I know readers of Compensation Cafe know this, but let me state the obvious – compensation and recognition are very different. A raise, for example, does not count as “recognition.” But one major difference between the two not often discussed is the public nature of recognition activities vs. compensation changes.
Sure the drumbeat for pay transparency has been increasing, but the likelihood of public, constant discussion along the lines of, “Hey! I just got a 5% raise for my performance last year!” seems pretty remote. Should that day somehow arrive, however, I still don’t see such publicity advancing the flow of positivity and a powerful culture of praise.
And that’s the beauty of social recognition – the truly social aspect. That’s the key element that drives culture change, increased employee engagement, and improved productivity. It’s the people involved every day, looking around for greatness around them, and appreciating and praising their colleagues for it.
Because of its public nature within the company, some assume it’s far easier to communicate change around social recognition. This isn’t true. As with any change, key messages need to be defined and ideal mechanisms identified to convey those messages. One such mechanism that is often ignored is the powerful communication network existing among your people already – your influencers.
Shel Holtz tells this story in Ragan.com:
"I first read about internal influence networks in a Harvard Business Review article sometime in the late '80s or early '90s; in any case, I haven't been able to find it. I was able to apply it for the first time during an engagement while working in the communications practice at a human resources consulting firm. We were about to communicate some very controversial changes that could throw the organization into chaos. We mapped the influencers in the company and brought them into a series of meetings where we shared the situation and our planned communications. They offered their critiques. We incorporated nearly every suggestion they made, even if we didn't necessarily like them; it made them owners of the message.
"We didn't tell them they had been chosen for these meetings because they're influencers. Most of them didn't even know the other people in the room. As far as they knew, they were randomly selected for focus groups and agreed to keep the information we gave them confidential. When the news finally did break, though, as we had thought, employees sought out their local influencer for a read on the situation. And, also as expected, they supported the change and even helped explain it. In the end, the change produced little tension. There was no need to get the word out in this case; it spread like wildfire."
Your influencer network is powerful, and it exists today. The big question is, what message are they helping to influence? Is it the one you want? In Shel’s illustration above, there are three key steps to identifying and utilizing your influencers to best effect:
- Identify – Who are your influencers? It may seem daunting to identify them, but many can be discovered just by keeping your eyes open. Who’s the “Office Mom?” In the cafeteria or breakroom, who always seems to be center of the lunch crowd? Who’s the person with a reputation for spreading gossip far and wide?
- Involve – If you want your influencers to proudly carry the message you want, you must give them ownership over that message. That means involving them in the decision-making around the messages to communicate, including when and how.
- Unleash – When it’s time to introduce change, turn your influencers lose. Let them carry much of the message for you. Trust them with the change.
When introducing social recognition into your organization, these influencers are critical to most important message to convey – permission. In many organizations, peer recognition is often a very new concept. Giving employees explicit permission to notice, appreciate and reward their colleagues is necessary for viral adoption of social recognition. Your influencer network – your Appreciation Ambassadors, if you will – carry that message of permission better than leadership ever could.
Who are the influencers in your organization? How are they used today?
As Globoforce’s Head of Strategic Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. He is the co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and his articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.