Why implement a recognition program?

I have to admit that I’ve always been quite sceptical about such programs, but I’ve learned in the meantime that it’s worth implementing as long as it’s part of a broader holistic strategy to reach business goals (first condition) and that the design (second condition) is well thought out (even agile) to be future proof and last but not least that you can measure the impact.

If your program meets these conditions, it’s a valuable tool to drive change by promoting desired behaviour and fostering positive attitudes.

Besides change, your company might encounter other needs that might be a good reason to consider a recognition program. Workforce budget and salary restrictions could be an underlying factor to envisage recognition tools to retain talent, and once having installed such a plan it will help your organisation attract new talent.

There is also a need for more innovative methods to recognize best performers while company structures tend to become less hierarchical on the one hand and to promote cross-team functioning on the other hand. Not to forget the vital need for feedback amongst the millennial population in your workforce. A simple ‘employee of the month’ gesture won’t be sufficient anymore.

Design Key Elements to make it successful.

Let’s zoom in on the second condition to make your recognition program a successful one: the design. Recognition programs should always be tailor-made as no company DNA is identical, nor are the business goals or applied strategy, but this doesn’t mean that we cannot have a closer look at critical key elements while offering some tips & tricks for reward (points/gift card) offering recognition.

Alignment with HR programs.

Make sure your design is aligned with other HR programs such as feedback culture-related ones, talent retention plans, local practices to offer small bonuses and so one  It might be helpful to work with a framework or inventory before drafting your design. You might even conclude that some local practices should be given up or replaced by the new system.

Desired behaviour aligned with business goals.

How is your program going to support key goals, change behaviour or performance? Let me share some ideas. Nominators might have to address a motivation linked to a clear business goal; all monitored in your tool. By organizing communication campaigns during the different implementation phases (pre, launch, post), you prepare and support the behavioural change. By offering training sessions, people get familiar with the system while explaining the expectations & repeating the business goals for your audience. Managers & HRBP’s follow multiple guidance sessions etc. And finally, to make sure the circle is complete, you put a validated governance model in place.

Eligibility rules.

Who benefits? What’s your audience? Are you implementing a global, local, multi-country, multi-level or all-level system? Can you quickly adapt if you decide to add an extra country/region? What about external staff? Be careful when deciding on external staff. For monetary-based awards, it’s often impossible to make external staff eligible from a tax (and benefit in kind payroll impact) perspective, or legislative restrictions prohibit you to do so. An alternative could be making them eligible for a non-monetary award such as a “thank you” level only while making them nominators for other levels.

Award levels.

Don’t add too many levels of awards and try to find the best balance when deciding on approvement levels, especially when facing cultural differences. It’s easier to be more strict at the start and to remove an approval level afterwards.

What about cash awards? In my opinion, you’d better not add any pure cash awards in the system unless you can reallocate the cash towards a flex income plan to make it more beneficial.

Budget & budget control.

Define a mechanism of control and a straightforward process. What’s the risk if your program becomes too popular? Could additional funding be an option, or will you have to review your design, or do you decide to freeze the program if needed?

During your preparation, make sure you put enough attention to the back-end payroll related processes. What are the BIK applicable rules for gifts in your country? What’s the cost impact? (This article will become too long when going into detail but trust me, it can be worth to check the gift value and vendor mark-up rates correlation to make sure you don’t declare any type of fees in your BIK)

In the end your design should help you strive towards multiple awards offering. Best recognition impact is achieved by offering a high number of small(er) awards. Frequency is key combined with monitoring & transparent reporting on recognition results.

Simplified Design Example.

Added value in 2021

In the first part of this article, we answered the “why to implement” question.

Here, in this final paragraph we will briefly describe why recognition should be part of your HR strategy for 2021 based on recent publications and against the background of today’s new reality of accelerating organisational transformation.

According to recent surveys, e.g. Deloitte’s 2020 Talent Survey, recognition is among the top 3 most effective non-financial retention factors. With an expected post-Covid increase of job shifts, an extra argument to add recognition to your HR agenda.

The current change in HR priorities even shows that 58% of the Belgian HR leaders are rethinking productivity & performance measures in the light of the shift to increased remote working. (KPMG 2020, HR New Reality Pulse Survey). In my opinion, the introduction of a recognition program sounds like an interesting journey here.

According to Workhuman’s research, recognition can be the link to create a human workplace during and after the pandemic. Their research shows that words of appreciation helped ease anxiety during the pandemic when employees felt lonely and stressed. Moments of recognition even motivated to work harder. Furthermore, companies are built on relationship infrastructure with critical moments of relationship building (hiring, onboarding, team building, coaching…) that have -by necessity- become remote. The little gestures of relationship we took for granted are gone too. Using technology to spread positive emotions and recognition can restore those relationships for now and when we return to our workplaces. Or, to put it in Workhuman’s words: “Recognition serves as the human connector to create a great remote work culture.”