Archive for the "Recognition in Tough Times" Category

Keeping Work Human in Tough Times

By Derek Irvine

Train tracksRecognize This! – Tough times can bring difficult personnel decisions, but it is important to keep an emphasis on the human culture that will help employees weather the storm.

Tough times often bring some interesting dilemmas for company leadership. I saw an article out recently from Strategy+Business that argued for strategic hiring during a downturn. Particularly interesting is this seeming paradox of investing in one area of the company while other areas are experiencing layoffs. The obvious question from an employee perspective is why new people are being hired when others in the company could be keeping their jobs.

This got me thinking about another potential paradox of tough times that leaders can face: the need to emphasize the value of a human workplace culture while also making difficult decisions and operational cuts, often directly affecting compensation and benefits. And yet, like in the article above, it’s a smart decision.

For individuals going through these changes themselves, however, it can be hard to see how those two aspects might fit together into a single cohesive strategic direction. They may question why investments continue to be made in programs that contribute to a human-centered culture when cuts are being made to benefits and bonuses are frozen. To be sure, that is not an easy place to be in for anyone involved, including HR and company leadership.

From a leadership perspective, the apparent paradox stems from one of the chief challenges of guiding the company through a downturn. On the one hand, there are new business imperatives and structuring that will position the company to effectively respond to the changes in conditions- internal, external, or both. On the other hand, there is some level of stability in the work that still needs to be performed and in how productivity is achieved by the workforce. The risk during a downturn is emphasizing the former at the expense of the latter.

A human-centered culture helps to shift some of the emphasis back where it is needed. It provides a type of rudder for navigating all of the changes taking place, adding a degree of stability and direction. It ensures that employees do not respond to uncertainty by withdrawing, but rather enables them to continue to see the value they have to the organization despite the challenging circumstances.

As some of our recent research has found, a human-centered culture emphasizes the connections between employees and the purpose behind work, both of which help to buffer against the pain of changes and will ultimately enable the organization to rebound with an engaged and resilient set of employees. One of the primary mechanisms through which that happens is recognition: employees who are more frequently recognized are between 1.5X and 2X more likely to approach change with excitement or confidence compared against those who are never recognized. They are also almost 2X more likely to trust senior leadership, which is crucial for navigating the challenges of tough times.

What other strategies have helped your organizations to deal with tough times?

Market Basket One Year Later * Relationships Win

by Lynette Silva

Market Basket logo imageRecognize This! – It’s the relationships employees form with each other across silos of rank and role that determine the success of an organization.

Last summer I chronicled the story of the Market Basket revolt (here, here, and here). To summarize, two cousins (both named Arthur, just to keep things interesting) owned the company. Arthur S. DeMoulas (ASD) had 51% ownership and ran the board. Arthur T. DeMoulas (ATD) had 49% and the heart of employees. When ATD was pushed out of the organization, employees staged walk-outs, stopped product delivery to stores, and encouraged customers to shop elsewhere. In short, they fought for the leader they believed in.

But here’s the kicker. These were non-union employees. Was it all altruistic? Maybe not. ATD continually pushed for low prices for customers and high pay for employees. ASD was perceived to push for more money to shareholders, with the downstream effect of necessarily changing that business model. Many point out employees were fighting not just for ATD but also for the exceptional pay and benefits they enjoyed as retail employees.

Ultimately, ATD won, taking on exceptional debt (which had not been done before) to buy out his cousin and assume sole ownership.

So, a year later, where do we stand? Per The Boston Globe:

“Its prices remain lower than its competition, according to independent studies (though they have grown year-over-year, according to another study), and the company has put hundreds of millions of dollars into retirement accounts and bonus checks since last year. What’s more, David McLean, Market Basket’s director of operations, said Market Basket is ahead of schedule on paying back the debt.”

