Posts tagged: employee recognition best practices

Is HR Ready For the Economic Recovery?

By John Schaefer, March 22, 2014 10:13 am

New study shows leadership changes, new approaches to retention and engagement and reskilling the HR function may be the keys to success.

In the lengthy, new Deloitte University Press report about Engaging the 21st-Century Workforce, there are over 150 pages of valuable information. I thought it would be helpful to break it down to what are most relevant and, more importantly, what it means to busy HR executives who may not have time to study it front to back.

The authors describe the young, Millennial worker as global, highly connected, technology-savvy, and demanding. Demanding…? Do Millennials think they’re demanding? Probably not, so while they may be by current management standards, we don’t want to appear as if we don’t understand them or worse yet, create and “us against them” scenario.  I submit that the first rule of engagement is inclusiveness.

Delloitte shares that as the world’s population grows, the global workforce is getting younger, older, and more urbanized. Millennials are projected to make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, and they want to be creative, run their own businesses, expect an accelerated career and in the words of one manager: “They don’t want a career, they want an experience.” Add to that a growing number of Baby Boomers that for financial and professional satisfaction reasons are not leaving the workforce, we are seeing the most multi-generational workforce in history.

Next, you have to consider technology. It’s now possible for teams to work in remote locations, easily access experts within and outside the organization, and get information almost instantly.  The skills we need today and in the future are dramatically different

than what they were only five years ago; Millennials and Boomers react to this in somewhat different ways and at very different rates.

With all of these changes happening all at once and their impact on leadership, retention and engagement, learning and development, analytics— executives

recognize the need to take action, but express reservations about their team’s ability

to deliver results. Deloitte’s research suggests that today companies have to manage people differently – creating an imperative to innovate, transform, and reengineer human capital practices.

Researchers set out to identify the top 12 global business challenges in talent management, leadership and HR. They drew upon more than 15 years of research to examine the range of issues and the most effective solutions in the market, as well as surveyed 2,532 business and HR leaders in 94 countries around the world.

The findings show that as we exit the recession, the ways that organizations will grow may be dependent on skill sets and management styles that are quite different than traditional approaches.

The three biggest areas of change outlined in the Deloitte study are:

1. Leadership – 38% of survey respondents noted building leadership is important. This is the highest of all categories, showing that many companies acknowledge that they aren’t ready to embrace the necessary changes to their leadership style. The old, autocratic view that employees are lucky have a job should be glad to be here and are expected to simply well up a high level of morale and performance won’t work anymore.  As the economy turns, the best employees are looking for engaging career paths and challenges, not just a job.

2. Retention and Engagement – 26% responded that redefining their engagement strategy is key to attracting and keeping key people. Perhaps this is due in part to a lack of understanding of the terms.  In reality, no company can make people stay; retention is the result of a number of both emotional and logical engagement initiatives.  The danger is when management does things to “Satisfy” employees rather than “Engage” them.  As Bob Kelleher, founder of The Employee Engagement Group puts it, “Satisfied employees are her to GET … Engaged employees are her to GIVE”. The distinction between those two characteristics is huge, and it’s all based on your employee’s perception of your management, recognition, retention and engagement style as well as the overall company culture.  Everything must be cohesive and management has to all be on the same page to make this work.  Sadly, most company cultures are far from ready to embrace this challenge effectively.

3.  Reskilling the HR Function – The third largest response, at 25%, suggests that HR talent functions are in need of transformation. We’ve come a long way from the good old “Personnel Department”. Employee demographics, higher diversity, new technology and economic concerns are rapidly changing the demands on traditional HR.  Over 36% of respondents feel that they are not ready, so we have a major education and training issue before us.  The good news is that this may offer the opportunity to simplify HR’s approach to people and keep an eye on what employees think more than just rules and policy.

So, what do you do now to solve your Engagement and Retention Issues?

There are a few very simple steps that will facilitate the path to the solution.

1.  They’ve got to Believe your Motives. When it comes to your employees, it’s all about perception.  Whether Boomer, Gen X or Millennial, employees base everything about your organization on how much they believe what you say.  When you garner trust, show consistency, exhibit transparency in communication and engage them emotionally prior to logically, you will gain higher levels of discretionary effort.  Employees want to trade a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, but only when they like, trust and believe in management.  When that combination of feelings and opportunities is made available, most employees will excel and you’ll get the benefits; all you have to do is set the path and get out of the way.

2. Get Organized. Most companies already have a number of recognition, employee engagement and performance management programs in place. The problem is that they were started at different times, by different people in different departments, so while they may be working, they are highly disjointed, politically protected and impossible to measure.  Every HR team I meet with is asking pretty much the same question … “How can I do more with less?”  In other words, how can we rein in these multiple trickles of money that are, in many cases, outdated entitlement programs, make better use of the money and prove that what we’re spending is yielding financial results?  Our Umbrella Recognition Solution is all about doing this and turning current expenses into profits, by making recognition part of your company culture, not just a bunch of inconsistent methods of throwing your employees a bone now and then.

