Insights

employee recognition: looking back to look forward

By beth thornton
new year

I’m on the road travelling for work most of the year. As I put my suitcase away for the last time in 2011, I reflected on how different times are today than just a few years ago. Especially as it relates to how organizations view employee recognition programs.

For every business, 2011 has been an interesting year. The country is coming out of a recession. The economy continues to globalize. The world is getting smaller. As I muse on the last year from my business’ perspective—employee recognition— I like what I see.

In the past, many organizations recognized employees because it was a nice thing to do. Companies budgeted for recognition and spent the money; life just went on that way, year-after-year. And then, in 2008, it didn’t just go along any more. When the recession hit, people cut back dramatically, if not completely. Naturally, programs that were considered “non-essential” were cut first. I heard many corporate leaders talk about recognition as one of the non-essentials that they could just cut along with other employee “perks.”

But you know what happened then? I saw it with the clients I worked with and I read about it on the news—in the U.S. and around the world, employees literally revolted. They began to say things like, “When the economy gets better, I’m outta here.” To the credit of many company leaders, they listened to their people and have responded in a big way.

For me, 2011 has been not just the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese Zodiac—a time of ‘energy and optimism’. It’s been the year recognition was brought back in a whole new way. Now, organizations give recognition to provide impact, both for their employees and for the organization itself. When budgets are assigned for recognition, there’s a lot more thought about what role recognition plays. I’ve seen leaders really think through why they are recognizing and what they feel recognition will help them do differently. There is a lot more thought put into metrics than I’ve ever seen before—evaluating the connection to engagement, turnover, and client satisfaction. Now, leaders have visibility on where and how recognition is making an impact on the organization’s culture and business results. Gone are the days that measurement meant just making sure that programs are being used. It’s now a thoughtful, systematic process that’s generating results for everyone’s benefit.

Recently, I was with a senior leader from FIS, the winner of O.C. Tanner’s Recognition Leadership award at the 2011 Executive Recognition Summit, who really summed it up best. This company was coming out of multiple mergers and acquisitions, to the point that they really didn’t know who they were anymore. They had different company cultures from offices all around the world. As a result of the changes, employees were becoming disengaged—an issue if you need to deliver a consistent global experience to your customers.

We began to discuss who they really wanted to be and want they wanted to accomplish.  I asked the question that I always ask people about recognition these days: “Twelve months from now, when you walk down the hall, what will be different here? How will you know what success looks like?” His answer was simple; success would be the creation of a culture where people would:

  • Treat each other just a little bit better.
  • Understand what’s important to the company and engage in the behaviors the lead them toward that success.
  • Feel that they belong to something bigger than themselves, clearly understanding how their actions really could make a difference.

The rewarding part? Recognition helped this organization create a culture that did just that. It really does make a difference in people’s everyday lives. I’ve seen it happen. And now, I can’t wait to see what comes in 2012, the Year of the Dragon. What other opportunities there are to help people feel appreciated?

Categories: Insights, Recognition Strategies

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By beth thornton