How did they do it? Yes, they opened new stores, generating new business. But the real story of how they recovered from a multi-month system-wide near shutdown really centers on one factor, the same factor that led the shutdown in the first place – the employees. Again, according to the Globe:

“Market Basket has always been run efficiently. A long history of promoting from within and developing employee loyalty has helped it keep low management overhead, with most senior employees having begun their careers as bag boys and sticking with the company for decades…

“While Arthur S. may have had reason for his grocery beef, he did not have the support of Market Basket’s constituents. Arthur T. had long emphasized a focus on employees. ‘Without them this place goes down the tubes quicker than you can say hi-ho,’ he told the company’s board in 2009 while defending a bonus plan.”

The “employees first” model has proved, time and again, to be the primary factor for company success. It’s relatively simple. Happy, engaged employees are more focused on creating happy, engaged customers, who in turn drive the value shareholders are seeking. But we must first invest in our employees.

We must foster those deep and abiding relationships among employees at every level that encourages people to band together for the good of each other, the customer and company. It’s those relationships that sustain in difficult times and give us reason to celebrate in good times. The basis of any good relationship is simply noticing the other person, seeing what they do, acknowledging them for their efforts, and praising their good work. It’s about caring about others enough to lift ourselves out of our own work and business to recognize those that help us succeed.

If there was a leadership upheaval in your organization, to whom would your employees rally? Who could inspire Market Basket-level devotion and support? How did they build those relationships?

Give a Bonus of Heartfelt Appreciation This Year

by Lynette Silva

Thank You in woodcutRecognize This! – Even after a difficult year, giving employees the appreciation and recognition they deserve is an important bonus.

Last Summer I followed the Market Basket grocery store saga religiously. I was captivated by the story of non-unionized employees willing to risk their livelihood to keep their CEO. (Here are summary posts about the walkout and the outcome.)

After a six week employee walkout and customer boycott, it’s fairly safe assumption the company took a pretty big financial hit. Employees were rightly concerned that years-long traditions around holiday bonuses might not materialize. Then news broke this week that all associates would indeed receive their deserved bonuses. Local paper The Lowell Sun reported:

“In another sign of a return to normalcy at Market Basket, the company paid out bonuses to employees this week that match or exceed what the chain has awarded in past years. The Christmas and customer-service bonus checks are the first to be handed out since Arthur T. Demoulas returned to running the company in late August.

“‘If we do a good job on our customers and they reward us by shopping with us, we share in the benefit we receive,’ said Dave McLean, Market Basket’s assistant director of operations.

That’s a pretty significant layout, but the commitment to the employee first is the real message that rings through this story.

The Boston CBS news station shared a personal perspective from one employee, Jen Gelvez, who works in the Reading, MA, store office. Ms. Gelvez’s perspective is a brilliant summary of the two elements we must always remember when bonuses are given.

The money matters…

“‘I wasn’t too sure with what was going on in the summer, with the company going into debt,’ Gelvez explains. ‘I didn’t expect [a Christmas bonus] at all. I was just thankful to have a job.’

“But for the divorced mother of two girls, that bonus is Christmas. So when her store manager showed up Tuesday morning bearing bonus checks from Mr. Demoulas, Gelvez almost couldn’t believe it. “To actually receive a Christmas bonus this year was amazing,” she said.

This is always something to keep in mind with a bonus plan. People come to expect them over time. It’s becomes tradition and money that people count on as planned income. It’s great Market Basket was able to continue the tradition this year, but even more so for the sake of the tradition itself.

…but heartfelt appreciation matters more.

“‘Mr. Demoulas writes a beautiful letter every year that each employee gets,’ Gelvez said. ‘I almost cried when I read it this year.’

“Part of that letter reads: ‘The only way our company is able to provide these most-deserved bonus checks is because you, your fellow associates, and our customers had the courage to preserve and protect the culture of this company.’

“Gelvez tears up when she thinks about how lucky she is to work at Market Basket. For her boss, she says only: ‘I just want to thank him. For everything that he did. That’s all.’”

