Category: Employee Recognition Process

Take Aim at the Heart of your Workforce for Maximum Engagement

By John Schaefer, March 8, 2017 10:08 pm

In order to maximize performance, it’s important to understand the cross-section of a typical work force. It’s common for a normal group to have 15% of its employees in a top, elite group. On the other hand, 15% may be disengaged or problem employees. This leaves the bulk of your work force, 70%, in the middle.
The group at the top consists of self-motivated, talented employees. Most of these people are experienced and take it upon themselves to do their jobs in the best way possible. This elite group produces outstanding results whatever the motivational factors may be.

On the reverse side, the bottom 15% is generally unmotivated and disengaged. This bottom percentile does not have experience and most likely will never obtain it as they bounce from one job to the next. These people more than likely will not be with you in the future.

The group that makes up the major portion of your work force is the middle 70%. The results, records, and bottom line of your organization are dependent on whether this middle percentile can be motivated and trained to improve. The individuals within this middle group must feel they have an attainable goal and will be recognized for improving their personal performance. It is unrealistic in their minds to strive to be better than the elite employees.

When structuring a performance recognition strategy, it’s important to focus on this middle 70%. Programs that only highlight the top 15% spend money on people who will probably accomplish similar results independently. The focus should be on the portion of the work force that will bring the biggest return. Every employee in the middle 70% should feel they have the ability and opportunity to achieve pre-set goals.

In many situations, we have found that incentive dollars and manager time are directed incorrectly. Most of the time and resources are spent with the low achievers who will not be with the organization in the future, while most of the incentive budget is spent on the high achievers who would have accomplished similar results independently. Focus on motivating and engaging the middle 70% and watch your performance improve.

You’ve heard this called “the 80-20 Rule”; I call it “the See-Saw Effect”. Give me a call or shoot me an email if you’d like to know more about how the See-Saw Effect may be costing you time, money and engagement levels.

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

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

How Developing Intrapreneural Employees Will Improve Your Yearend Results

By John Schaefer, November 21, 2013 12:32 pm

Larry Myler is at it again … his recent Forbes article on the benefits of promoting Intrapreneurs and their innovations to impact the bottom line is right on track. Check it out at:

But the 100,000 questions is -how do you get employees to the point where they want to share that much creativity, be that engaged and that excited about helping your organization? That’s the question that everyone in the HR community is asking and is the key to optimizing employee value in any type of company.

I suggest you first consider whether your organization uses a Theory X or Theory Y management philosophy. Douglas McGregor, an American social psychologist, proposed his famous X-Y theory in his 1960 book ‘The Human Side of Enterprise’. His X-Y Theory remains central to organizational development, and to improving organizational culture.

McGregor’s X-Y theory is a simple reminder of the natural rules for managing people, which under the pressure of day-to-day business are all too easily forgotten. He suggests that there are two fundamental approaches to managing people. Many managers tend towards theory x, and generally get poor results. Enlightened managers use theory y, which produces better performance and results, and allows people to grow and develop.

theory x (‘authoritarian management’ style)

  • The average person dislikes work and will avoid it he/she can.
  • Therefore most people must be forced with the threat of punishment to work towards organizational objectives.
  • The average person prefers to be directed; to avoid responsibility; is relatively unambitious, and wants security above all else.

theory y (‘participative management’ style)

  • Effort in work is as natural as work and play.
  • People will apply self-control and self-direction in the pursuit of organizational objectives, without external control or the threat of punishment.
  • Commitment to objectives is a function of rewards associated with their achievement.
  • People usually accept and often seek responsibility.
  • The capacity to use a high degree of imagination, ingenuity and creativity in solving organizational problems is widely, not narrowly, distributed in the population.
  • In industry the intellectual potential of the average person is only partly utilized.

In our work at Schaefer Recognition Group we talk about showing employees Love and Respect, the ingredients of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need Level Four – Self Esteem(where most of your employees reside).  The importance of engaging people emotionally (love and respect) before you ask them to offer you their 110% effort is supported by a Theory Y management style and the understanding of the power of Discretionary Effort.

Theory Y leaders do not feel  the need to micro manage (shows a lack of respect), other than in cases where they are working on specific performance issues with an individual employee or team; and that is always short lived.  Your Intrapreneurs will surface and thrive in a Theory Y, high trust and unintimidating work environment where transparency, vulnerability, honesty and independence are fostered.

Conversely, an old-school, autocratic Theory X work environment will normally lead to less creativity, lower productivity, more protectionist attitudes and thus a lack of cooperation. You lose spontaneity and get none of the “two heads are better than one” benefits from your team.

Today’s leaders, using a  Theory Y management style, will see more Intrapreneurs emerge and will be able to benefit from the secret sauce of the 100 Greatest Companies to work for – lots of Discretionary Effort among a workforce that is excited, empowered and energized to happy to bring the best they have to the workplace.  They’re freely willingt to do it and your get it essentially for free!

For more information on John Schaefer, Schaefer Recognition Group and to learn about how our Umbrella Recognition Solution can work for you and your employees, visit or email me at

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