Archive for the "Recognition in Tough Times" Category

3 Recognition Lessons Observed in India

Recognize This! – The power of strategic recognition knows no boundaries.

I recently had the opportunity to travel a bit in India. How excited I was to pick up a Times of India newspaper on my first full day in the country to encounter the article pictured at right.

In “India Inc rewards staff to tide over slowdown,” there are quite a few points made that prove my oft-cited truism that recognition has real power globally – across all cultures and nationalities.

1)      Recognition Is Particularly Powerful in Difficult Economic Times

Recognition is about far more than a pat on the back. Strategic, social recognition conveys to employees how valuable they, their contributions, and their behaviours are to the success of the organization. Making this message clear is never more important than in a stressed economy. As the article points out:

“The general sentiment at an organization during a downturn can be draining with discussions surrounding cost control and return on investments. Companies are, therefore, now walking the extra mile by strengthening existing rewards and recognition programmes and setting up new ones to drive performance.

“Companies have realized that recognition can reinforce desired behaviour in employees, helping them achieve targets. In a Gallup poll, 82% of employees said that the recognition or praise they receive at work motivates them to improve their performance. So companies are tweaking such programmes to make them more attractive.”

2)      Recognition Done Right Rewards Behaviors, Not Just Outcomes

I’m pleased to see our best practice of strongly linking recognition to company values and the behaviors behind those values taking center stage at Indian companies:

“Employee engagement at Ambuja Cements is aimed at working towards improved outcomes on safer work places, improved productivity, better customer satisfaction and enhanced profitability. The company wants to build this into the culture of the organization.”

3)      Attitudes Are Shifting from Jobs Being All about the Money to an Enriching Work Environment

In India as elsewhere in rapidly rising economic powerhouse countries, a maturing employee base is realizing more and more the benefits of growing a career in one organization with a strong employee brand vs. constantly job hopping in search of more pay. A key element of building that strong employee brand is strategic recognition. (Other research also shows that employees who view their company favorably do a much better job of delivering on that company’s brand promise for the customer.)

“While India has suffered less than many other economies during the global downturn, there has been a marked change in the outlook of employees and employers. The opportunistic, job-hopping Indian employees of recent times are realizing they cannot sustain that trajectory, with its lack of opportunities for learning and development. Employers are also finding themselves under examination from candidates who are looking for long-term career prospects. Recruitment discussions are moving away from the boom-time focus on ‘how much money?’ and ‘when will I get an increase?’ to ‘what is the business plan?’ and ‘how will this enrich my career?’”

And one final parting thought from this Indian article:

“Engaging the entire team in the potential success of the organization in tough times helps in extending the success during the recovery, and beyond that.”

How true. What is your organization doing to engage employees today? Do you see those efforts building a stronger company once this recession is well and truly behind us?

3 Things You Should Never Do in Employee Recognition

Recognize This! – Misguided recognition efforts can do more harm than good.

Case studies provide an exceptional opportunity to learn – both the good and the “misguided.” Here are three misguided employee recognition case studies to learn from this week.

1) Limit the “winners circle” to just a few.

A primary attribute of strategic recognition is its ability to convey your most important objectives and values to all employees in a personal, meaningful way. But that only works when all employees feel they are active participants – both in the giving and receiving of such recognition. Campbell’s ‘Healthy Lifestyle Award’ misses the mark on nearly every front:

“Campbell Soup Company recognized the achievements of five North American employees Friday with the company’s ‘Healthy Lifestyle Award.’ Presented annually for the past five years, the award celebrates employees who live healthy lifestyles. … Selected from 13 Campbell sites in North America, … each winner received a $500 cash award, company-wide recognition and a gift basket of Campbell’s healthy products, including Campbell’s Healthy Request soups, V8 juices and Pepperidge Farm whole grain breads.”

Not only are there only five “winners,” there isn’t even one winner from each major location. How actively engaged in the program do you think the remaining thousands of employees are? Even if some percentage were engaged prior to the winners for this year being named, how many of the “losers” do you think will choose to engage in the program in the following year.

Far better would have been to acknowledge the successes, big and small, of all participants as the advanced along the path to healthier living.

