A robust recognition program can help deliver a rewarding employee experience that drives culture forward while improving engagement.
By Marta Chmielowicz
Today’s consumers not only value personalization, they expect it. Brands like Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook have made individually tailored recommendations a key component of their business strategy. In today’s tech-driven, hyper-stimulating world, people crave high-touch experiences that reinforce their sense of identity and acknowledge them as individuals. And this is confirmed in the research: A recent survey by Adobe shows that 77 percent of companies believe that providing real-time personalization is crucial to success.
And yet, while personalization has been a cornerstone of the marketing world for years, organizations are only just beginning to apply those same principles to improving the employee experience (EX). Gartner’s 2019 HR Executive Priorities study reports that half (51 percent) of HR leaders view employee experience as critical to achieving their business goals. But Alight’s 2018 Workforce Mindset Study indicates that merely one out of 10 employees say their overall employee experience exceeds expectations, and only 38 percent would consider their experience “great.”
How can organizations strengthen their EX and create an authentic environment that ignites employees’ passion and stimulates productivity and performance? It begins and ends with culture.
“Providing a workplace culture where people feel personally connected to purpose, success, and one another delivers tremendous advantages,” says Gary Beckstrand, vice president of the O.C. Tanner Institute. “Great culture attracts talent, mobilizes innovation, develops strong leaders, and becomes the organization’s muscle memory for lasting success. Great workplace culture creates an environment where employees choose to engage, do their best work, and stay.”
Creating a culture that produces this type of workplace environment requires employers to consistently deliver moments that matter, focusing specifically on two critical elements that shape EX:
- Sense of purpose. “When it comes to the positive employee experience, one of the first things that comes to mind is a sense of purpose. As an employee, do I understand the work and the value that it brings to the organization and to the greater good?” says Theresa Harkins, vice president of client success and engagement solutions for Inspirus, a Sodexo Group company.
According to LinkedIn and Imperative’s Workforce Purpose Index, a global survey of 26,151 LinkedIn members, companies with an employer value proposition that addresses purpose gain a competitive advantage in both talent acquisition and retention. Seventy four percent of employees place a high value on finding work that delivers a sense of purpose, and purpose-driven companies receive 117 percent more page views per employee than companies that do not clearly communicate their mission and values. In addition, 73 percent of employees who are able to embrace a sense of purpose at work are satisfied with their job compared to 64 percent of those who are not.
- Relationships. Developing meaningful relationships with employees across all levels of the organization is also an essential component of a positive EX.
“It’s critical the organization knows the employee on a personal level,” says Harkins. “This allows teams to develop a rapport with that employee that is meaningful to them. This also ties back to a positive employee experience in knowing your employees, what’s important to them, and how they like to work on both a personal and professional level… Too often, the importance of the interpersonal relationship that is required to deliver a personalized employee experience is glossed over.”
Today’s technology can help organizations dive deeper. Achievers Chief Workforce Scientist Dr. Natalie Baumgartner says data can reveal valuable insights and provide a more nuanced image of the employee. For example, pulse surveys allow managers to monitor how employee engagement fluctuates on a day-to-day basis, gathering data and direct feedback about how employees function in their daily experience. This information can then be translated into action that can quickly and efficiently address the individual experience of employees.
The Role of Recognition
A positive EX relies on a human-centric culture that reinforces company values while celebrating individual differences and successes—and a robust recognition program is an essential part of the equation. Recognition helps leaders align their teams to a common mission while cultivating opportunities for interpersonal feedback and development, rewarding individual accomplishments, and facilitating intimate connections across teams.
“Everyone wants to be acknowledged for the results of their work and how they uniquely contribute to accomplishing the work,” Beckstrand explains. “Consequently, effective recognition both aligns to a common purpose and acknowledges unique attributes of individuals. Recognition is also one of the key ways to communicate that an organization and its leaders care about people’s overall well-being. This goes a long way to creating a safe workplace where people feel that they belong and be themselves—a place where they can thrive.”
DISYS, a global staffing, IT consulting, and managed services firm, has fully embraced the positive impact of a personalized recognition approach on EX. According to Laura Smith, vice president of global HR, the organization has implemented a number of recognition initiatives that align with employees’ individual needs and motivations while propelling an uplifting, unified company culture that brings teams together and keeps employees engaged.
