The Evolution of Recognition

I'd love it if someone would write the history of the recognition industry.

If they did, it would have to come from two completely different aspects.

The first, would be from the perspective of Academics and OD types who realized that recognition played a key role in a person's individual well being and collectively, to the well being of an organization.

The second would be from the perspective of companies supplying recognition and reward programs. Many of these suppliers got into the business because they were seeking an outlet for their manufactured products.

I confess that my company was no different... we were a manufacturer of emblematic jewelry and corporate award programs were a great outlet for our products.

I think there was and still is a wide gulf between the two groups and is reflected by the fact that over 90% of corporations have recognition programs yet 60% of employees don't feel recognized.

There has been far too much focus on the material and not enough on the ethereal.

Fortunately people are starting to connect the dots. People like my colleague Roy Saunderson of the Recognition Management Institute and Christophe Laval of VPHR are teaching people that recognition is about feelings and emotions.

I'd love it if someone would write the history of the recognition industry.

Thanks for the Endorsement. But Am I Obligated to Endorse You Back?

I am really tickled pink so many people have been endorsing me lately on LinkedIn.
A few are close colleagues and friends I work with and I appreciate them for their gesture. Some of these endorsers haven’t seen me in forever; a few are simply connections of connections; and others I do question if they really know exactly what I do. There’s no doubt it has probably been a while since many of us have connected in person...if ever!
If I understand correctly how LinkedIn is functioning, first, you are notified you have a new endorsement. That seems pretty cool!
LinkedIn then cues you up with the idea of paying it forward. A populated feed shows up of several of your followers and asks you if each individual knows about “marketing”, or whatever expertise, drawn from their profile content.
What seemed like a nice gesture from an individual now has a system with rule bound logic that can make you feel guilty if you don’t reciprocate right away.
An endorsement used to be a big deal to receive someone’s approval and sanctioning of your work. Yes, occasionally you would solicit such endorsements and you knew how important it was to be so respectful of the relationship you had created and the value implied by having someone give their endorsement for personal, marketing, political or whatever significant purpose.
Are we perhaps trivializing the term “endorsement” by making it just one click away? Are gamification rules pushing us to do things we wouldn’t normally do on a regular basis?
Let’s not minimize the value attributed to important words and special actions.
Q: Why do you endorse certain individuals over others?

Please Connect the Dots for People

Our kids loved doing those join the dots coloring books when they were young.
You’ve seen the books I’m sure. By following the numbers and drawing a line between each consecutive dot you gradually see what the object is right before your eyes.
Employees are just big kids when it comes to recognition and they want you to help them join the dots.
Our research in effective expressing of recognition clearly shows employees want to know two things about what they are being recognized for:
1. First, is simply to tell the person specifically what they have done that they are being recognized for.
2. And second, is to tell them specifically how their actions made a difference to you, their peers, a customer, or to the company.
They want to know the line of sight of how what they did made an impact towards the business or goals of the organization.
And they want to know that they matter to you.
Now go join the dots between some recognition and the impact someone has made.
Q: How do you join the dots for employees between recognition and performance?

What If Playing The Game Is Just As Important As Winning It?

That question was partially asked in a Seth Godin’s blog and it made me wonder about employee recognition of course!
Do we get so caught up with winning as we play the game of life and work that we feel we have to be recognized all the time?
These days recognition, incentives and reward programs are having the rules of gamification heavily applied to them to induce and influence people’s participation and achievement. From badges to bling to leader boards, the very act of acknowledging people is getting behaviorally conditioned versus letting it be the right thing to do.
Remember playing a game of Monopoly with family or friends that lasted for hours? Half the fun was being together. There was always the competitive spirit and underlying negotiations to try and win, of course. Strategy ensued on what properties to buy and what to invest in. Time then ended, Monopoly money was all spent up and ultimately a winner was declared.
But we all enjoyed playing the game. No one ever worried about who was second, third or whatever.
It was the game we enjoyed and not the gamification…not the winning.
We enjoyed the camaraderie. The unknown suspense of where the top hat was going to land. There was also the luck of the draw and the elements of surprise and choice with no manipulated outcome.
Let’s appreciate the real value of life and the work we are privileged to do. Stop and consider the amazing colleagues and friends you get to share your work with. Breathe in the gifts that others give you with their time, service and kindness.
Play the game well.
Q: Are you enjoying the game of work and life or are you too caught up in winning?

Do You Have Employee Mercenaries or Patriots?

I believe there are two types of employees... those who I categorize as "mercenaries" and those who I call "patriots."

Which do you have?