(Video bonus: Watch my CEO, Eric Mosley, discuss the benefits of creating a bigger winners’ circle.)

2) Leave recognition to “chance”

Similarly, leaving recognition up to the “lucky winners” of a drawing also communicates an inconsistent message to employees. US Airways’ “Above & Beyond” program fails to honor and appreciate the employees who make it happen every day for the airline’s passengers as well as their fellow employees.

“The ‘Above & Beyond’ program recognizes those US Airways employees who provide exceptional service to not only the airline’s customers, but to fellow employees. The program allows US Airways’ most frequent flyers (Dividend Miles Silver, Platinum, Gold and Chairman’s Preferred members) and its employees at the manager level and above to submit coupons recognizing employees for providing excellent customer service in the air and on the ground. All coupons received are entered in a drawing and each quarter US Airways awards 10 employees $10,000 each; 100 employees $1,000 each; and 250 employees $250 each.”

While I’m sure the “winners” greatly appreciate their awards, how many star performers were left with nothing when their names weren’t drawn from the bag? Shouldn’t any employee who “provides excellent customer service” be recognized and rewarded for doing so? If a consistent, strategic recognition program were in place, those employees who regularly go above and beyond would naturally receive more recognition (and therefore, more rewards) throughout the year. But all employees who contribute to the success of the airline through excellent customer service would also receive the recognition they deserve.

3)      Turn to recognition as a last ditch effort

Though technically not a case study, this exceptional post on “The 7 Deadly Sins of Recognition” featured an important point I haven’t seen made elsewhere yet:

“Foul Weather Recognition: If you only trot out recognition programs in bad times, they will become harbingers of doom (low increases, no bonuses) and further deflate morale. Recognition, monetary or otherwise, should feature as a permanent part of your reward strategy.”

Since the recession first began, I’ve read countless stories of organizations turning to “no cost” or “low cost” employee recognition schemes to boost employee morale for those who took on the work of laid-off colleagues for no extra pay.

Let’s be quite clear on this. Recognition is not and should never be a replacement for proper compensation. The two are very different things. Trying to use recognition as a replacement for deserved compensation, especially when only done during bad times, communicates the wrong message to employees.

Have you experienced a misguided recognition program? Share your story!

3 Steps to Engage Employees for Increased Productivity

Recognize This! – Employees need clarity, direction, consistent communication and recognition to engage and deliver desired results.

Recent AON Hewitt research on the status of employee engagement globally tells us:

  • Worldwide, employee engagement is at 56%, which indicates a workforce indifferent to organizational success or failure.
  • The largest engagement drop is in how employees perceive performance management.
  • Globally, employees don’t think managers have connected individual performance to organizational goals.

Is anyone surprised by these findings? It’s the same results reported again and again by various sources.  Research from RogenSi (reported in MSNBC) found:

“Workers, it appears, are still relatively uninspired by their workplaces: while they are knuckling down and getting on with the job, the payback for them, judging by their responses, has been a lack of clarity and communication in where their organisations are heading and a profound sense of feeling undervalued by their leaders, leading to a lack of respect for those above them. These are sour ingredients for a fruitful workplace.”

Once again, employees are pointing their leadership to what they need in order to engage and increase productivity on things management actually cares about:

  1. Recognition for their efforts
  2. Better communication about company direction
  3. Clarity on how individual employees can contribute

The AON Hewitt research cited above provides excellent advice on how to deliver precisely that (quoting):

Following are universally applicable best practices for improving and maintaining engagement:

What should your managers do to inspire you?

What It Requires to “Take the Issue of Money Off the Table”

Recognize This! – Recognition and rewards cannot replace compensation – it’s an entirely different “currency.”

Fellow blogger and Compensation Café founder Ann Bares recently ran a survey looking into what level of pay (or pay increase) would be needed to “take the issue of pay off the table.”

This is a highly complex but critical topic. Until a fair and appropriate base compensation is paid, employees will not see recognition and rewards as what they are meant to be – a celebration of the “extra.”