3. Transcend the Four Generations. Earlier I shared a quote about today’s employees from the Deloitte study …“They don’t want a career, they want an experience.”  Perhaps this trend correlates with a growing dissatisfaction with many of the traditional forms of recognition awards and performance management rewards being used today. Employee awards used to be custom, symbolic and presented in meaningful ceremonies by highly engaged upper managers.  Today, recognition could easily be nothing more than a gift card delivered in an email link, by a faceless manager within the company’s computer network.  Any wonder why trust, believability and engagement is waning in many organizations?  We’ve seen a steady movement from true recognition to manipulative motivation, due to several corresponding factors:

a. companies are not happy with current recognition programs, so conduct employee surveys to find out what employees really want.

b. employees don’t trust the motives of the survey, so tell you what they think you want to hear; most ask for cash or cash equivalents.

c. gift cards are everywhere; you can grab one at the grocery store on the way to work, so appeasing employees is easy and everybody wins, right?  Dead wrong, and engagement studies show it!

Well known and respected research from Maslow to Gallup overwhelmingly demonstrate that you must engage employees emotionally by showing Love and Respect, before asking for behavior change to benefit the company.  When you jump right to “what have you done for me lately” thinking, employees feel manipulated and see your attempts to improve their work as more beneficial to you them to them.  In other words, they see the company winning more them the employees and they are left feeling a bit used. That comes across as unfair and feeds an “us against them” culture.

Here’s how we view the proper use of balanced recognition –

Recognition ð Culture

Culture ð Behaviors

Behaviors ð Results

Every company is unique and different, but people are surprisingly similar in how they respond to management.  The best companies use a simple, comprehensive, and consistent approach to recognition based on their Culture, Mission, Values, and Current Goals.  Then, they work from the employee’s Right Brain (where emotional messages such as Love and Respect are processed) to Left Brain (where logical calculations of fairness and value are determined).

When you create a proper balance of emotional and logical engagement and implement them in the right order, your build trust, confidence and believability, which make your performance management initiatives come across as meaningful, valuable and fair for both the company and the employees.  This leads to the high levels of cooperation, teamwork and morale, which directly impacts longevity, training compliance, safety, creativity, teamwork, productivity and ultimately profits.

In this new world of high technology where everybody is tossing around the same buzzwords, but not necessarily with the same meanings, it’s important to get back to basics, organize your tools and then measure your progress. So here are the steps in order:

1.  Organize all of your employee communications, recognition, employee engagement and performance management in to single, comprehensive strategy that makes is easy to understand that teach to both employees and supervisors.

2.  Engage your management team prior to program launch, so they are solidly and enthusiastically behind your program; then they’ll come across as believable to your employees.

3. Track, measure and report on the results, so you minimize costs, improve your results and can show provable ROI to your CFO.  Use the Three R’s – Recognize, Reward, and Reinforce; that’s the key to a program that will turn expenses into profits and optimize your most important asset – people!

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What makes us feel good about our work?

By John Schaefer, February 13, 2014 11:53 am

Do you ever wonder what motivates us all to work? Contrary to conventional wisdom, it isn’t just money (I think everybody really knows that). But it’s not exactly joy either. It seems that most of us thrive by making constant progress and achieving a sense of purpose.

In this TED video presentation, behavioral economist Dan Ariely presents two eye-opening experiments that reveal our unexpected and nuanced attitudes toward meaning in our work. (Filmed at TEDxRiodelaPlata.) It’s become increasingly obvious that the dismal and predictable science of economics is not as firmly grounded in actual behavior as was once supposed.  Dan Ariely tells us why in this intriguing presentation.

If you’re like me, and most other people I would assume, you will be surprised, yet find yourself nodding in approval when you see how small and subtle differences in the way management acknowledges employee work can have significant and lasting impact on morale, energy, creativity and overall job performance.  These interactions and the subsequent interactions of groups of employees that experience inappropriate management styles and nuances has a huge effect on productivity, turnover, achievement levels, cooperation, discretionary effort and ultimately profits.

Let me know if you agree and how you think we can work to change this common and debilitating problem. As I’ve said many times in this blog … it all comes down to employee perception and how much they trust management’s motives.

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#

Are Your Recognition Programs Stale or Stellar? Here are Some Ideas to Enhance Your Employee Engagement Initiatives that Will Reach Out to Today’s Employees.

