Archive for the "Strategic Recognition & Company Values" Category

3 Things Real Leaders Do to Shape Company Culture

by Derek Irvine

Image of businessman adding color to black and white worldRecognize This! – Effective cultures are proactively created by recognizing and reinforcing desired behaviors in every employee, every day.

Among my list of favorite authors, thinkers and change agents is Steve Kerr. His book Reward Systems: Does Yours Measure Up? is one I often recommend for its common sense approach to recognition and reward. As the former Chief Learning Officer and head of leadership development for both GE and Goldman Sachs, Steve Kerr is also well known for his seminal article “On the Folly of Rewarding A While Expecting B.”

He’s continued to educate along that theme, using the recent quality and safety challenges at GM as an example. In a Harvard Business Review blog post, Steve concludes with asking why it is so out-of-the-norm and courageous to behave in ways that demonstrate the behaviors the company has said it desires (namely: product quality, safety, transparency and integrity).

I encourage you to read the full HBR article for Steve’s three-step process for how to align your recognition practices with your mission and objectives. I particularly want to call your attention to this recommendation:

“Make a list of the behaviors you are currently measuring… Then compare each of the behaviors on your [list behaviors that you want to see “more of” and “less of”] to the list of behaviors you’re currently measuring. Put a circle around the behaviors you are not now measuring. This is your danger list! If a behavior you care about is not being measured:

  • Your employees are likely to conclude that it isn’t very important, and will act accordingly.
  • You aren’t able to provide skills training (in cases where the problem results from poor skills rather than low motivation).
  • You aren’t able to provide feedback about the behavior, either informally or in performance reviews, so how can people improve their performance even if they want to?
  • You aren’t able to reward the people who are doing what you want. Nor can you penalize people who are not doing what you want.

“Some people will do what you want anyway, for personal reasons, but effective leaders create cultures that inspire and motivate people to do the right things. Effective leaders don’t sit idly by while hoping their people will behave ethically and perform competently. And they most certainly do not create or permit the existence of cultures that encourage and reward bad behavior.”

Emphasis above is mine. “Effective leaders don’t sit idly by.” I would argue you can’t call yourself a leader at all if you choose to “let culture happen” rather than proactively stepping up to shape it to what you know is needed for organization success. As Steve so eloquently points out, real leaders:

  1. Define desired behaviors that support an effective culture
  2. Consistently, frequently and in a timely way recognize and reward employees who demonstrate those desired behaviors
  3. Use the data collected around behaviors recognized (and not recognized) to intervene and reinforce further or retrain where necessary

Culture creation can be a passive event. Successful companies, however, create the culture they want through the daily behaviors, actions and results of every employee.

How would you define your culture? What behaviors are recognized? Rewarded? Ignored? Are your leaders effective at creating a desirable culture?

Compensation Cafe: 3 Reasons to Empower All Employees to Give Discretionary Rewards

Compensation Cafe blog logoRecognize This! — Empowering all employees to recognize others also empowers all employees to live your culture every day and appreciate others for doing the same.

Yesterday in Compensation Cafe, I riffed on a post published last week by Compensation Cafe Editor Ann Bares. In her post, “Discretion and Disempowerment,” Ann highlighted challenges of leaving discretionary rewards to the discretion of managers alone. As I point out in the post, these boil down to:

  1. The length of time between action deserving of recognition and reward and the actual receipt of that reward (because such programs most often take the form of annual bonuses).
  2. The memory of a single person (the manager) over time to appropriately reward someone.
  3. The unintended reinforcement of the manager and his or her concerns as the primary focus of employees.

I went on to give three solutions to these problems – all possible by empowering all employees with the ability to recognize and reward others. To summarize:

How does empowering all employees impact the challenges referenced by Ann and enumerated above?

  1. In-the-moment recognition reinforces much more strongly the actions, behaviors and results you need to see to achieve success metrics.
  2. Even the best manager cannot see everything good happening every day or remember all those instances of excellence over many months. That’s why empowering all employees to recognize and reward each other is so powerful.
  3. When all employees are empowered to recognize each other for certain actions, behaviors and results in line with core values and key objectives, then the priorities of the organization become first and foremost.