Ann reported the results of her survey, along with her “(very) initial thoughts”:

“What it requires to ‘take the issue of money off the table’ – let’s call it the pay angst factor – like reward fairness, is a complicated, murky and highly personal thing.  It is also a relative thing, influenced not only by external and internal comparisons and living expenses, but also by the overall reward package in which the base wage resides, and by the work experience itself.”

Truer words could not be spoken. Like recognition and rewards, perception of “fair pay” is highly individual. If your goal is to pay enough to “take money off the table,” you’re starting from the wrong point.


  1. Don’t look to pay employees the least you can get away with (tempting for many in this economic environment). Employees know what they are worth. Pay them fairly based on their efforts and contributions to your organization’s success.
  2. Have frank and honest conversations with your employees about their pay. This is an issue often skirted over. One way to take the issue of pay off the table is to stop trying to hide it under the table.
  3. Get over the mindset “but that’s what I pay them for” and recognize and reward employees frequently for demonstrating your values and contributing to achieving your strategic objectives. After all, research shows 78% of employees say being recognized motivates them in their job and another 69% say they would work harder if their efforts were better recognized.

Check out the survey results, then come back and tell me how high the “pay angst factor” is in your organization.

3 Benefits of Using Strategic Recognition for 360° Assessments

Recognize This! – Avoid the games and get more benefit from 365-day, 360° performance appraisals with strategic recognition.

I’ve yet to meet an HR pro who will say with 100% conviction, “Our annual performance management process works perfectly now that we’ve implemented a 360 assessment element.”

Most readily admit the traditional annual performance review process is flawed, largely because it’s the opinion of one person given at one point in the year in a highly stressful meeting. For decades now, organizations have tried to overcome this challenge with 360 assessments. Dan McCarthy explained these in an excellent post, 10 Ways to Sabotage a 360 Assessment, saying:

“For those new to management or leadership development, a 360 assessment is a questionnaire designed to solicit feedback on leadership and management capabilities from a manager’s employees, peers, and manager, and includes a self-assessment as well. 360 assessments are usually used for “development”, and sometimes used as input to performance appraisals or to identify high potential talent.”

Be sure to read Dan’s post for the details on 10 ways to sabotage the results. Sadly, Dan goes on to say:

I did not make up a single one of these! Each and every one is based on actual experience with real managers (even the one about writing your own comments).”

There must be a better way to capture the feedback of many. In fact, my CEO Eric Mosley joined Josh Bersin in a webinar on just this topic.

Click over to a summary of the webinar on the GloboBlog, to find out how to use strategic recognition to get 365-day, 360-degree performance assessments without all the games and with these three benefits:

1)      Remove the Bias of Traditional Reviews

2)      Give More Frequent Feedback for Better Performance

3)      Help Employees Keep Up with the Speed of Business

Have you ever participated in a 360-degree review? Do you think the process is easily gamed as traditionally implemented?

How to Increase Productivity without Increasing Headcount

Recognize This! – Your employees want to help you achieve your goals, but they need clear communication, priorities and recognition to do so.

Companies are looking to grow again – but not grow their workforces. A recent article pointed out research showing:

“Companies that are targeting high levels of growth need to spur worker productivity. The question is how can they do that when many companies are operating with an already lean workforce?

“A new study, Strategic Performance Management, suggests that if U.S. companies are to reach their ambitious growth targets of 4.9 percent for 2011, which is well above the U.S. economic growth forecast of 2.8 percent released by the International Monetary Fund, they need to find new ways to increase and better manage employee performance. …

“To meet their growth targets, the U.S. executives involved in the study estimate that their workforce productivity must increase by an average of 6 percent, with 69 percent of these leaders aiming for even higher productivity gains. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of these executives admit that these targets represent a challenge, particularly since 54 percent of these executives admit that their employees may already be too stretched to deliver current business objectives.

The emphasis on that last sentence is my own. A consistent story throughout the media is employees stretched to the breaking point. Those remaining after multiple rounds of layoffs labor on under the strain of survivor’s guilt, an increased workload for colleagues who have been laid off, and growing expectations.

If managers are now tasked with increasing productivity from these already stretched employees, they better:

1)      Communicate – clearly tell employees what senior leadership expects as the business is likely changing to keep up with rapidly changing market requirements

2)      Reprioritize – help employees jettison tasks that are no longer critical to achieving new expectations for growth

3)      Recognize – reinforce these new priorities by recognizing and rewarding employees for progress and achievements in these areas.

