Feature Article - January/February 2012

The Power of Synergy

Bringing Rewards Together for Greater Effect

By Rick Dandes

When properly structured, communicated and managed, recognition and rewards programs, as well as other types of employee engagement programs, can be powerful tools for performance improvement, and essential to companies achieving higher levels of productivity and profits.

Having a one-off program is fine, and can be very effective, according to several employee engagement experts, but they also believe such programs are even more powerful when they fall within a larger, overall corporate culture of recognition and rewards—one with a proven system of fully interconnected incentives and rewards.

Recognition is consistently found to be a leading indicator of employee engagement, and numerous studies show the connection between engaged employees, satisfied customers and business profitability.

In a recent Maritz Poll, said Michelle Pokorny, solution leader, employee engagement and recognition, Maritz Research, of St. Louis, "a large majority—80 percent—of employees felt reward and recognition strengthened their relationship with a company." That jives with virtually all of employee engagement research from other prominent and respected human resources survey companies, including Gallup, Sirota, and Hay Group, which conclude that about 70 percent of employees at most companies are disengaged and 20 percent are "actively disengaged."

The primary reasons for that attitude are that employees say they don't feel respected, they don't believe that their ideas really count, and they are not recognized for their contributions and accomplishments. But, as long as compensation is fair for the job, they do not engage or leave for money.

So then, why is recognition so powerful? In cultures where recognition programs and practices thrive, Pokorny continued, people feel valued, appreciated and connected to what they contribute to a company and to their co-workers on a consistent and real-time basis.

"We know from our research studies that there are four drives of human behavior," she said. "There is the drive to bond, create, acquire and defend. Recognition fulfills these basic human drives, including the drive to acquire stuff, status and resources, which is fulfilled by both earning rewards or simply through receiving recognition, earning status for our achievements and contributions." Recognition also activates the drive to bond and connect with others—which is fulfilled by a positive interpersonal recognition experience—and can include more public, shared recognition and even stories and celebrations that connect people to one another and to the organization.

Having a strong, motivating corporate culture suggests there are a number of things happening that support employee performance, added Jennifer Rosenzweig, research director, The Forum. "For example," she said, "goals are clearly stated; and leaders are collaborative and not punitive in their approach. Measures of success, including financials, are communicated to everyone."