Click over to the full post for more detail on each, and tell me who you think should “own” discretionary recognition and rewards.

Why Employees Must Be Both Aligned and Engaged

by Derek Irvine

Image of people passing baton in relayRecognize This! – A disconnect between alignment with strategic goals and engagement can lead to many negative consequences for performance and productivity.

I appreciate a good analogy, especially when it comes to terms that can be defined in multiple ways. Employee engagement and alignment are a good example. Here’s a brilliant analogy from a local business journal:

“Employee engagement is essential to an organization’s success, and alignment is arguably even more important. As an example, consider a 400-meter relay race. The winning team carries the baton past the finish line first. The direction of the finish line represents alignment between employees and the organization’s vision and goals. The speed of each runner is akin to engagement. To win, every runner in the team must run fast (i.e. be engaged with the organization) but also run in the direction of the next runner or the finish line (i.e. be aligned).”

This is quite illustrative of how the power of thanks aligns employees with what we need them to do again and again (through frequent, timely recognition of precisely those actions and behaviors) and to engage them in the greater goal (when that recognition helps them link daily behaviors to the big picture).

Think of the alternatives:

1) Highly engaged, but unaligned employees

Attributes: They work hard and are excited to contribute to success, but are spending their time on all the wrong things. These employees often appear as high-potentials who struggle to get clarity on priorities.

Risks: They can burn out very quickly because they don’t see their efforts having a significant or valuable impact on greater goals. Because they can’t get the clarity or direction they need, they feel like they’re spinning their wheels.

What to Do: Management needs to step up to provide prioritization of projects to keep to turn these high-potentials into high-performers. Social recognition tied to your company’s core values and strategic objectives is also very effective as an ongoing reinforcing tool to help these employees realize how their efforts contribute to achieving the bigger priorities.

2) Highly aligned, but disengaged employees

Attributes: They know what they should be doing, they simply choose not to. In best case scenarios, they understand and agree with priorities strategic initiatives, they just don’t know how their work contributes to it. In worst case scenarios, they are actively working against your organization with subtle forms of project sabotage such as delaying project deliverables or hording knowledge.

Risks: They have an abundance of stored up potential, but seemingly no effective outlet for it.

What to Do: For worst case scenario employees, there can be coaching and performance improvement plan type activities to eliminate their negative behaviors. But if those mitigating steps don’t work, then the difficult step of termination may need to be taken. The good news is these types of employees are few and far-between. For the majority of employees in this category, helping them see how valuable they and their efforts are to the team can often do wonders to restore engagement. Again, social recognition from peers and leaders alike, works well to communicate this message of personal value and important contributions.

Think about yourself or your team members? Which category do you find yourself or those around you – highly engaged/unaligned; highly aligned/disengaged; highly aligned/highly engaged?

Why “Quick to Criticize, Long to Praise” Fails

by Derek Irvine

Boss yelling at employeeRecognize This! – Constructive criticism and praise for work well done should both be given quickly, specifically and compassionately.

Seth Godin is one of my favorite “short form” bloggers. Generally, his posts offer pithy insight and advice in short, easily digested posts. Here’s a nugget from a recent such post:

“The best way to change long-term behavior is with short-term feedback. The opposite is not true. We rarely change short-term behavior with long-term feedback… If you want to reward (or punish) short-term behavior, don’t do it down the road.”

Let’s look at two common scenarios and how this can play out.

Scenario 1: You watch a member of your team deliver a report presentation and notice an excessive amount of stumbling to deliver the main point or inability to handle ad-hoc questions well.

Do you wait until the annual performance to give the employee some valuable feedback and constructive criticism, or do you share the feedback one-on-one that same week?

Scenario 2: You watch a member of your team deliver a to-the-point, exciting report presentation that helped the team arrive at an immediate decision and advance the project more quickly than expected.

Do you wait until the annual performance to praise the employee for a job well done, or do you formally recognize their contribution immediately to reinforce work well done?

Objectively, we all know the latter option in both scenarios is ideal. But I think we can all agree the most common approach is to offer criticism immediately but offer praise very belated, if at all.

