will work with you to determine the following:

• What are realistic recognition objectives and key success factors for our solution?

• What recognition program criteria will reinforce our desired objectives and goals?

• What guidelines should we consider to ensure consistency and fairness across the organization?

• What award currencies, types and values should be used in each of the programs?

• What should be the approval processes for each program, such as peer-to-peer, manager to employee or team recognition?

• How do we communicate to and train managers and leaders so they understand: what strategic recognition is, why we are doing recognition and how we recognize employees effectively?

• What metrics — such as cultural or business — should we measure to ensure the recognition solution is effective and delivers the planned return on investment?

A key deliverable from the solution design session is a recognition “blueprint.” A good strategic recognition blueprint or plan includes strategies for the following:

Alignment and impact: Ensure the recognition solution reflects your organization and aligns with its goals, objectives, mission, vision and values.

Leadership development and training: Ensure managers and supervisors know the answer to: “Why recognition?” or how it can help your organization; “What of recognition?” or what is strategic recognition; and the “how” of recognition, including tools for doing effective, strategic recognition. And train managers — companies that invest in training reap outsize results from recognition solutions. Companies with recognition solutions supportedwith manager training deliver on average return on equity three times as high, according to the book The Carrot Principle.

Communications plan: Designed to share important messages about the recognition strategy, keep recognition top-of-mind and communicate and reinforce what’s most important at your company. An effective communications plan prevents a recognition program from plateauing after launch and reinforces the “why” of recognition across an organization.

Programs with an integrated communications plan are 56 per cent more effective, according to a 10-year study of Healthstream data involving 200,000 people in the United States.

Measurements and assessment plan: Focus on benchmarks and business metrics to drive ROI and demonstrate to key stakeholders strategic recognition is good business and can improve the bottom line. A 15 per cent improvement in employee engagement scores can lead to a two per cent improvement in operating margin, according to a 2008 Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson) study.

What are your success metrics? How will you know when you’ve achieved your goals? Good metrics to focus on include program or activity metrics, cultural metrics (such as employee engagement) and business metrics (such as ROI).

Award strategy: What award currency works best for what you are trying to accomplish? How often should people be recognized (frequency) and what percentage of the employee population should be recognized (reach)? What should the award budget be in years one, two, three and so on?

Ongoing solution management: After implementation and launch, ensure your solution continues to meet the ongoing goals and objectives of the strategy. Experience shows you need to dedicate a resource, or have a vendor help you, to continually review and fine-tune programs to meet your changing needs.

But what about technology? Yes, technology is important and, these days, technology is an assumed component of any recognition program. However technology is not enough without the key strategies outlined above.

Whether a platform is developed internally or with a vendor, employers should look for a stable software platform that is customized to their brand, is easy to use, fun and has recognition tools that include reporting that assists users, managers and administrators in their recognition roles. Ideally, there are easy-to-use tools or dashboards that enable you to check solution activity and results in real-time with one or two mouse clicks.

If you plan and build your recognition solution right, they will come and you can drive sustained, positive cultural change and lasting business impact.

Chris Vyse is vice-president of sales and marketing at OC Tanner Canada in Burlington, Ont. He can be reached at christopher.vyse@octanner.com.

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