Guest Column - January/February 2017

Creating a Culture of Recognition

By Dennis Borst

Successful companies create a culture of recognition that is genuine and sincere. Nothing is more transparent to today's workers than a disingenuous swipe at "recognition." Once you determine that you want to recognize employees for their success, engagement or length of service, you need to commit to doing it right.

Products for a Cause

What constitutes "doing it right"?

When establishing the criteria or behaviors you are looking to recognize, you should create a team that includes workers from all levels to represent the sector of the company where they contribute.

In addition, you must create criteria that don't destroy morale, but rather, enhance morale:

  • You must create criteria that are easily understood by all.
  • You must create a level playing field for all. If this requires creating different criteria for each department, then do it.
  • You must give everyone enough time to qualify for the recognition.
  • You must communicate all updates and successes, via company newsletters, intranet, social media and e-mail.
  • You must acknowledge all who reach the set goals and not limit it to a few, leaving others shut out. If you can't afford rewards for all, you can create a drawing for all qualifiers, but I never recommend this to my customers. Talk about a morale killer.
  • You must include all levels of workers, from entry-level to management, in the recognition program.
  • You must never use cash as recognition. Cash is compensation, and compensation equates to entitlement. Be cognizant of the fact that your recognition team will tell you that people want cash, but what they are really saying is that people want things that cash can buy. I'd go into the "Cash Has No Trophy Value" rant here, but that is another article.

Which Rewards Work Best?

Let's discuss the rewards that are right for your company.

Once again, there are things to consider when selecting rewards that will be used to drive the specified behaviors in your program. The obvious options are brand-name merchandise, gift cards and travel.

Here are some things you need to consider when selecting rewards for your recognition program.

What is the demographic of the audience you are looking to motivate? This may differ by job type and/or job level. What appeals to one group may have zero interest to another group.

One of the biggest mistakes most people make when selecting rewards is picking what they like, as opposed to what would be desirable to the demographics of their employees. Of course, there are universally aspirational rewards, but there are far more options that are demographically specific.

Another consideration is that some rewards, deemed as tangible, may be rewarded to employees as free of a tax liability as long as they meet tangible criteria and dollar values within the tax-free limit. If the term "tangible" is confusing, you can use a simple definition of non-cash or cash-like. For the most part, brand-name merchandise, travel and many gift cards qualify as tangible. Those gift cards deemed as intangible may include stores selling grocery items and gasoline. Additionally open-loop debit cards that can be universally redeemed at all locations and retailer types are excluded from the tax-free qualification. Gift card types that may be considered as tangible include closed-loop gift cards for individual retailers, restaurants, movie theaters and some additional entertainment locations.

Recognizing millennials is a new and different challenge these days. To do so, companies must look at providing rewards that are current trends. Companies are offering recognition and rewards that fit the healthier lifestyle millennials like to live. With wellness programs, employees are recognized for exercising, individually or as part of a group. Some companies today provide programs for lunchtime walking groups, after-hours yoga groups, team weight loss programs, etc. With these programs, the rewards can include exercise apparel, equipment such as yoga/exercise mats and gym memberships.

Additionally, millennials like personal gratification reward options, including personal parking spots, upgraded office equipment, spa days and personal electronic items like smartphones and tablets. This generation is forcing its will on companies and getting them to rethink their "old school" ways. There is a trend away from team or group rewards and more focused on individualized, personal rewards. However, until the baby boomers are totally transitioned out of the workforce, rewards like weekend travel getaways and traditional brand-name rewards will remain a constant in most employee-based recognition programs.

Whatever you decide, remember that more isn't always more, and in some cases, more is less. Unlimited reward options tend to dilute the perceived value of the reward options. It is much more important to select specific items that you know will drive behavior and segment the reward value based on the behavior being recognized. You want your reward offering to motivate and create the feeling that "I gotta get one of those!" Proper award selection coupled with program communications and public recognition will accomplish this for you.

Also, be very cognizant of the fact that your recognition must be genuine. Today's employee can pick up any disingenuous demeanor from company management. It is imperative that buy-in of your recognition program permeates from top to bottom of your organization. That's why we call it "engagement."

In closing, I'd like to address the use of on-the-spot recognition for employees going over and above their normal work responsibilities. This could include a fast-food employee grabbing a mop to clean up a spilled soft drink or an office worker picking up a fellow employee and driving them to work due to an injury or out-of-action auto.

Rewards for this type of program need not be pricey, but they must fit the demographic of the audience you are rewarding. Most commonly, these rewards are in the range of $10 to $25 and include gift cards for quick meals, fancy coffee drinks, movies, etc. Another option for on-the-spot recognition rewards can include company logoed merchandise of mugs, pens or desk items—all of which would be visible to all employees and continue the I gotta have that!" mentality.

Dennis O. Borst is President and COO of Patriot Marketing Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in the media, promotions and incentives world. He has extensive experience with driving customer behavior, increasing employee engagement and establishing brand identities. Dennis has worked with the NFL, McDonald's, Chevrolet, Lincoln, Ford, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Toyota, Lexus and Foot Locker.