And yet, multiple research studies and employee surveys tell us praise, given soon after the event being recognized, is a far stronger method for reinforcing desired behaviors than criticism. Sure, constructive criticism is sometimes needed. But why do we manage to deliver that in a timely way, but fail to recognize and praise excellence similarly? It’s certainly not because we enjoy the difficult conversations more.

I think it’s because we’ve been trained to rely on the annual performance review as a crutch. We know time is scheduled to deliver the positive feedback and so we wait. That, and we think ignoring the positive will have no deleterious effect on the project, team or business, whereas if we were to ignore negative behavior, we could be endangering success.

This assumption is indisputably incorrect. Indeed, when we recognize positive, desired behaviors, we quickly communicate what we want to see again and again. That is a positivity cycle that ensures you continue to see those desired behaviors in the short and long-term.

Think back over your own career. How were you given feedback? How do you give feedback yourself? Are you quick to criticize, but long to praise?


2 Tips to Understand Powerful Company Cultures

by Derek Irvine

Chalkboard with core values Recognize This! – Culture is the culmination of how employees behave every day and the environment those behaviors create.

Company culture is important. I think we can all agree on that. But what is culture? And who determines it? I’d argue it isn’t what management or the executive suite suggest it is. No, company culture is what employees experience and feel every day.

In that spirit, today I point you to China Gorman’s Data Point Tuesday blog post “It’s All about Trust: Honesty and Transparency.” As CEO of the Great Place to Work Institute, China knows of what she speaks. A shown by the decades of research conducted by the institute, “trust” is one of the critical and primary factors for building the “high-quality relationships” upon which a Great Place to Work is built.

In the post, China shares survey results that, in my reading, point to two important lessons in understanding company culture:

1) How employees define culture is the basis for understanding how to build a desired culture.

“Most survey takers described ‘company culture’ as a value, belief, or habit of employees that worked at an organization, or the overall feeling of the environment at that company.”

This reinforces my position that the core values (or guiding principles) of your organization are the foundational building blocks of your culture. They are the outward expression in daily behaviors of the cultural “feel” of your company. That’s why it’s critical all employees know how to demonstrate those values in their work (and not just recite them or read them off a mouse pad).

Because it encourages all employees to notice and appreciate colleagues who live these values, social recognition is the most powerful means to reinforce the core values in the daily work. It also serves as an effective, informal training mechanism for others to read or view the detailed messages of recognition about specific values so they, too, can behave in similar ways.

2) The type of culture employees choose to work within is more telling than obvious assumptions of what make good culture drivers.

“So while ‘casual/relaxed’ and ‘fun’ ranked over honesty as the most common definition of an ideal company culture, the fact that ‘honesty and transparency’ are the bigger influencers on whether a prospective candidate actually applies at a company highlights what we’ve known about company cultures all along – that trust and values matter most.”

Sure, foosball tables and free lunches are always appreciated, but they aren’t what retain employees in a strong culture over time. Honesty and transparency about your company’s objectives and, critically, how you achieve them, is a far stronger recruiting and retention tool.

In this case, social recognition is an often under-utilized recruiting tool and opportunity to proclaim your culture of appreciation based on your core values. Symantec provides an excellent example of this in this video on their Careers page.

How would your employees define the culture in your organization? How do you?

If You Hire for Core Values, You Could be Missing Out

by Derek Irvine

Globoforce Values: Imagination, Determination, Innovation, RespectRecognize This! – Hiring for core values only gets you good people. You can make them great by reinforcing those values in the work they do every day.

This won’t be surprising to regular readers of this blog, but I am a firm believer in the importance of hiring people who personally reflect your organization’s core values. Why? Because it makes it that much easier to embed your values into the way they work every day. Of course, I’m not unique in my thinking. I’m sure many of you agree with the approach.

Here’s two examples of CEOs who also hire to a set of values (though in very different ways). And yet, both also miss out on a final step that could help them realize far more benefit from these hiring efforts.

First, Rene Lecerte, CEO of, shared in an Inc. magazine article:

“In our neighborhood [Silicon Valley], we need to compete for talent with Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, and dozens of other fast-growth companies with deep pockets. It’s the world’s most competitive market to hire top talent in. I won’t and can’t compete on budget.

