Guest Column - January/February 2018

The Power of Motivation

Five Ways Recognition & Rewards Drive Success

By Victor Sawi

Employees and channel reps are every organization's living brand. Because they control the quality of every product and every interaction, it is essential to get them on board with company messaging and goals, and to keep them motivated to do the right thing for the business and the client.

Thanks to a growing body of research in the field of workplace motivation over the past decades, we now know that employee engagement and recognition programs are indicators of a successful organization, and have emerged as an important business strategy. In fact, the recent Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) "Incentive Benchmarking Study" established that the most successful organizations invest more in, and are more committed to, their recognition and engagement programs than companies with less impressive results. Here's why they do it:

1. People Are Social

Being part of the community at work is important for employee well-being and significantly affects the ability to get things done. In "Connectedness & Health: The Science of Social Connection," Stanford University researchers report that, "People who feel more connected to others have . . . higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them."

When people feel like part of the group, they do better at work and can call on co-workers for expertise or support. They also feel more motivated to work together toward group—and company—goals.

Many organizations are turning to social recognition platforms to facilitate these connections, particularly as the workforce is increasingly scattered or virtual. An online recognition community provides a framework for interactions across departments, and up and down the organizational hierarchy. Senior leadership use of the platform also sends a clear message that the social dynamics and recognition culture of the organization are a company priority.

2. Work Is Important

Most of us spend about as much time at work as we do with our own families. Rather than just showing up and checking tasks off a list, finding meaning in what we spend all day doing can make the difference in motivation and engagement. Purpose-driven organizations, where the company's goals and interests are seen as positive and valuable by employees, tend to do better. Why? Because the team can connect individually and emotionally to the company mission. When people feel good about what they do, they try harder and transmit that sense of purpose to every client, customer and colleague.

Recognition programs have an important role to play in building that bridge between individual purpose and company goals. Increasingly, companies are linking values to actions within the program. By celebrating achievements attached to those values, the effort is elevated and the employee's connection to the company deepens, bringing with it all kinds of benefits, from increased customer satisfaction to increased retention.

3. Success Is Mutual

Richard Branson got it right when he said, in an interview with HR Magazine, "If people are properly and regularly recognized for their initiative, then the business has to flourish. Why? Because it's their business."

If you want people to invest their best efforts in your company, treat them as the stakeholders they are. Acknowledging and celebrating achievements ensures that extraordinary efforts will be repeated in the future.

To really encourage people to achieve more, success must be mutual. Incentive rewards or a points-based recognition program give you a chance to communicate and to link results to actions, giving people a reason to stay on track. This is especially important when it comes to channel reps, who have a choice in how and with whom to do business.

4. Incentives Are Recognition, Too

Although incentive programs often reside in Sales or Marketing, and recognition programs usually are covered by Human Resources, keep in mind that they can serve the same social function in the workplace. Both programs shine a spotlight on accomplishment and provide an opportunity for celebration. Both establish the winner or the recognized teammate as an example of success in the workplace. While the reward may be larger, in proportion to the results of incentive programs, the very human drive to be seen as successful is the same in both audiences.

In fact, joint research by the IRF and the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA) determined that, "on average between 40 percent and 50 percent of an employee's preferred total award experience has nothing to do with the physical reward itself, but rather the award presentation and professional development." Whether it's the gala dinner on the incentive trip or the social feed on the online recognition platform, the experience of acknowledgement and appreciation, and the implications for future opportunities and social standing have a significant impact.

5. Effective Leaders Get It

Leaders of high-performing teams let employees and partners know what is needed, give them reasons to succeed, and provide the social environment, recognition and rewards that keep everyone on track. They know that non-cash recognition and rewards are effective and are invested in making sure that the program thrives in the organization. The IRF recently reported, "The vast majority of top performing companies (93 percent) reported their executives are not just willing to carry out rewards and recognition to remain competitive, but are strong supporters of non-cash rewards and recognition as a competitive advantage for the organization. They showed a full 30 percent difference from average performing companies in this category." There is strong correlation between results and leaders who know that an effective engagement strategy makes the difference.

To reach peak performance in your own organization, establish a social framework that allows people to succeed and broadcasts their successes. Imbue the program with your organization's brand values and involve senior leaders to make the program thrive. And remember that it is important for your workplace community to celebrate individual and team achievements, and to share in the rewards. With these steps, you'll create the right conditions to achieve your desired results.

As Vice President of Sales and Services, Victor Sawi is responsible for new client acquisition and the integrated efforts of the Client and Customer Services teams at Next Level Performance. Prior to joining the company, he worked in a wide array of industries, including retail, insurance and financial services / banking, and his first encounter with Next Level Performance was as a client! He is a proud alumni of the University of Pittsburgh.