That’s the real message of the bonus. “We couldn’t have done it or continue to do it without you.” That’s what employees most need to know and want to hear – my work matters to the company’s success, to my colleagues, and to my boss.

That’s the real “bonus.”

What kind of special recognition does your company offer at the holidays?

Thank You for Your Service – A Lesson in the Power of Thanks From Our Military Service Members

by Brenda Pohlman

Poster showing all branches of military with "Honor Courage Loyalty" BannerRecognize This! – When recognition and appreciation fully permeate your culture, astounding things can be accomplished, often in the worst of situations.

If you ever doubted the power of recognition, consider the military. I’d venture to say that perhaps no institution on the planet is better at recognition than our armed forces.

Today is Veterans Day in the U.S. (and Remembrance Day in many other countries). It’s a holiday near and dear to my heart. Three of my family members are veterans, two of whom are in their 20th year of active duty. Military service is, as they say, a family affair. I’m not a military spouse or parent mind you, just a sister and daughter, but even in my periphery role I’ve had the chance to be involved. I’m enormously proud of my family’s service to our country and am grateful for the countless opportunities I’ve been given to glimpse a peek into the military lives of my loved ones.

But it wasn’t until I worked in the recognition business that the theme of these experiences became so darn obvious to me. It’s all recognition! As a civilian observer (and recognition strategist) I can clearly see that it is utterly embedded into every corner of military culture. Each of the numerous ceremonies and celebrations I’ve attended throughout the years have been oriented around a recognition moment of some kind – situations focused on acknowledging an individual or team for their commitment and good work…and family was invited to be part of it. Imagine that.

Even the most casual interactions with service members are so often laden with recognition. The simple act of being introduced by my family members to their coworkers includes the inevitable sharing of “why this person is great” stories on both sides. It’s as if there’s a genuine eagerness to publicly and sincerely praise colleagues in front of their loved ones.

The evidence of recognition is everywhere, even at home. My brother’s house, for example, is chock full of representations of career recognition moments – framed handwritten notes of thanks and congratulations, photos signed by legions of teammates, official commemorations of important milestones. The décor is what a designer might describe as “Navy chic,” akin to other trendy decorating styles only with way more recognition on display!

Clearly, this is all by design. The military is simply leveraging the power of thanks to motivate and engage its employees. And it’s doing so in a big, bold, social, emotionally impactful way.

If recognition, praise and appreciation is embraced by the military to inspire people to do amazing things with enormous risk and often immeasurable personal sacrifice, imagine what it can do for your workforce.

On this Veterans Day, take a lesson from our men and women in uniform and thank a coworker. Then pay it back by thanking a veteran too.

Who will you thank today?

Thanking Those Who Go Above-and-Beyond (outside the workplace)

by Lynette Silva

greeting card reading "thank you"Recognize This! – Difficult times are made easier by those who perform with excellence and compassion. They deserve thanks.

My father died last month. It was unexpected. Stroke, caused by an underlying brain tumor. While trite, it is true it’s a blessing he went fairly quickly and didn’t suffer long. But I’m not sharing this with you for sympathy. I’m taking the opportunity to express my appreciation to the medical staff at UnityPoint Health – Methodist in Peoria, IL.

When my dad first fell ill, we expected a full recovery fairly quickly. Then complications set in. He spent a total of two weeks in the hospital, most of it in the Intensive Care Unit. My family is the type that just moves in when one of us is in the hospital. The ICU nurses were very accommodating of our need to be by my dad’s side for the duration. We came and went in shifts (never exceeding the 2 visitors at a time rule), but someone was always there, trying to stay out of the way of the nurses and help whenever we could.

Every single nurse, nurse assistant, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, doctor and staff member was not just accommodating, but comforting and concerned. Not just for my dad’s health and well-being as their jobs required, but for that my mother, my sister and myself as well. One nurse even called me directly when the worst happened to be sure my mom wouldn’t have to leave my dad’s side. That is above-and-beyond. That is true care.