“I compete on values…

“Every person who comes into the office is first greeted by our company values. The sign is big and bold. I love our product and service and have learned that I must invest heavily on developing an innovative and collaborative team in order to build an award-winning, successful service. This starts by hiring the type of person we strive to be as a company: humble, fun, authentic, passionate, and dedicated. We look for those who live these values every day and won’t hire them unless they do.”

That’s on-point. Mr. Lecerte goes on to say how he’s deliberately created a collaborative work environment and efforts to inspire passion. But something’s missing.

Next up, Logan LaHive, chief executive of Belly, a customer rewards company,New York Times “Corner Office” column.

“To be honest, I can’t stand walking into a company that has seven values on the wall that no one actually cares about or can remember. I’ve tried to actively avoid documenting or stating what we had to be and just tried to ensure that we maintain our authenticity.

“We do have employee guidelines that put we put on the wall and they would have to be highly censored to be made public. We use the same curse word in the middle of each of these sentences, but they’re about things like believing in yourself, working hard, working outside of your habits, educating yourself, trusting your gut and not forgetting to laugh. There’s some level of shock with it and it’s certainly been off-putting to a number of people that have come into the office and people who were applying for jobs.

“But we use these ‘who we are’ statements to filter out people who won’t fit. It really acts more as a tracker beam for the people who are going to be kind of core to who we are. We’re looking for people who take the work very seriously but not necessarily themselves. And we don’t do it just to be controversial. It’s just about who we are, and that either resonates with you or it doesn’t. I always like to say that in everything we do, I’d prefer us to be loved or hated. Apathy is the slow death of every company.”

I would argue Mr. LaHive is practicing a bit of semantics twisting. His “who we are statements” sound a lot like core values to me. And, like at, they are prominently displayed on the wall and a primary filter during the hiring process. Something is missing here, too.

Bring the Core Values Out of the Hiring Process and into the Daily Work

Have you spotted it? As much time, effort and commitment as these leaders invest in hiring the right people according to their core values (or “who we are” statements, or guiding principles – all are the same idea under different names), there doesn’t seem to be a process for daily, individual, personal reinforcement of these values once the employees are in the door.

I may be a very “authentic” person, but how that authenticity is displayed in interactions with colleagues vs. customers vs. friends can be different. If I were an employee of, think how much more benefit could be realized from the core values if I were told, “Derek, thank you for your work as part of the Project X team. You really demonstrated our value of ‘authenticity’ by both giving real, critical feedback that helped improve our product as well as how you onboarded feedback for your area of responsibility and made the project even more successful.”

Now that’s taking your core values to an entirely different level – deep embedding in the daily work of every employee.

What do you hire for in your organization? How do you ensure those elements are reinforced once the onboarding process is complete?


3 Tips for Effective Safety Recognition Programs

Road sign reading "safety first"by Lynette Silva

Recognize This! – Many safety incentives programs simply encourage under-reporting. Truly strategic safety recognition programs make safe behaviors and results the core to success.

I’m passionate about social recognition, especially recognition that drives strategic organization goals and core values. But I’m particularly passionate about safety recognition programs. And that’s because so many safety recognition programs are implemented in an entirely inappropriate and even harmful way, actually creating a more unsafe environment.

The classic example of this is the “X Days Since Last Safety Incident” program. Usually, employees are rewarded if they achieve a certain number of safe days. All this does, however, is encourage people to sweep safety concerns or incidents under the rug. “If it’s not reported, it didn’t happen.” And so unsafe conditions, behaviors or practices continue unabated.

In the US, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) is cracking down on these programs. As reported here, an OSHA survey found “wholesale underreporting” of injuries due, in part, to employees feeling pressured to not report incidents. The article goes on to say:

“In 2012, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report that found that 22 percent of manufacturers had rate-based safety incentive programs. The GAO concluded that these programs can be problematic, especially at workplaces where a strong safety culture is lacking. Also that year, OSHA issued a memo that took aim at incentive programs that could skew injury data. The memo reminded employers that they cannot discriminate against an employee for exercising the right to report an injury. (OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) also discourages these types of programs.)”