Building personalization into the EX by leveraging recognition programs can be achieved through some best practices:
1. Provide a range of recognition approaches. “What we know from decades of personality psychology research, academic literature, and personal experience is that we are all so different. We are wired differently and much of that wiring is determined by the time we hit adulthood and get into the workplace. We as organizations need to allow for flexibility in how we engage people in the workplace based on who they are and what’s important to them,” says Baumgartner.
For example, DISYS has a number of different recognition initiatives: tangible rewards for salespeople in the field, the “Inspire Others” platform for broader social recognition across the entire organization, and the more competitive “DISYS Dream” program, which awards a limited number of employees the opportunity to pursue a dream or volunteer for a good cause.
2. Link recognition to values. While recognition should be tailored to individual accomplishments, organizations should not pass up the opportunity to promote behaviors that drive a desired culture.
“Effective recognition programs are structured to reinforce common behaviors that demonstrate organizational values and business objectives,” says Beckstrand. “Leaders work within common guidelines and use recognition tools to tailor and personalize recognition for their departments and teams.”
This strategy is especially apparent in DISYS’ “Inspire Others” program. According to Smith, the initiative was designed to provide an intranet-based platform on which employees of all levels could publicly recognize their peers for actions that align with the company values. These include accountability, respect, collaboration, fairness, and ingenuity. But the program goes beyond that, outlining specific and purposeful behaviors that are consistent with the core values and serve as a source of inspiration for employees.
“The intro to it says, ‘DISYS employees inspire each other in many ways. Whether though creativity or motivation, kindness or humor, these inspirations make our jobs more enjoyable and allow us to do well at work,’” explains Smith. “And so, I set out to identify words besides our values that align with DISYS and that would help people know what it means when someone inspires them.”
Ultimately, the actions that Smith chose to inspire DISYS employees include:
- Deliberate: being intentional, purposeful, and thoughtful with others.
- Inspirational: teaching, coaching, encouraging, and motivating others.
- Yielding: benefiting others by listening actively, being flexible, and demonstrating humility.
- Sensational: sharing captivating ideas, achieving extraordinary results, and leaving a lasting impact on others.
- Supportive: encouraging and helping others, and exhibiting empathy, kindness, and loyalty.
“I wanted the program to be broad in that this is absolutely related to our culture and what we aspire to,” she adds. “We do require behaviors consistent with DISYS core values, but we also wanted a way to recognize these very purposeful actions. It was meant to bring something fresh and new, and we wanted people to use those actions in their recognitions to identify the demonstrated behavior.”
3. Highlight employee impact. While recognition should be used to reinforce key organizational values, it should also support employees’ individual sense of purpose by rewarding their specific accomplishments and impact, both in the organization and in the greater community.
“Recognition is a way for peers in the organization, as well as managers, to provide positive feedback to employees to acknowledge the work they have done in the organization, and that relates back to the employee’s sense of purpose. It relates them back to belonging and being a part of a team and part of a greater vision within the organization,” explains Inspirus’ Harkins.
In its new “DISYS Dream” program, the organization embraces its employees’ sense of purpose by rewarding their ambitions to make a difference in their lives or the lives of others, Smith says. The initiative awards a certain number of employees in two categories with funding and extra paid time off to “Give a Dream” or “Live a Dream.”
“Giving a dream” can include activities like charitable giving and volunteering. “Living a dream” gives employees the chance to pursue a personal interest or goal. Every employee is eligible to fill out an application and winners are chosen based on how meaningful the experience will be. Upon returning from the assignment, participants are asked to share their story and some pictures to illustrate the value of the experience and motivate their peers to participate in the future.
“To capture the value that each individual is bringing to an organization is so important,” says Baumgartner. “Every individual brings something of value to the company that they work for. It’s rare that people come to work and don’t want to make a difference; and if that is the case, it’s probably because they’ve become disengaged for very specific reasons. Most people want to have an impact, and it’s important for organizations to recognize what that is for that individual and bring it to the surface.”
4. Prioritize frequent, social recognition. Another key way that HR leaders can personalize EX through recognition is by allowing peers, managers, and executives to cross boundaries and recognize each other for their individual contributions and successes.
“I think that everyone deserves feedback; everyone from the CEO to a person who’s in an entry-level position. That’s the kind of culture from a recognition standpoint that I’m trying to create here. And an important element of ‘Inspire Others’ is paying it forward. Any time an employee is recognized, they’re expected to recognize someone who has inspired them,” Smith says.
According to Baumgartner, it is essential that this recognition occurs frequently. If companies rely on annual or monthly recognition, she says that the rewards begin to lose their individuality. Frequent recognition increases the odds that the recognition is unique, specific, and timely.