So, today, I’d like to say thank you to the staff of Unity Point Health Methodist. To the ER doctors and nurses, to the ICU team, to the surgical recovery floor staff where my dad had a brief respite between ICU stays, thank you. You made a difficult, horrible experience a bit more bearable.

I’d also like to encourage you to take a moment today to think about those outside your workplace who deserve your thanks and appreciation. Perhaps it’s family members or friends who sustain you in hard times. Perhaps it’s the people at your place of worship. Or maybe it is your medical provider who helps you sustain body, mind and soul. In honor of my dad, I ask you to take a few minutes, reach out, and thank those people, too. Then think about the people you interact with as you run the regular errands of your life – grocery store, gas station, banking, vet, etc. These people are at their place of work when you encounter them, but may not be getting the recognition and appreciation they deserve. Some comments back on blog posts show how true this is in some of the most unexpected places. I’ve heard from readers that recognition and appreciation for people who work in places of worship are particularly lacking, for example.

And recognition at work – from colleagues or customers – is very powerful. It contributes to a more thoughtful, empathetic and caring environment, like what I experienced at UnityPoint Health – Methodist. In my two weeks there, I regularly observed staff helping each other, thanking each other, supporting each other. And I experienced it in a very personal way here at Globoforce. As I went through a difficult, highly personal time, my colleagues were also my friends. Yes, they took over the work that needed to be done, but they also spent personal time reaching out to me and offering support. Our culture of appreciation helps make day-to-day efforts easier – as it smooth over the bumps that we all go through. I am very thankful, too, for my friends at work and their continuing support. I experienced first-hand what our latest Workforce Mood Tracker revealed – just how important friends are at work – as we spend more time with them than our family.  Recognizing and appreciating each other – noticing each other – builds those deep bonds that sustain us.

Don’t Think Retention Is an Issue? Here’s Why You Should Reconsider

Recognize This! – Traditional approaches to retention may no longer be enough.

Granted, the recover from the recession has been mediocre at best. In this reality, many company leaders have become complacent in regards to talent, assuming employees don’t have good options elsewhere so they’ll continue to stay put.

Those days are rapidly coming to an end. John Hollon, editor of TLNT, offers a brilliant summary of survey results recently released by OI Partners. Just glance at the chart below and you can quickly see the changing dynamics of retention in the workplace.

Report Higher Turnover Today

Concerned about Turnover

Front-line workers






Senior executives



Middle managers



With numbers like this, it’s no surprise the same survey shows retaining talent (70%) is the top HR challenge this year, closely followed by recruiting the right talent (65%).

So, what do you do to find and retain these top people. Unsurprisingly, the survey also cites coaching as the primary retention strategy, followed by better compensation and benefits. I’m glad to hear the latter, as too many employees took a hit on their pay and benefits during the recession and have yet to see those values restored as the economy continues to improve.

Yet, I’m also concerned that improving employee recognition and appreciation isn’t discussed as a major means of improving retention and recruitment. Indeed, our own Workforce Mood Tracker Survey found that 60% of those who don’t feel appreciated plan to look for a new job (vs. only 20% of those who do feel appreciated). Recognizing employees for their valuable contributions helps them see how they contribute to achieving a greater mission, a key element of both retention and employee engagement.

On the recruitment front, I can do no better than to point you to today’s post on the Globoforce blog in which my colleague, Darcy Jacobsen, says in part:

“All the same, employer brands can’t be ignored. Different from a marketing brand, an employer brand is the impression candidates have of your company and what it might be like to work for you. They have become a critical differentiating tool for attracting candidates. In fact, according to a recent Monster/Unum study of job seekers, culture trumps all.  A full 87 percent of employees said they want a company that they believe “truly cares about the well-being of its employees.”  Only 66 percent of respondents rated a high base salary as very important. This is why creating a great culture, and a great employer brand as a reflection of that culture, matters so much. It lets you put your best foot forward, and attracts the best candidates to your company.”