OSHA may move to force companies to end safety and incentive recognition programs that encourage under-reporting such as the “X days since last safety incident” type of program. Indeed, I consulted with an organization in the energy industry that had exactly this feedback from OSHA on their safety program. That company came to us to ask what to do instead.

In line with OSHA recommendations to use recognition to promote worker participation in safety activities, our safety recognition program recommendations include:

  1. Defining core safety values and associated behaviors that clearly outline what you expect from employees. Such values should reflect your desire for employees to proactively report potentially hazardous or unsafe conditions or behaviors.
  2. Encourage all employees to recognize each other for living these safety values. This has a two-fold benefit: (1) You have more “eyes” noticing good safety practices and (2) You’re making all employees responsible for creating a positive, safe workplace and work culture.
  3. Lead by example. Particularly with safety recognition programs, make recognizing safe behaviors a part of management KPIs or similar.

How does this align with OSHA’s guidance for legal safety incentive and recognition programs? The article reference above suggested legal programs should (quoting):

  • Encourage desired behaviors;
  • Create incentives to work in a safe manner;
  • Develop leaders who will be good safety role models, especially for younger workers;
  • Lead to employee empowerment and improved safety and health; and
  • Ensure that workers at all levels are eligible for an incentive.

Is safety a core value or business objective in your workplace? How do you encourage safe behaviors and create a safe workplace for your employees?


I Trust You

by Andrea Gappmayer

Trust sketchRecognize This! – Sharing the workload is a sign of trust and a powerful form of recognition.

Sometimes the best recognition isn’t “thank you,” but “I trust you.” Are you the person on your team who “hoards” work? You don’t delegate or ask for help because you want to make sure the job is done exactly how you want it done. No one is capable of doing the job but you, right? Or maybe you’re afraid that one of your co-workers is capable of doing the job and might actually do it better than you…?

Here’s an idea: quit being a control freak and glory hog! Let your co-workers help. Believe it or not, they’ll be happy to help and honored that you asked. When you ask for help, you’re saying, “I trust you”—and what better way to show respect and recognition than that? Your co-workers will appreciate it. Your organization will benefit from it.

Be honest: right now you have a team full of…you. When you share the work and opportunities, before long, you’ll have a team full of experts, thought-leaders, and confident contributors.

Give up one opportunity today to a colleague. Ask a co-worker who has time if she can help you out for just a little while. She’ll realize that you trust her and her abilities enough to help you. That is the kind of recognition and respect that create a strong team and an unstoppable organization.

Who do you trust? Who trusts you?

Executives are People Too

image of desk with thank you note

Image credit: Glamour

by Brenda Pohlman

Recognize This! – When creating a culture of recognition, all employees must be active participants.

In partnering with new customers, our early conversations often evolve from focusing on recognition strategy and philosophy in support of the customer’s business goals to discussions about granular elements of recognition design like eligibility – deciding who will be eligible to participate in the new recognition program. Inevitably, the client raises the question of whether executives should be eligible as recognition recipients. And it’s often not positioned as a question at all, but rather a firm stance, “Of course, everyone will be eligible except our executive team.” Sometimes that edict cuts pretty deeply into the org chart – “no recognition for anyone who’s a Director or above.” Ouch.

This position is natural. After all, aren’t our executives motivated by different factors and already getting so much out of their work experience? They don’t need to be recognized to feel engaged and appreciated for their work. Appreciation of company leaders is demonstrated by Wall Street in the form of higher share prices. Surely, receiving praise and feedback from colleagues, bosses and direct reports can’t mean much in comparison.

But here’s the thing: executives are people too.

Case in point. I recently read an article in Glamour magazine (online article behind a paywall) about chic office spaces. (Cut me some slack, I was on the treadmill at the gym where I can hardly breathe, never mind take in serious business content!) The writer interviewed Jane Hertzmark Hudis, global brand president at Estée Lauder, who operates out of a large and lovely workspace in NYC. Hudis talked about the personal objects she surrounds herself with – a wedding photo and pictures of the kids. But she also keeps a handwritten note on her desk from boss Leonard Lauder congratulating her on the successful launch of a new fragrance. She was quoted as saying about these things, “They inspire me!”

