The employee incentive and recognition industry began to form several decades ago with large companies looking for a way to thank loyal employees for their service with items such as gold watches and engraved crystal pieces. Jewelry companies stepped into this role, with some of them developing recognition divisions to accommodate this new business channel. Jewelry and awards selections evolved slowly to include “lifestyle” items like luggage and electronics, which were sold at large markups behind point values, which hid the real dollar values of these gifts. Eventually, simplistic websites were built to allow employees to browse and order rewards, and were often thrown in for free in exchange for promised spend on merchandise.
Over the past few years, the landscape has changed drastically, and the industry has come around to embracing a technology-first mentality. Today, more than one in three workers are millennials, and that number is growing every day. These younger employees grew up on social networks. They take great technology for granted. They crave instant feedback. They don’t want to wait for an annual performance review to hear how they’re doing, and they want to feel that they are a part of an organization that is doing something important or positive in the world.
Most organizations have also realized that it takes more to engage their workforce than a “thank you” once every five years – if employees are even staying that long. Google and Amazon have rendered the practice of hiding marked up reward values with points almost obsolete. They have also introduced the concept of unlimited choice, which makes a catalogue filled with suitcases and last year’s TV models seem even more outdated. And companies are beginning to question what all those points have really bought them.
So, how does your organization bring its recognition program into the digital age?
- Incorporate social elements into your recognition program.Make sure you use a platform that has some way of socializing recognition internally. You don’t have to expose your company to Facebook or Twitter to do so. Just make sure that recognitions are made public where employees can comment on them and encourage others on their achievements.
- Put the power in your employees’ hands. The days of top-down recognition are over. Employees should be empowered to nominate each other for awards and become active agents in building your company’s culture.
- Communicate your culture. The platform should be, first and foremost, a communications tool. It should allow executives and administrators to post information, send emails and even promote some of the more compelling recognition moments. It should also be able to reflect your company’s branding and culture within the design and content.
- Don’t obsess over points and “stuff.” It’s nice to get a gift every now and then, but more important are questions like “How does your platform encourage frequent participation?” or “How can your programs help reinforce our core values?” These are the important aspects of any quality recognition program.
- Remember the business purpose. You’re starting a recognition program to increase employee engagement and improve company culture, but you should also be able to get business value from it. Make sure to take a good look at the reporting available, as well as the company’s expertise in the area. There are a lot of new venture capital-backed startups that are building some nice-looking websites with no real engines behind them to collect and analyze data, and little means of helping their clients understand what that data means.
Software will never replace the human side of management and recognition, but especially for larger organizations, it can help to facilitate interactions that might not otherwise happen. It’s time to lose the luggage, embrace these tools, and incorporate them in a way that benefits your organization’s culture and, ultimately, its bottom line.