Category: Cost-Benefit Analysis of Employee Training

Keynote presentation on Employee Engagement at HRMAsia Congress in Singapore

By John Schaefer, October 12, 2014 10:49 am

Last month I was honored to be invited to present the Keynote presentation at HRMAsia Congress in Singapore. What an amazing place! While it’s halfway around the word, I felt very welcomed and appreciated as part of an impressive group of experts. While everyone spoke English, I was joined on stage by accents from Asia, Europe and India … it felt very international and I hope I represented the USA appropriately.

The Asian audience is quiet and respectful, as well as hungry for new ideas on how to effectively engage employees, recognize key contributions and get the most out of their Performance Management investments. The other speakers included some very experienced HR professionals from companies like eBay, PalPay, American Express, Intel and more. Mr. Yoke Fei Phan, Group Human Resources and Administration Head at Auric Pacific Group Limited, put on a skit with two of his young employees demonstrating the difference between Gen Y and the upcoming Gen Z employee base … better get your mobile applications ready; it appears that Gen Z will do nothing that isn’t on their smart devices!

While I tweaked my message a little, my main points remained strong … it’s all about Employee Perception and the effectiveness of recognition is directly related to your level of trust, transparency, vulnerability, and whether your people believe your motives are true. Because I had two hours, I was able to lead the group in several exercises around identifying which of the Ten Levels of Workplace Disillusionment were most prevalent in their offices, Which Love Languages motivated them the most and how some of their specific recognition, employee engagement and performance management programs were working. It was a very enlightening opportunity to share how top organizations are using a combination of old-school communications and new technology to optimize their most valuable resource – people!

I want to thank my hosts for bringing me to their beautiful city and making me feel both valued and welcome. Thanks also to the many participants who make me confident that the future of the world’s workforce is going to be in good hands. Being part of the international community is humbling and I look forward to more opportunities to work with and grow in my knowledge of how the goals of improving employee behaviors toward shared goals will be one of the ways that we as a planet will emerge from our struggling economy. The future looks very bright to me!

We use this same approach to help our clients organize all of their company’s recognition, performance management, motivation and training programs into a single strategy – it’s called the Umbrella Recognition Solution.  To learn more, visit us at .

What’s the Best Form of Recognition for Today’s Employees? It’s a Communications and Trust Challenge

By John Schaefer, February 5, 2014 11:07 am

If you Google “Recognition” or “Performance Management” you’ll get a ton of information and it all sounds good.  Our industry has become a very confusing place full of impressive-sounding books, expert advice, and all kinds of versions of the “new secret to recognizing and engaging today’s employees”.

Some guru’s claim that trophy-value, logoed recognition awards have the best ROI, because they can’t be shopped and have lasting, reoccurring value to employees.  Other experts claim that the secret is in top down, transparent and honest communication; everything is driving from upper management with their level of believability as the key to getting employees to bring extra effort to their work.

Still other consultants claim that in today’s workplace Peer to Peer recognition is what is valued and suggest that all you have to do is spend small amounts of money to get big results in discretionary effort.  They say that employees value the recognition of other employees more than management, because their peers are down there in the trenches with them and know what’s really going on.

Guess what? … they’re all correct, based on each expert’s background, experience and viewpoint.  People who come from the Incentive side of the industry see the value of calculated ROI based on measurable behaviors.  Those who come from a background in traditional recognition and the Service Awards side of the industry see the value of engaging employees emotionally and how love and respect leads to lower turnover, higher morale, more creativity and behaviors that lead to greater profits.  Those who come from a more academic background, the psychologists and teachers, tend to focus on the low or no cost Peer to Peer recognition tools as the best way to get the most out of employees in the workplace.

Having studied all of these theories and ideas for over 25 years, I have come to the conclusion that all of these tools need to work together, so the best possible approach to optimizing employee value is really a communications and training-based challenge.  Yes, it requires support and transparency from the top down, but Peer to Peer and Supervisor to Peer recognition is where the rubber meets the road day to day.  When presented properly, customized, logoed awards do have the most long term value, however for earned incentives, cash equivalents; travel and lifestyle awards work better for recognition of earned behaviors that can be calculated against actual dollar savings for the company.

It all trickles down to an exercise in improved communication and a properly structured approach. You must start with upper management buy in, and then move to a training-based approach that engages midlevel managers and supervisors, so they come across as enthusiastic and believable to employees. A comprehensive program will then fan out in to recognition awards that appeal to the employee’s Right Brain, creating trust and emotional engagement, and performance management rewards the appeal to the employee’s Left Brain and achieve logical, calculable results.

If you start with company Mission, Values and Goal, engage your management team first, then reach out to employees emotionally and logically, you will be able to get the most ROI from your combined recognition and incentive investments.