Here is a well-compensated senior executive of a high profile global company who works in a place filled with style and sophistication, yet when thinking about the elements of that environment that inspire her, she describes a recognition moment!

Apart from the meaningful emotional impact it can have on them, there are practical reasons for involving your executives as receivers in your recognition activities. Assuming that you consider your recognition practices to be so much more than mere practices – that they are part of your culture – then by definition your executives must be full-fledged participants. Culture doesn’t happen independently of your leaders. It’s their behavior and priorities that become the most obvious demonstrations of your culture to the rest of the workforce. If you want recognition to be part of who you are as an organization, then execs have to lead the charge.

And there’s no better way to encourage them to lead the charge than through their own direct participation. For anyone, your leaders included, to champion your recognition efforts in an authentic way, they must experience the power of recognition firsthand. Nothing inspires others to show a little appreciation than to have moments of feeling appreciated themselves.

If recognition makes a difference to a senior exec at Estée Lauder, imagine what a little recognition could do for your leadership team.

Are your executives recognized today at your company? Why or why not?

Sticks & Stones… * Why the Emotional Intent of Your Words Matter

Word cloud of words associated with positive thinkingRecognize This! – We have the power to make our work (and home) environments more positive, simply through the words we choose to use more often.

All over the news today is Facebook’s stealthy psychological experiment on users. If you’ve missed the news, here’s the quick summary. Researchers from Facebook, Cornell University and the University of California “altered” the algorithm that determines what is seen in the News Feed. This change went into effect for nearly 700,000 users, divided into two groups. One group saw posts with words more commonly associated with positive emotions (“love, nice, sweet”) while the other group saw posts with more negative words (“hurt, ugly, nasty”).

Setting aside the moral question of submitting people to a psychological test they’re unaware of, the results are quite interesting. Published in a scientific journal, the results reported on the reality of “emotional contagion” in which your own mood is affected by those with whom you are associated (spend more time with “happy” people and you are likely to be more happy yourself, for example). As discussed in this article:

“Researchers have found that emotions can be contagious during face-to-face interactions, when a friend’s laugh or smile might lift your spirits. But what happens online? Facebook was trying to figure that out. It turns out that, yes, the Internet is just like real life in this way. People who were shown fewer positive words on Facebook tended to turn around and write posts of their own that contained fewer positive words (and more negative words). And people who were shown fewer negative words tended, in turn, to write posts with fewer negative words and more positive words.”

Now think about what that means in your own life – at work and at home. What type of words – positive or negative – do you tend to hear more often? Words of praise or words of denigration? What type of words do you tend to use yourself?

Specifically in the workplace, I’ve heard numerous managers over the years comment: “I think criticism helps people learn more quickly. They need to know where they stand and where they can improve.” Criticism where needed is important, but weighting your words has deep value.

With this research in mind, we need to reconsider the impact in the workplace:

  1. What kind of culture and workplace environment are you trying to create (in your team or across your company)? If you want a positive, empowering culture in which others look for ways to support each other in achieving success, then the words that typically flow through the workplace matter.
  2. Are you providing a means for positivity to dominate your workplace? Changing bad habits or creating new good habits needs support. Social recognition, which encourages everyone to notice and appreciate the exceptional work of those around them (including the behaviors in line with their company’s core values), naturally facilitates a positivity-dominated workplace in which messages of appreciation and praise flow easily between people, across team and over regions/geographies.
  3. What do you tolerate from yourself and your own team members? This week, intentionally pay special attention to your words (verbal and written). Are you more positive or negative in what you say? Pay attention, too, to the body language of those around you. How do you see them reacting to positivity vs. negativity? If, for example, in a meeting setting, how do they contribute to meeting based on the type of words commonly used?

Keep in mind this research:

“The factor that made the greatest difference between the most successful and least successful teams was the ratio of positive comments to negative ones. Top-performing teams gave each other more than five positive comments for every criticism, while the lowest-performing teams gave each other three negative comments for every positive one.”

What’s your own personal ratio of positive to negative comments? What’s your direct superior’s ratio? How does that affect you?