Agent Motivation

Guest Post: Driving Value for Employees and for the Business Through Recognition Programs

With almost 30 years in the customer experience profession, Annette Franz, CCXP is founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc. She is an internationally recognized customer experience thought leader, coach, keynote speaker, and author of Customer Understanding: Three Ways to Put the “Customer” in Customer Experience (and at the Heart of Your Business). In this book, she outlines the importance of customer understanding to developing a customer-centric culture. She is also an official member of the Forbes Coaches Council.

It would be an understatement if I said that 2021 has been a challenging year when it comes to employees – remote work, returning to the office, finding jobs, changing jobs, finding employees, ghosting, turnover, wages, raises, the Great Resignation, and on and on. It’s definitely time to start thinking about how you can (and must) do things differently for your employees and the employee experience. But where do you begin?

Let me start by defining employee experience.

Employee experience is the sum of all the interactions that an employee has with her employer during the duration of the employment relationship. It includes any way the employee “touches” or interacts with the company and vice versa in the course of doing her job. It also includes the actions and capabilities that enable her to do her job. And, importantly, it includes her feelings, emotions, and perceptions of those interactions and capabilities.

The definition includes “actions and capabilities.” The actions and capabilities that enable employees to do their jobs can be broken out into the “soft stuff” and the “hard stuff.” The “soft stuff” is the part of the experience that isn’t always tangible, though much of it should be – things like: feedback and coaching, growth and development, recognition and appreciation, leadership that cares about employees, open and honest communication, wellness and wellbeing, etc. The “hard stuff” is all about the tools, processes, policies, resources, and workspace that employees need to do their jobs.

Back to the challenges. One area to consider – and there are many – as we navigate through this next normal is how to ensure that our employees stay motivated and excited about the work they are doing. Let’s focus on recognition that celebrates the employee for a job well done, that highlights the value of the employee’s contributions, and that reinforces the behaviors you want to see more of in your organization.

How to Drive Business Value Through Employee Recognition Programs

Your first question may be: Is it really a motivator? Is that what employees need today? In a recent study outlined in Harvard Business Review, it was noted that many organizations rely heavily on monetary rewards as a way to recognize employees for a job well done, while research to the contrary found that non-monetary, symbolic rewards (e.g., cards, letters of appreciation, certificates, public recognition) “can significantly increase intrinsic motivation, performance, and retention rates.”

The authors of the article conducted their own study – sending letters of appreciation to a group of employees – and found that, a month later, these employees “reported feeling significantly more valued, more recognized for their work, and more supported by their organization than those who didn’t receive a letter. There were also positive (though not quite statistically significant) impacts on subjective wellbeing, belonging, intrinsic motivation, and sickness absence rates for social workers who received letters.”

Not only was the impact a positive one for the employees, but ultimately, the business reaped benefits, as well. Productivity increased and turnover decreased. And in this day and age (2021) – and always – that’s a huge benefit for any business.

As you think about rolling out a recognition program in your organization, there are a few considerations, some of which were mentioned in that article: Who? What? When? How? Before I address each of those, I need to call out that this cannot just be something that happens in one department of the organization and not enterprise-wide. Recognition needs to be baked into your culture. How do you do that? Well, culture is defined as values + behaviors, so recognizing employees based on living the core values is the first step in that direction. What else? Let’s go to the Ws.

Who?

There are a few different options that you ought to consider when it comes to recognition.

  • Peer to peer: Colleagues who work together are often the ones who are best-equipped to know when employees are living the values or have performed in such a way that requires recognition.
  • Department head or key stakeholder: Ultimately, the work that is being done falls under the purview of the department head or key stakeholder and should be acknowledged accordingly.
  • CEO: Employees love when they’ve captured the attention of their CEO, but this needs to be authentic. There must be a reason or a connection to the CEO in order for this to make sense. It happens more in smaller organizations and startups.

What?

The rewards used to recognize employees are often up for debate. There are many different approaches, whether they be monetary or non-monetary. I’m a big fan of two things (1) asking employees about these rewards and (2) testing what truly motivates them, like the Harvard article authors did.

When?

The timing that recognition occurs is just important as Who and What. There are a few things to keep in mind with regard to timing.

  • Recognition must be timely. It should occur close to the event being celebrated.
  • Recognition should happen on a regular cadence. Make (schedule) the time monthly to recognize employees, which also ensures that it’s timely (as opposed to doing it once a year at your annual company event).
  • Don’t be afraid to recognize when and as it happens, especially if the magnitude of the action warrants it.

How?

Generally, I’m a fan of public recognition, but sometimes it’s also appropriate to do it privately. This is another case where you’ll want to (1) ask employees for their feedback and (2) test which approach is most effective in your organization. Does public recognition motivate others to do more, or is it a downer that demotivates them because they feel like it’s only given to certain people?

The value of recognition programs is real and tangible. But I think an important takeaway is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. You’ve got to do what works best for your employees, for your organization. And that means you’ve got to be sure to listen to employees, understand what motivates them, and adapt your approach to fit their needs.