We call this an Umbrella Recognition Solution and it is what top performing organizations are using to optimize their most value asset – people!

I just received a great piece from Skip Weisman called The 4 Conversations.  I think that this does a great job of simplifying the communications challenge that most companies face in dealing with their employees.  Since recognition is a subset of communication, I think The 4 Conversations can be a great part of your training-based approach to a powerful recognition culture. Check it out –  #mce_temp_url#

The Fundamentals of Employee Recognition – It Comes Down to Balance and Believability

By John Schaefer, December 5, 2013 11:09 pm

Dr. Bob Nelson has been a powerful proponent of employee recognition for decades.  His best-selling book 1001 Ways to Reward Employees has now been punched up to 1501 Ways and I’m sure there are more to follow.  Check out his newest video on the fundamentals of recognition; I think you’ll like what he as to say - .

Surprisingly, even with experts like Dr. Bob, with years of experience starting with his work under Dr. Ken Blanchard (The One Minute Manager), implementing effective recognition programs continues to baffle corporate executives.  Perhaps I can help.

Notice that the title of Dr. Bob’s book uses the word “Rewards”, not “Awards”.  What’s the difference, you ask?  Perhaps and understanding of that difference will shine a light on why effective recognition continues to be such an elusive goal.

To understand the difference between Awards and Rewards, you need to understand a little bit of Brain Biology.  Anyone whose read Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus will see where I’m going here.  The right side of the brain processes things emotionally.  It’s where Love, Joy, Fulfillment, Creativity, and perceptions of Personal Value reside.  When you emotionally engage an employee, your words (or better stated, the employee’s perception of your words) will be processed by the Right Brain. If done in an honest, genuine and trusting way, the message is, “… they love me and care about me … I’m a valuable part of the team … this organization appreciates me as a human being.”

The Left Brain is where logic and calculation live.  Anything that is monetary, statistical, competitive or in any way based on logic, not emotion, will be processed by the left side of the brain.  This is not a choice, it’s involuntary, so you have to realize that the automatic decision by the brain to function from the left or right is based on the PERCEPTION of the message, not necessarily by the INTENT of the messenger.

Case in point – A symbolic memento, such as a certificate, plaque, engraved pen, clock or crystal piece has the perception of a trophy (we call it trophy-value) and if appreciated by the recipient, will have long term, reoccurring value.  When presented by a trusted leader or manager for a reason that makes sense and in a way that is emotionally meaningful to the employee, this Award will impact the Right Brain and will be seen as a message of true appreciation and thanks.

However, if you take the exact same value in dollars and present it to the employee in cash or as a gift card, it becomes a compensation event and will be automatically processed by the logical Left Brain. Math will instantly by done, fairness will be calculated and in milliseconds your recipient will decide if the process is seen as an award or as an attempt to manipulate their behavior and “buy them off”.  Same amount of money, same manager, same reason for the presentation – VERY different outcome, and VERY different long term value from the investment.

Let’s use this scenario to define Awards versus Rewards –

An Award is presented as a means of thanking someone at a specific milestone in time.  I could be for working for the company for 5, 10 or 15 years, for being seen as deserving of praise for positive attitude with the President’s Award, or for exhibiting the work ethic and values that makes them a subjective choice for Employee of the Month.  A properly presented award is based on exhibiting certain values, attitudes, spirit, teamwork or other emotionally-based actions that an employee chooses to share, because they want to be helpful and part of a winning team in the workplace.  Awards can be totally objective, like a Length of Service Award based on time worked with the company, or can have some subjectivity, such as the President’s Award where the boss picks a winner(s) based on his team’s perception of an attitude and work ethic that is exemplary.  Awards honor points in time and are based on emotionally charged values.  They have nothing to do with specific, logical measurements of behavior.

Rewards are all about measurement and performance against a predefined matrix of behavior.  Meeting a sales goal, achieving perfect attendance, reducing the number of lost time accidents, or any measurable behavior that can be tracked, can be rewarded.  Performance Management programs use Incentive Rewards to promote behaviors that either reduce costs or increase revenues.  The value of the reward, when done properly, will be a reasonable percentage of the savings or profit that behavior generated.  It will makes sense and drive the desire to repeat that behavior, because it is logical, fair and allows the employee to share in company growth.

Not all behaviors are as easy to measure.  Reduction is OSHA recordables, for instance is very easy to measure, compare with past results. You can easily discern value, so setting up a Safety program is straight forward and you can easily prove ROI.  Measuring service and human interaction, while considered a rewardable behavior, may be a bit trickier, so rewards could be a Team Reward for everyone in the store when they achieve above a certain Mystery Shopper rating, or for an entire wing of a hospital with they hit a certain HCAHPS or Patient Satisfaction score.  This spreads the rewards and engages more employees in the results.

