Editor's Note: In this Classic post, which focuses on recognition but truly speaks to employee rewards in a broader sense, Derek Irvine calls out some of the red flags that point to a program in trouble -- and offers some advice on understanding the issues and finding a way forward.
I'm a consultant. I spend many hours and days with clients helping them evaluate their recognition practices and uncover areas for improvement. I’ve led more focus groups and workshops than I can count. All of that experience boils down to three basic observations of how to tell when your recognition program is in trouble:
1) A visitor’s reaction to the general atmosphere upon crossing the threshold is, “I’m glad I don’t work here.”
I’m sure you’ve felt it before. That palpable attitude of demoralization, of “it doesn’t matter what I do, I’m just trying to survive another day.” This feeling is reflective of the cultural norm that has developed in the company, and can be influenced by greater cultural norms, such as discussed earlier this month by Compensation Café colleague Stephanie Thomas in a piece on compensation, cultural norms and the gender pay gap.
You may think you’re not be at a level or position to influence or change the company culture as a whole. But you can change the culture within your own cube or office space. You can make your area a safe haven, a respite where people know they will not be denigrated. Where, perhaps, they will even be appreciated. The more pockets of appreciation that open up, the more likely you can spread that attitude and culture more broadly. Start by saying, “Thanks!”
2) A consultant is the first person to make a 28-year employee feel like his thoughts and opinions are valuable listened to.
Compensation Café colleague Jim Brennan wrote an excellent piece on Monday, “Who Owns Your Motivation,” in which he makes a strong case that no one can motivate you. Only you can motivate yourself. Your behaviors, actions and attitudes are yours alone to choose and act on.
I agree with Jim 100%. You do choose your attitude every day. But don’t forget the attitude, actions and behaviors you choose to demonstrate affect far more than just yourself. You can also choose to thank a colleague for helping you out on a project, or perhaps not impeding you on a project. You can choose to tell teammate their idea has merit and should be investigated further.
You retain the power of recognition. You can make others feel valued and valuable. It’s as simple as expressing appreciation, gratitude and acknowledgement of excellent effort.
3) Employees aren’t participating no matter how good you think your program is.
SmartBrief on Workforce ran the results of one of their weekly reader polls earlier this month in which they asked, “Is your incentive program effective?” Only a measly 15% agreed their program is effective. Another 38% felt it was only somewhat so. Lance Haun, commenting on the results, felt these were even high. These results mirror our own survey that found 85% of US workers like to have their efforts at work recognized, 41% are not satisfied with the level of recognition they receive for doing good work.
But, you may ask, we have an employee recognition program! What’s the problem? Susan Heathfield addressed this in a recent About.com post responding to a reader query about a program in which coworkers nominated each other for monthly recognition to be received by one person. Not surprisingly, no employees nominated anyone. Click through to see Susan’s excellent answers to why this program failed, but bottom line – if people aren’t participating, you don’t have an employee recognition program. Regardless of what you think you’re providing.
What signs of a recognition program in trouble have you seen? What are your recommendations to fix such a program?
As Globoforce’s Vice President of Client Strategy and 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.