Is your organization looking to increase production without increasing headcount? What’s the plan to achieve that goal?

“Obvious” but Overlooked Management Lessons

Recognize This! – Don’t classify “simple” management practices as “simplistic.” These are often the most important to employee engagement.

Have you ever used a new product with perfectly obvious instructions, e.g., “Do not use hair dryer in shower?” Or perhaps seen a sign like the one at right?

Huffington Post ran a series of these oh-so-obvious instructions recently, which made me think of the obvious leadership and management approaches we all know in the workplace – and yet still fail to implement.

Psyblog listed “10 Psychological Keys to Job Satisfaction,” three of which were achievement, feedback, and organizational support. I read this and thought, “How obvious!” But I know many employees rarely if ever experience a sense of achievement in their work because no one ever gives them feedback on their work. Without feedback, employees cannot correlate their work to achievement of anything necessary or worthwhile. Without the this feedback on achievement, employees cannot feel any sense of support from the organization for what they do daily.

Think what a detriment to employee engagement such managers cause by ignoring the obvious. Research out of Erasmus University Rotterdam makes this quite clear:

“When employers satisfy basic human needs for social support, feedback and employee opportunities for growth, work gets done more quickly and with better results.  The process is cyclical, because working better is more rewarding for the worker, which in turn increases the employee’s engagement and effectiveness, [Arnold B.] Bakker, [psychologist at Erasmus] says.

“Interestingly, engagement — or high-quality performance — is greatest when the demands of the job are highest, Bakker adds. … However, workers should not be held to impossible standards.

“‘Down time,’ says Bakker, ‘is not only a mark of sympathetic management. It helps renew workers, keeping them happy, productive and engaged,’ which in turn results in a virtuous cycle of work engagement, job satisfaction and higher productivity.”

Creating room for “down time” is another one of those “obvious” points. No person can work at peak performance constantly. With the after-effects of the recession continuing to linger in low job creation rates, fewer employees continue to do the work of multiple positions. Leadership must acknowledge the stress and tension created in such an environment by praising and recognizing employees for their expanded roles and contributions. Research out of the UK found the bottom-line value in addressing employee tension with efforts to improve employee engagement:

“Less than one in five bosses take specific measures to boost the motivation of staff who are feeling stressed out. … Improving employee engagement in order to deal with worker tension could turn out to be cost-effective in the long run, as 42,000 people were absent from their jobs in the three months leading up to December 2010 due to stress.”

What “obvious” management and leadership initiatives are being overlooked in your organization? What are you doing to take action on the “obvious?”

Merit Pay Increases Aren’t Keeping Up with Cost of Living

Recognize This! – If “raises” can’t keep pace with cost of living, should they still be called “merit pay?”

WorldatWork recently released their 38th annual salary budget survey showing anticipated pay increases, showing median salary increases at all levels at 3.0%. This corresponds to Hay Group’s assessment at 3.0% median pay increase expectation for 2012.

More interesting to me are the merit increase projections by performance category in the WorldatWork results:

  • High performers: 4.0% increase
  • Middle performers: 2.7% increase
  • Low performers: 0.7% increase

Factor into that annualized consumer price index growth of 3.6 % and the “merit increase” for low and middle performers completely disappears and is reduced to a negligible 0.4% increase for top performers.

I have to ask again, are annual merit increases the right approach to pay for performance?

Considering the angst and drama associated with the traditional performance review process that relies on differentiation methodology to lump employees into a 1-5 range of performance, is it worth it? Is there a better way?

I suggested in a post on Compensation Café this Spring:

“Year-round rewards commensurate with year-round recognition of employee efforts. Those who perform at a higher level are naturally more frequently recognized and rewarded for those efforts. Does that mean “raises” become a thing of the past? Of course not. They just take a different form, the most likely being:

  • A standard annual cost of living or inflation increase for all employees to keep salary levels in line with industry norms
  • Promotion-based raises”

I made this suggestion at a round-table discussion and was met with outrage at suggesting limiting “raises” to a COLA increase. Yet, looking at the numbers above, that would be better than the anticipated salary increase in 2012.