Because the choice is entirely up to you... if you or your senior management think all your employees care about is cold hard cash you most likely will have a lot of mercenaries.

The problem with these folks is they have a bad habit of quitting the company if someone offers them more money.

Perhaps even worse, is when employee mercenaries stay with your company but disengage when they feel you don't pay them enough!

Great companies hire employee patriots who realize that employees want much more than cash. They want the opportunity to do exciting work, to feel part of a team, to develop and advance and to be recognized for who they are and what they do each and every day.

Employee patriots aren't just there for the money and they are truly committed.

The above photo is of President George Washington crossing the delaware. Who was the other President in the boat?

You Can’t Recognize All of the People All of the Time

You are only one person.
Hard as you might try, you’re going to miss acknowledging, thanking, praising and appreciating all of the wonderful people around you who do those amazing things you admire and which make a difference in your life and the lives of people around you.
But you can be a great recognizer all of the time even if you don’t get to recognize all of the people all of the time.
A great appreciator of life looks at people’s worth, their contributions and even their potential every day - 24/7. The joy is in the capturing and relishing of those moments and striving to share your observations with one person at a time.
You can always be respectful to everyone you meet, greet or interact with in person or via technology. It’s addressing people by name whether face-to-face or in writing and dignifying that person by how you treat them.
It is carefully listening to those you love at home and at work and discerning the little things that tell you how a person is really doing even when they don’t share it with you, and lightening their load or expressing genuine concern.
Time is so precious, yet when we stop to count our blessings by looking at the people we work with there are so many to be thankful for that it is worth making the time to call a few people or dropping them a quick line to express our thanks or a note of encouragement.
Perhaps you have thanked all the people you could yesterday and do so today and tomorrow. Be grateful for your attitude to appreciate everyone you can. Be willing to step up to the plate and do something and not be idle by not thanking people. Be courageous and make it a daily habit to sincerely acknowledge all you can around you.
You will definitely miss some people. But those you missed will know you care and still appreciate them because they have felt your recognition on days before.
You are only one person.
And you will have at least recognized some of the people all of the time.
Q: Why is it so important to have the right mindset with being a giver of recognition?

A Little Awareness, Please, For Appreciation and Compliments

Two amazing events converge today for a recognition encounter you won’t want to miss.
The first Friday in March every year is always deemed in North America as Employee Appreciation Day. It seems Employee Appreciation Day has been on our calendars since 1995 and was sponsored through Recognition Professionals International.
And across the Atlantic, Hans Poortvliet, initiated National Compliment Day in the Netherlands on March 1st for 10 years and now boldly proclaims it as World Compliment Day to appropriately compliment everyone we know at work, home or play. Poortvliet suggests, "Nothing stimulates more, gives more energy, makes people happier and, as far as business is concerned, increases productivity and commitment faster than sincere appreciation. So why not use it a little bit more?"

But Paul Hebert challenges these calendared days each year.
He raises a flag of concern to the point that we should boycott these kinds of one-off calendar days. If we think all we have to do is appreciate our employees on just one day of the year then we’ve got it all wrong. We will actually, as Paul suggests, be diminishing the value of the people we associate and work with.
I can see where Paul is coming from. My response to Paul was these calendared reminder days should cue us to increase our awareness of the importance of giving everyone we work with the appreciation, compliments and praise they deserve, each and every day not just on one day alone.
While these two events collide on the same day, please make appreciating and complimenting people a way of life for you every day.
Q: What do you think of calendared days that remind you of certain individuals or groups one day a year?

What Makes A Recognition Expert?

All too often I have attended industry conferences and seen many so called "recognition and reward experts."

Scratch a bit deeper and the veneer comes off! I don't mean to demean, but there are a lot of people out there who are "reward" experts but they sure aren't "recognition" experts.
Recognition and rewards are very different things.

Rewards are material things. Cold hard cash, merchandise, gift cards are all examples of rewards. They are easily understood because they cost a certain amount and are distributed a certain way. There are a lot of reward experts.

Recognition on the other hand, is a feeling, an emotion. It is not easily quantified... ever try measuring how deeply you love your wife? In many cases it is not easily distributed or given.
So how do you determine whether you are speaking to a recognition or reward expert? It’s relatively simple.

  • Ask what trade organizations the person belongs to.
  • Are these organizations focused on products or on the art and science of recognition?
  • Do they have a professional certification? For instance, have they taken Recognition Professionals International "Certified Recognition Professional" (CRP) course?
  • When they speak to you, is it about product and delivery or about emotions?
Remember, just because you give someone a gold watch, doesn't mean you have recognized them!
All too often I have attended industry conferences and seen many so called recognition and reward experts.

