by Brenda Pohlman
When was the last time you used a fax machine? I recently had the pleasure (ahem) of being re-acquainted with this office equipment fixture of old while trying to execute a recognition moment of sorts. I wanted to do a nice thing for a co-worker on behalf of our team. It was intended as a small gesture – nothing elaborate, nothing designed to convey serious feedback or emotion, just a simple acknowledgement. It should’ve been soooo easy.
We were attending our annual company holiday celebration with our guests, and my colleague, who was bringing her husband (known to most of us as ‘Mr. Wonderful’ by the way), planned to stay the evening at the hotel party venue as a little overnight getaway. It would be a well-deserved break in the midst of a very busy time at work as well as personal circumstances our teammate had faced this Fall. We decided to surprise the two of them with a basket of treats delivered to their room as a show of support. But it proved to be much easier in thought than execution.
I coordinated the details with the hotel, credit card at the ready to pay over the phone. The hotel wouldn’t take it. Payment authorization was required in advance, involving a cumbersome form filled out and returned to them immediately….via fax. I protested, “But it’s just cookies and brownies. I’ll be there in a few hours and can show my credit card in person. I’m connected to the company that’s hosting its big party there tonight.” Nope. No form means no cookie delivery.
Our receptionist looked up our fax number so the hotel could send the form (who has such things memorized anymore and why was email not an option)?. I eventually received it after three trips across the office to check. Hours passed as I went from meeting to meeting, and eventually I got a call from the hotel looking for my completed form and reminding me “no form, no cookie delivery.” I scrambled as the old familiar fax machine challenges came back to me. Dial 9 first or not? Document face up or face down? And alas, an error message. In my head I heard, “No form, no cookies.” Aaargh! A colleague came by, saw me struggling, and asked what I was doing after some teasing about the passé nature of the experience. I blurted out, “I’m just trying to do something nice for someone! It shouldn’t be this hard!”
Eliminate Barriers to Recognition
We encounter companies all the time who have inadvertently constructed barriers to recognition – things that make recognition more difficult than it needs to be, steps and rules that make well-intentioned employees feel hassled by the experience of simply trying to do something meaningful for a co-worker. These barriers rarely serve any legitimate business purpose at all. They’re hold-outs from old school recognition programs that don’t align with the goals and ambitions of today’s initiatives and modern programs. In my ‘nice gesture gone bad’ example here, all the jumping through hoops was supposed to be for my own protection, as the hotel put it.
Things That Make Recognition Harder Than It Should Be:
- Cumbersome nomination processes, where employees are required to complete lengthy forms to recommend a colleague for recognition (Formal recognition should take as little as 60 seconds).
- Slow selection or approval processes. We’ve seen systems where committees of HR and business leaders meet quarterly to choose winners for $100 awards! (48-hour award approvals at most – by one or two managers -is ideal).
- Eligibility rules that prohibit employees from recognizing others directly themselves, forcing them to ask a manager to place a nomination on their behalf instead (Peer-to-peer nomination eligibility is the #1 most powerful way to breakdown barriers to recognition).
- Recognition systems that aren’t accessible to offline populations or are entirely manual (Mobile apps and computer kiosks are the best hassle-free work-arounds for offline employees).
- Partial eligibility where some locations or business units are eligible to participate in the recognition program and some are not. These rules can leave employees guessing or force them to investigate a co-worker’s eligibility status (Company-wide participation in a centralized program conveys a simple and inclusive message about recognition).
- A lack of structure. In the absence of guidelines and tools, many employees will simply do nothing (Elimination of bureaucracy is good, but recognition is not likely to be prevalent in your environment without some rules and systems).
These barriers can be the root cause of a recognition program manager’s worst nightmare – the employee who is inspired to recognize a colleague, makes a decision to take action, seeks out the system or process to do so, and then gives up when faced with daunting administrative red tape. Recognition must be fluid and easy. Otherwise, it can feel inauthentic and meaningless at best, or nonexistent at worst.
As we come into a new year, make a commitment to create an easier, more natural recognition experience at your organization. Find ways to overcome those obstacles that leave your would-be recognizers feeling frustrated and uninspired. In other words, let those barriers go the way of the fax machine.
Start by choosing one recognition barrier to eliminate. Which would you eliminate first?