Note, however, I’m not suggesting limiting raises to COLA. I am suggesting using recognition and rewards to far more effectively remunerate employees throughout the year. An example would be recognizing an employee who agrees to take on a new task and excelling at it. Recognize and appropriately reward that person for his or her achievement in the moment! Don’t wait until the annual performance review or raise cycle!

Has merit-based pay outlived its usefulness? Is there a better way? What would you propose?

What to Do When Your Cultural Foundation Takes a Hit

Recognize This! – Relationships are the sustaining strength after a crisis that can shake your foundation.

I’m often asked where I come up with the ideas for my blog posts or how I find so many things to write about. There’s no lack of interesting research and news reports in the employee recognition, rewards and incentives world, not to mention in employee compensation and benefits, talent management, employee engagement, performance management, and so on.

In short, there’s never a lack of good blog fodder. Typically I write my posts, then choose an image to help illustrate a key point. Today, however, the image itself is the inspiration for my post. A team member sent me this image a few years ago. It’s so striking, I’ve been holding on to it, intending to use it to illustrate a post. But my posts dealing with company culture and the importance of a solid cultural foundation caused me to look again at this image as deserving of a post for its own sake.

If I remember correctly, a large brush fire roared through Eastern Europe (I’m fuzzy on the details or exact location). The fire burned everything in its path (you can see the scorch marks on the ground), even the base of this telephone poll. The top remains suspended, however, due solely to the tension of the wires connected to the other poles.

Look at this image and ask yourself: What if you’ve successfully built a powerful and strong cultural foundation for your company. Now imagine a catastrophe shattering that foundation. Would your business crumble, or would there be enough surrounding support to survive and, indeed, carry on the business at hand?

Yes, a strong company cultural foundation is critical to success. But once that foundation is in place, smart leaders begin using the expectations of that culture to build connections and relationships – strong ties, if you will – between people (employees, customers, suppliers, shareholders, even casual observers) that can hold up and sustain the business should the foundation take a hit. These relationships are no small matter. In fact, Gallup includes “I have a close friend at work” as one of it’s Q12 measures.

The most powerful, positive way to build that relationship is through frequent appreciation and recognition of those around us who – day-in and day-out – do the right thing. Those who consistently demonstrate the behaviors and actions needed to achieve desired goals.

Has your organization encouraged the development of the strong interpersonal ties and relationships that can sustain your organization after a crisis?



A Task Force for Employee Engagement?

Recognize This! – Is another “initiative” the way to go to help employees overcome lingering recession fears and re-engage in the workplace?

The press in the UK has been buzzing these last couple of weeks with news of the reinvigoration of the Employee Engagement Task Force initially launched after the publication of the Engaging for Success report, more commonly known as the MacLeod Employee Engagement Report, issued in 2009.

The goal of the task force seems to be to offer practical opportunities, guidance and methods for increasing employee engagement, including a forum for the sharing of best practices.

Timing couldn’t be better as another survey of 4,400 UK companies found 45% of employees are keeping their heads down to avoid layoff in an environment in which 1 in 4 companies are ignoring the need to engage top performers. Why does this matter? Shouldn’t companies be happy employees are “buckling down?” Not in this case. Risk averse employees are also producing less and innovating less out of a desire to “just get the job done and don’t rock the boat.”

Overcoming this fear holdover from the recession is a key goal of employee engagement initiatives to be addressed by the task force, though Les Allen made an excellent observation about this in his Business Performance blog:

“The Government will need to be mindful that raising levels of employee motivation and engagement is not simply a matter of pushing out another multi-million dollar initiative or two. Employee enthusiasm must be built into the fabric of an organization. Employee engagement can’t be just another “bolt on” or flavor of the month.”

Helping employees build that enthusiasm requires giving them a reason to be enthusiastic. How do you that? By recognizing employees frequently and on-the-spot for achievements and demonstrations of your company values that contributed to those achievements. Doing so links them more closely with their colleagues and your firm, encouraging them to repeat those success-driving behaviors.

Do you think this task force is the way to go? If you were a part of it, what would you recommend or contribute?