How Many Recognition Programs Do You Really Need?

You’ll be amazed what goes on in some organizations.
When I am helping companies get alignment of their recognition practices and programs with their people and business strategies, I discover deep, dark secrets about recognition.
They have lots of recognition programs.
Yes, they have many recognition and reward programs in existence across the company. The leaders and HR folks either didn’t know they existed or just threw up their hands about them and let them run wild.
I have witnessed companies with over a hundred recognition programs running rampant. Rarely is there a companywide recognition strategy driving these programs, no clear objectives for each program to achieve, and questionable proof or impact on employee engagement and performance results.
And no one is holding the owners of these programs accountable to make sure they really deliver what they are supposed to do – meaningful recognition and results.
You likely will not need a hundred recognition programs and you probably won’t need just one program either.
Let me give you some magic numbers to point you towards knowing how many programs you really need in your company.
You need ONE Recognition Strategy that clearly articulates what recognition means to the leaders of your company so everyone is on the same page, and it has to spell out the purpose of recognition – the grand WHY – so everyone knows how to use recognition the right way. This strategy will steer you on the right path and you can vet any programs you’re considering against your strategy document.
You will also need TWO areas of recognition to concentrate on within a written Recognition Plan of action. First, must be Recognition Practices (or the processes and principles you’ll live by that make recognition happen), and then comes Recognition Programs – not the other way around!
Here’s a key hint: You only need the right number of programs essential to helping your managers and employees deliver the best recognition experiences to as many employees as possible.
Remember practices come first and programs are simply a tool for people to facilitate recognition giving. People give recognition to other people, not programs.
Looks like your Recognition Plan is going to need THREE core goal areas consisting of Focus Points, Implementation Objectives, and of course, Outcomes. Again, these will highlight the core practices as well as the programs you feel you need to focus on. Figure out how to integrate recognition into every part of your business operations and leadership practices.
Ask yourself: Where do we need to focus our efforts on to recognize better? What will it take to change the way we give recognition? How will we know we are doing better?
Only then can you properly design the recognition programs you need. Recognition programs typically fall under one of FOUR types that are most prevalent, which are:
1. Acknowledging Contributions Programs: Can be the frequently used tenure or length of service recognition gifts that allow companies to take time out to acknowledge all the many contributions employees have made over time and the varied means of celebrating individual retirement.
2. Performance Focused Programs: These are aimed at individuals or teams that reach sales or business performance milestones or perform essential activities like safety. Managers are usually in charge of these programs and bestow points redeemable for gifts, cash awards, gift cards, non-monetary gifts, certificates, or level based awards with some form of tangible item or another.
3. Recognizing People Programs: Are peer-to-peer, as well as managers to employees, who can simply use social recognition platforms, send portal managed eCards, certificates, and handwritten thank you notes to express appreciation to colleagues who live the corporate values and demonstrate exemplary behaviors.
4. Celebrating Results Programs: Companies use grand celebration events to highlight the best of the best employees for reaching top performance levels in designated achievement areas with senior leaders present to congratulate winners and set the standard of excellence for others to follow. Prestigious awards are given with tangible gifts, cash or experiential awards with the events often held at exotic or upscale locations.
Are you thinking you need programs from one or more type of recognition program? Do the different categories stimulate ideas of programs you hadn’t considered before?
There is no silver bullet answer for how many recognition and reward programs you should have. But if you follow the four steps above and examine the four types of programs available, I think you will can narrow down how many recognition programs you really need because you have first answered the grandest of all questions first.
Q: What’s your guide for determining the right number of recognition programs?


The Most Powerful Recognition Tool in the World

In World at Work’s Trends in Employee Recognition 2008 survey, it was found that nearly 90% companies in North America have recognition programs. Yet, according to research by Gallup, only 35% of people surveyed said they received recognition for good work in the last year. Why is there such a huge gap?

I believe most companies place far too much emphasis on “rewards” and far too little “real recognition.”

I live in Montreal, a wonderful multi-cultural and multi-lingual city (great food too!). Our local newspaper, The Gazette, is currently running an ad campaign to boost circulation and readership. Their full page ads feature lots of white space and the simple slogan “Words Matter.”

I couldn’t agree more… especially in the recognition business.

Words are the most powerful recognition tool in the world. If spoken from the heart, they can inspire us, lift us up and take us to a higher place.

In my opinion, it's not about “what” you give... it's about “how” you give it! And words play a huge role in the “how”!

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