Retention can no longer be relegated to the back burner. Look closely at what you’re doing to ensure your employees are highly valued, recognized and appreciated in your organization.

How concerned are you about retention of key employees? What are you doing about it?

Compensation Cafe Round-up: Recognition, Rewards & Compensation from Every Angle

Recognize This! – People need recognition, want good rewards, and hope for relief from overwork due to actions taken during the recession.

Today’s post is a round-up of my recent posts on Compensation Cafe.

You Can Never Give Too Much Recognition (August 20, 2012)

One question I’m often asked is, “Can’t you recognize too much or too often? Doesn’t that water down the effect and impact of recognition?” My answer is nearly always to ask another question, “Have you ever received too much recognition?” The answer is invariably, “No.” Find out why in this post (including why I can’t wait to see the new Wreck-It Ralph animated movie).

Employee Rewards: What Do They Want, Anyway? (September 7, 2012)

Occasionally, I like to share with you the horrible storiesI hear of employee recognition and rewards gone wrong. While my cache of stories is, sadly, fairly limitless, today I’ll share just two.

  1. If You Have to Tie Employees Down to Give Them Their Reward, It’s Not Rewarding
  2. If the Employee Has to Wait 30 Years to Be Appreciated, It’s not Rewarding

Read the details of these terrible stories on Compensation Cafe.

What to Do if Salaries Can’t Keep Pace with Economic Recovery (September 17, 2012)

Let me ask you something. During the worst of the recession, did your organization reduce headcount? Did people take on the tasks of those who were let go? Did you freeze salaries? If you answered “Yes” to any of those questions, you’re certainly not alone. But here comes the challenge. As the recovery continues to strengthen (if slowly), what are you doing now? In this post, I talk in more depth about the four options I see for companies as we move forward in the recovery:

  1. Continue as you have
  2. Don’t raise salaries but hire more workers
  3. Increase (or simply restore) salaries but do not hire more workers
  4. Increase salaries of your current workforce and hire more workers

Executive Compensation: What the Conversation Can Tell Us  (October 9, 2012)

A couple of influencers got me curious on when CEO pay and compensation became part of our lexicon. I look at the history of language around these terms, concluding with this. People notice. People question. People discuss. Yes, most understand CEOs bear more of the burden of decision making and more of the risk, but people also notice company results and pay are often disconnected. If your goal is to motivate and engage all employees to give their best every day, be sure you keep your finger firmly on the pulse of employee sentiment and discussion on this topic, too.

3 Ways to Counteract Fear in the Workplace

Recognize This! – Employees respond poorly to fear, hindering success for everyone. Positively counteract fear to get everyone back on the right path.

In a not-so-shocking headline, Forbes recently proclaimed “Job Ax Fears Can Mess with Employee Engagement & Morale.”

While I know no one reading this post is surprised by this in the least, the article does go on to make several good points, including the paranoia caused by constant fear of layoffs leading to a destruction of trust and teamwork.

And this stress is happening at levels of the organization, not just the leadership tier. I wrote about research showing middle managers are far more stressed than senior leaders. Now additional research out of the UK shows the same results.

When people are working in this constant state of fear, they respond in several common ways. They hoard information, thinking they will have too much “institutional knowledge” to be in the next round of layoffs. This leads to aggravation among teammates who find it harder to get the work done, perhaps because they’re doing double work or failing to deliver because of missing information. Very quickly, the result is a breakdown in relationships and the way people work together to get the job done quickly, efficiently and effectively.

3 Ways to Counteract Natural Human Behaviors Caused by Fear

  1. Constantly communicate – A fear environment develops in an information vacuum. People will create their own story (often, a far more negative version) in the absence of the truth. Honestly, clearly and regularly communicate with employees on the state of the company, future direction, and potential impacts.
  2. Encourage recognition between peers – Specifically design a strategic, social recognition program to acknowledge and reward the behaviors you need (and consequently discourage those you don’t.) Encourage employees to recognize each other for sharing information, for speeding projects along, for teamwork, etc.
  3. Set an example – Always remember, employees (indeed, no one) responds well to “Do as I say, not as I do.” Set the example by frequently, specifically and in a timely way recognizing your team members and others in the organization for demonstrating the values and behaviors you need and want to see again and again.