By John Schaefer, December 9, 2013 12:46 am

I received a note on LinkedIn the other day from an HR professional that had heard me speak about Employee Engagement on a webinar event.  She felt that her company’s current recognition programs were “stale” and she was intrigued with some of the ideas I shared about new ways of relating to younger employees.  I explained that there are several reasons why corporate recognition programs can become stale and made a few suggestions on enhancements to make them more intriguing and increase perceived value.

There are three main reasons why HR people are hearing that their existing recognition programs are going “stale”:

1.  Younger employees don’t understand and prefer symbolic recognition like they used to (or so it appears).  Surveys show that they all want cash, cash equivalents (gift cards) or things they can use (lifestyle awards).  The problem, in my opinion, lack of trust and the nature of many surveys, leading employees to tell you what they think you want to hear. Add to that, nobody is going to admit that they earn enough money.  Armed with this potentially erroneous survey data, companies add more retail stuff to recognition programs, then employees shop the value on Amazon, Overstock, eBay, etc. and your intentions are then judged by the discount dollar value they find on line … what a turn off!  It’s really a perception and training problem, not a value problem, and it’s certainly not about money.

2. HR people are often reluctant to mess with established recognition and reward programs, because upper management thinks that everything is fine.  “Don’t rock the boat … we have bigger fish to fry right now… “. This leads to the situation that I described in the webinar, a series of siloed, disjointed programs that are bleeding money, with no way to accurately measure their participation rates, effectiveness, ROI or value to the bottom line. Nobody wants to look like they’re taking away employee benefits, but in today’s economy, they certainly can’t afford to fund programs that don’t show returns.

3. We have moved from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, so there are fewer workers doing the kind of labor that warrants and responds to the old Carrot and Stick approaches.  Gen Y workers will soon make up half of the workforce and they are driven by a different work ethic and are often motivated by very different things than their older coworkers; environmental concerns, teamwork and fairness, workplace flexibility, giving back, etc. They also want more regular and meaningful forms of recognition that share their personal values. Most of these new motivators and not included in traditional recognition programs and not well understood by older managers.

So how do you go from “stale” to “stellar” and reenergize your company’s recognition, employee engagement and performance management programs?  We suggest a three step approach:

Step 1 – Evaluation and Recommendations

Take an inventory of your current recognition and incentive programs.  We suggest you organize a committee for this and make sure it includes members from multiple generations. It’s also a good idea to do a quality Employee Engagement Survey to rate the morale and attitudes of your people.  This exercise will help you take the pulse of your organization, but also learn how many disjointed ways the money is trickling out the door, identify gaps, and see areas of overlap, weakness, entitlement and just plain waste.

Step 2 – Supervisor and Employee Training

Because of the importance of employee perception in regards to program results and ROI, it’s important that manager training is used during program transitions to help improve communications, energize managers, engage employees, and set the stage for a more strategic approach to recognition.  The types and amount of training will depend on the size, structure, current levels of employee engagement and your company culture.

Skipping this important step can lead to lower initial enthusiasm, misunderstanding of program goals, lack of trust and insufficient participation. Any of these will cost you some money, but more importantly could lead to the total failure of the program to gain traction and yield the financial benefits you have in mind.

Step 3 – Recognition Solutions

At Schaefer Recognition Group we use the term Umbrella Recognition Solution to describe a goal of orchestrating all of the ways you reach out to employees within a single, comprehensive strategy that supports your organizations Mission, Values, Goals and Growth Objectives.  This can include all forms of Communications, Training, Recognition, Employee Engagement and Performance Management.

The goal is to simplify your approach, engage all stakeholders and be seen as relevant to the current market conditions and your organizations impact on your industry, the community and the world around you (that will appeal to your growing base of Gen Y employees). If you do this right, you will minimize costs, optimize results, turn current expenses into profits and be able to share the good news with your CFO!

Once you decide to consider a more comprehensive and creative approach to employee recognition, you will want to look at a wide range of awards and rewards that will hit all of your necessary price points and appeal to your specific employee base.  You’ll want to think about including awards that are up to date, fresh, unique, flexible and relatable to your audience.  Once you get people engaged in the process, they must be able to win stuff that they really want, wouldn’t normally buy for themselves and be able to earn these awards with improved behaviors over a realistic period of time.

We are beginning to see a resurgence of custom awards, due to the increasing shoppability of retail items. One reward option that is becoming popular and is expected to see significant of growth in the future is custom travel and unique personal experiences. Travel and Experiences resonate with a younger workforce, as well as older workers who are looking to travel, see unique places and do things that are a bit out of the norm.

Properly combining custom awards with traditionally valued recognition items, some new and unique award and reward ideas and low or no cost Peer to Peer options, will allow you to engage that elusive 60% middle group of employees that will help make your program pay for itself.  A well designed, properly developed, well launched and effectively monitored program will realize maximum Discretionary Effort and the productivity, savings and profit that goes with it.  Recognition done right will help you optimize your most important asset – people!

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

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

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