Investing in Recognition Rewards

August 9, 2010

When I first became acquainted with the company I’ll call XYZ Healthcare, they were struggling with the typical woes of their industry: low morale and high staff turnover. Searching for solutions, they had decided to invest in leadership training for all their supervisors and managers, a group which included nurses, M.B.A.’s, and many other people of differing backgrounds and skills. That’s when they called my company.

Part of our leadership training program for them included our Incentive Profile assessment. It’s an evaluation tool we’ve developed to help organizations find out what motivates their employees, what work issues are most important to them, what recognition rewards employees appreciate most – and (just as important) what recognition rewards they don’t. The value of this information should be obvious, but in many companies, it’s not. So our first step was to persuade their managers that they simply didn’t know what recognition rewards employees wanted.

Do your homework
Basically, we helped the managers and supervisors at XYZ Healthcare learn how to approach digging for whatever turns employees on about their jobs and their lives at work. Together we decided that this exploration would take place during a one-on-one coaching session, which managers would schedule every six months with every single one of their team members.

The model we created became every manager’s outline for sitting down and learning from employees how they feel about their work, what things they (not the manager) consider good recognition rewards, and what kinds of recognition rewards they’re not interested in.

Build the “Recognition Rewards Menu” you need
Once managers were equipped with insights about what kinds of recognition rewards team members would value, they began to make changes. They were already free to offer any recognition gift and incentive from the company menu of reward options, but with their new insights into employee motivation, they expanded the recognition rewards menu where they saw gaps.

For example, some employees were completely uninterested in traditional recognition rewards, such as recognition gift certificates; what they really wanted were new opportunities, such as the opportunity to cross-train in a new area or expanded responsibilities. Neither of these things had been part of the recognition rewards menu before. But since the employees had a high value for such non-traditional recognition rewards, they became part of XYZ Healthcare’s recognition rewards system, including not just the experience but a thank-you of some kind afterwards, a note or a certificate or both acknowledging the employee’s willingness to stretch and seek to be of greater value to the company.

Unexpected results
The managers and supervisors of XYZ Healthcare learned some surprising things by implementing these twice-yearly coaching sessions and learning to listen carefully to what their team members were saying.

Surprise Number One: Most XYZ employees were turned off by competition. They valued teamwork over individual performance, and didn’t want to compete with team members for recognition rewards. So, managers began to recognize teams and work groups rather than single performers.

Be warned; this is not always the case. I’ve been in organizations where people felt quite the opposite – that the team shouldn’t always be recognized over the star performer who pulls the team along. You have to do your homework to discover what your organization’s teams and performers will value most.

Surprise Number Two: XYZ Healthcare supervisors learned something from the assessment and coaching sessions that I find to be universally true for all organizations, but which isn’t universally understood. It’s the value employees place on being treated with simple consideration.

Over and over again, when someone cites their supervisor as a great person to work for, they’ll say something like, “She always says ‘Thank you.’” Considerate treatment means being thoughtful and polite, valuing employees’ attitudes as well as their productivity, and recognizing that they are more than their jobs. The managers at XYZ saw how important this “consideration” was, so they began to use more recognition rewards strategies designed to show general appreciation. For example, birthday parties and birthday gifts are now an important part of their recognition rewards program.

(A side note: only 7% of companies do a good job of recognizing people’s birthdays.)

Soft skills, hard results
XYZ Healthcare tracks its costs very carefully, as it does job satisfaction, performance measures, and employee turnover. Since implementing their leadership training and the Incentive Profile coaching sessions, all measurements have improved.

It’s hard to know to what degree their investments in recognition rewards and incentive sensitivity are responsible, but in a beleaguered industry, their company’s performance has certainly been better than most. My opinion is that the slightly higher recognition rewards and recognition gift budgets they dedicated to this effort have been dramatically outweighed by reduced turnover, higher morale, and harder and better work.

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