The Importance of Recognition

Author: Jeanna Prevette

Spend any time talking to the CEO of a rewards and recognition service provider and they will tell you: recognition programs are misunderstood and undervalued. Of course, they would and should say that but the fact is they are mostly correct: many organizations take the easier path of finding and correcting mistakes than to encourage desired behaviors because it’s simply easier to determine the ROI that way.
A Proven Case for Recognition
A few years back a global aerospace corporation had begun to ask themselves a variation on this very question: what control do we have over employee motivation? So, they tasked their head of engagement, an I/O PhD, which of the following actions led to increased retention, engagement, and employee sentiment:
From the title of this paper you can probably guess that the recognition event outperformed all others against those three factors (retention, engagement, sentiment) but it might surprise you by how much: no matter the bonus or raise amount, the recognition event on average led to better results – even over a promotion. The wildest part is the employees themselves had to pay for transportation, tuxedo rental, babysitting, or any other costs associated with a gala event but they still ended up outperforming their peers the next year in those three areas.
Much of this can be explained by a cursory examination of our psychology. When we look back on our most positive memories, it is the moments that stand out, not the cost or benefit of that moment. During the holidays, it is much easier to remember time spent with family than the gifts received, and that same principle applies to recognition moments in the workplace – we do not stop being human just because we are at work.

Another interesting note from that study backs up this point – at the very lowest bonus amount (a $50,000/yr employee who received a $50 bonus) the employees were more likely to leave than the control group who received nothing. The most repeated comment was that that bonus amount was a “slap in the face”. This is because people are not input/output machines; they are humans, black boxes with differing desires and wants.
Humanity Assisted Through Technology

This means that if you are looking to bridge the gap between your overall busines strategy and your workforce activities, recognition is a key part of it but there is no one “right” way to recognize workers – it’s less about structure and more about taking a humanistic approach. This doesn’t mean it can’t be datafied and analyzed however – technology is available that allows you to track a simple informal text or email just saying, “good job”, and aggregating that into an anonymized whole that shows how different recognition activities affect anything from innovation to burnout rates.
The most powerful recognition analytics though are often network analyses. A network analysis allows you to see how recognition flows in an organization, whether certain departments send or receive more, whether certain teams tend to recognize each other, or if any groups are being neglected. Normalizing social interactions in the forms of recognition is a powerful tool, especially for remote workers who may feel invisible compared to their in-office peers.
Recognition As a Cultural Mindset

Fostering a culture that encourages social recognition is not as easy as it sounds (and it doesn’t sound easy). Too many organizations think of recognition as a program or service or initiative, rather than a value or guiding principle of the organization that begins with leaders and permeates down.
This means that leaders most incentivize recognition by linking it to behaviors and outcomes that tie directly to the overall business strategy or goal. Then the recognition itself must explicitly mention how that employee’s or team’s contribution had a positive effect on that goal – and it must be done within a few days of that behavior or outcome happening.
Finally, recognition is also a tool to establish trust and inclusion in your organization. By recognizing employees regardless of tenure, background, age, ethnicity, gender, or any other possible classification, your organization proves that it values the behaviors and goals it espouses. This not only leads to better busines outcomes in the short term but establishes your organization as one that walks the talk, creating the kind of trust that can be built on for all future endeavours.

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