Is fear a common emotion in your workplace? What other ways can you or your leadership work to counteract fear?

Cash Is Not the Currency of Employee Recognition

Recognize This! – Mixing cash with employee recognition confuses the intentions and outcomes of a recognition program.

Let me be clear. Cash is not the currency of employee recognition.

Let me be equally clear. Cash IS the currency of compensation. And unless you have your base pay and compensation structured appropriately, no amount of recognition, praise or feedback will ever be perceived as sufficient or good by employees.

Ann Bares, author of the Compensation Force blog (and editor of the Compensation Café blog where I am a contributor), makes this point well in a post earlier this week:

“We must get cash compensation right – and do the communication and information sharing necessary for employees to understand how this critical baseline of the relationship is set and managed.  If we fail this, if employees believe that there is a fundamental imbalance at the core of employment exchange, chances are good that our efforts to provide sound feedback and express genuine appreciation will fall on deaf (or at least highly skeptical) ears.”

What are the consequences of getting this wrong? Employees think, “Gee, I’m glad you appreciate what I do and I got a nice note, but I’m still paid25% less than my colleagues in the same role who I know for a fact slack off half the day.”

Once you do get your cash compensation right, then why can’t cash also be the currency of recognition? It’s simple. Because cash is the currency of compensation, it quickly becomes an expectation and entitlement when used for recognition. That’s why we see the tremendous disconnect with annual bonus programs and people threatening to quit or even sue if they don’t get their expected annual bonus.

Instead, the currency of recognition is tangible and of economic value, but not cash. Strong recognition requires timely and specific messages of thanks and praise, along with a means to choose a reward for oneself that is personal, meaningful and culturally appropriate. But it is not cash.

What “currency” does your organization use for employee recognition and reward?

UK Workforce Mood Tracker * Recognition Is Strong Motivator

Recognize This! – Employees everywhere need and want recognition for work well done.

For a couple of years now, Globoforce (my company) has been running semi-annual Workforce Mood Tracker™ surveys, testing the opinions and moods of fully employed US workers. (I’ve featured the results of those studies in past posts here and here.)

Now we’ve issued our first UK Workforce Mood Tracker, proving the attitudes and opinions of the workforce are very similar across the pond.

Recognition Keeps People Working Harder and Loyal to You

  • 64% of UK workers would leave their job for a company that clearly recognised contributions.
  • 90% said employee recognition motivates them to do a better job.

People Like Recognition, but Aren’t Recognised Enough

  • 86% said they like to have their efforts/contributions at work recognised
  • 37% are dissatisfied with the level of recognition they receive for doing a good job

Recognition Frequency Is Directly Correlated to Key HR Metrics

  • 70% of those recognised in the last month feel appreciated at their job vs. 11% of those never recognised
  • 35% of those recognised in the last month plan to search for a new job vs. 44% of those never recognised
  • 60% of those recognised in the last month are satisfied with the level of recognition they receive vs. 7% of those never recognized

Frustration around Executive Bonuses Is High

To me, this was particularly interesting. With widespread redundancies and salary reductions:

  • Only 6% believe their organisation improved how they motivate and engage employees throughout the downturn
  • 51% feel these elements had declined.

And that’s despite all the efforts of the Employee Engagement Task Force. Clearly, much works remains to be done.

Funding Recognition – Use Bonus Budgets Better

  • 87% believe the money spent on large executive bonuses could be better spent elsewhere in the business. When asked how they would spend this money, 35% call for an employee recognition programme.
  • The negativity towards the impact of bonuses also extends to the employees themselves, as nearly half of UK employees said they’d prefer more frequent recognition than a yearly bonus.

The full press release is available here. What do you think? Would more recognition for your work motivate you more?