Make sense so far? Well, here’s the murky problem; Awards and Rewards, while very different, are often confused for each other.  While I don’t know every one of the 1501 Ways in Dr. Bob’s book, I’m confident that some would be considered rewards and some might be better defined as awards.

Bottom line is this –

Awards impact the Right Brain and lead the recipient to feel Loved, Valued, Appreciated and Emotionally Engaged in their workplace.

Rewards impact the Left Brain and are seen as payment for completion of a predefined, measurable behavior.  Rewards make employees feel, Respected, Involved, Important and Fulfilled.

The secret to all of this is actually pretty simple.  It comes down to three things:

1.  Use them in the right order.  Award first to impact the Right Brain and emotionally engage your people.

2. Reward second, because people who are emotional engaged and trust your motives will see the ability to share in the profits or savings they generate through measurable incentives as the opportunity to share in the growth of the company.  Unengaged, untrusting employees will see the very same incentives a manipulation to entice them to improve behaviors so YOU win, more than they do. Same dollars, very different results.

3.  Make it Real!  Managers have to be training to understand both the How and the Why of recognition, so they come across as believable, genuine, enthusiastic and consistent.  It all boils down to one simple question … do your employees believe you or not? Trained managers will be more believable, so they become open to a comprehensive approach that helps them award, reward and share in the benefits.

To learn more about Awards, Rewards and the best ways to use them to optimize our investments in your people visit or email me personally at

Time Off. A Spot Award with Universal Appeal, if Used Properly

By John Schaefer, October 23, 2013 5:42 pm

Cindy Ventrice shared this tip – “Employees really value time off as a spot award. Acknowledge effort, commitment, and results with an hour or two that employees can use at their discretion. I promise, employees will love it!” I agree with Cindy that time off is a well-received award, but it must be balanced with other forms of awards and rewards to yield maximum value. Let me explain…

Most companies do employee engagement surveys and over the past 25 years (as long as I can remember) the results always come back about the same.  Employees say they want Money, Time Off or Something Useful for recognition … in other words, Money, Money or Money!  It’s not surprising when you consider how the average employee views their company’s management and their negative perception of the organizations motives in offering the survey in the first place. They will tell you what they think you want to hear, resent you for manipulating them and you’ll get the least possible return on your cash investments.
I’m convinced that we don’t have an engagement and recognition problem in corporate America, we have a trust and belief problem.  If employees don’t trust management, you haven’t earned the right to ask for their honest feedback in a survey.  In addition to that, no employee is ever going to admit they are being paid enough to a leadership team in which they have concerns their integrity.
Now consider what would happen if the first step in improving engagement was to train managers on the importance of being believable, honest and genuinely enthusiastic about their people’s success.  What a change, right?  As employees begin to accept that you truly value them as human beings, not just cogs in the big machine, you will them start to get useful survey results about what they really think, want and are willing to do to help you grow your company.

Once trust is achieved, you will be able to implement a balanced approach to recognition and performance management that emotionally engages employees first, then offers them intriguing and profitable ways to share in the company’s growth by bringing their talent, time, dedication and creativity to work.

Yes, time off is a great incentive reward, but only for employees that know and trust your motives and are earning the time off for valuable contributions as part of a comprehensive strategy.  If you’d like to know more about how this is done, visit us at or email me personally at

Is your Communication Transparent From Your Employees Point of View?

By John Schaefer, October 16, 2013 1:13 am

If not, what you think you’re doing as Recognition may being perceived as Entitlement, or worse yet … like you’re just throwing them a bone!

Here’s an interesting statistic … research shows that employees with an overinflated sense of entitlement have often been insulated from the realities of the business.  Their 2006 study found that only 19% of employees who believe they are underpaid are actually underpaid.

Many employees are simply uninformed or ill-informed. As a supervisor you have a responsibility to help employees set reasonable expectations for the circumstances. Companies spend a lot of time negotiating and justifying “fair pay”, while neglecting the simple and inexpensive behaviors that build trust and insure believability.  Employees that feel loved, don’t spend much time dickering about compensation issues, they are busy getting engaged in helping the company grow and sharing in the success.

When you start to hear rumblings about pay, that may be a good time to test how your management communication is being perceived.  Remember, it’s not about what you think you’re saying, it’s about what they hear you saying.  If they don’t believe or trust in your motives, everything sounds like manipulation and that makes them feel underpaid.

A properly developed Umbrella Recognition Solution will engage employee’s emotionally first, so that when performance management incentives and bonus options come up, they will be seen as a positive, not just a carrot.  It’s about trust followed by logical opportunities to share in the company’s growth and success.

A successful program contains all of the right ingredients, but also implements them in the right order – Recognized, Reward, and Reinforce. Failure to win trust first, will make everything else look selfserving rather than like sharing.  Same cost, far less return.

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