Recognition Programs - Do They Make Employees the Brand Ambassadors of the Organization?

Added: Jul 01, 2014 UTC
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A kid looks for recognition from her loved mother. A pupil expects her teacher to praise her in front of the classmates. A sophomore wants his professor to acknowledge her achievement to her parents. A junior employee wants her boss to clap for her special performance. Who does not desire recognition in this world? Of course, everyone other than the saints.

Recognition is a genetically coded and a psychological need of every human being. This need manifests in different manners in varying degrees at different stages of life. Recognition fundamentally serves three purposes. One, it reinforces the action or the behavior or the achievement and consequently motivates the recipient. Second, it helps in enhancing the self-image of the recipient. Third, it acknowledges the existence, validity, or legality of something.

The management of human resources in the business organizations in the post-world-war II era has moved away from 'control-orientation' to 'enabling-orientation'. The formal recognition programs are unquestionably a much-desired piece of this 'enabling-orientation'.

I clarify that I do not intend to give guidelines for developing a good recognition program because my fellow HR Professionals are well qualified to do that. Nevertheless, I do intend to highlight that 'one-size-fits-all' approach in the recognition program is actually an antithesis. It is necessary that the recognition programs are flexible enough to accommodate every instance that deserves applause.

In addition, the design of the recognition programs requires an alignment to the organization's values and year-on-year business objectives. This implies that with every major shift in the business priorities, the recognition program needs realignment.

Nevertheless, for the starters in the HR profession let me give a brief run-down.

A good recognition program typically has four components. They are objectives, scope & eligibility criteria, decision-making process, and implementation & review process.

For the approved recognition program, adequate financial allocations are required in the HR budget. Further, it is always useful to have a dipstick survey for getting the employees' inputs while designing the program. A good recognition program is one that the staff perceive as 'fair'. A proper and prior communication is always beneficial; however, it does not take away the need for the 'wow' surprises. Concisely, the best recognition program is one, which gives a 'feel' to the staff that 'she got what she deserved'.

Some of the special recognizable areas are excellent teamwork, stretched or exceptional performances, customer delight, special educational or professional accreditation, unusual thinking or ideation, creative or innovative work, unexpected leadership from a junior staff member, etc.

A word of caution however. The staff cannot get special recognition for her basic job behaviors. She is already getting remuneration for the same. In addition, the special bonus given en masse for the organization's specific achievements is not a qualified recognition because it does not distinguish the individual performances.

Let me now come back to what I want to partake.

While the HR pros design recognition programs with an alignment to the organization's values and business priorities, such programs get often reduced to a formality for the want of leadership's conviction in the power of recognition. In many instances, the so-called 'self-made' leaders believe that unless people are motivated intrinsically, no recognition can serve its purpose.

One must remember that 'what gets rewarded gets reinforced' and recognition by the organization is surely an extrinsic motivation. The intrinsic motivation starts playing its role generally after the employee reaches the midpoint of her career. Therefore, the extrinsic motivation has its due place & importance. The leaders had better admit this reality.

Let me now elaborate a bit on what I call an 'adaptable recognition program'.

If the recognition is for an individual achievement, then the type of recognition can take into account the member's age, job level, current compensation, cultural background and her known predispositions. When the recognition's design is tailor-made as suggested, then it serves the purpose more effectively regardless of the cost.

If the recognition is for the member's contribution to a team-task, then the type of recognition can be identical for team members, irrespective of their positions. In addition, team recognition requires pre-announcement to clarify the expectations upfront. Yet, the perceived value of the recognition is much more when the management puts an unannounced 'icing on the cake' for an extraordinary achievement of the team.

If the recognition is for the unplanned but very critical performance, the recognition generally will be extemporaneous. However, it is always useful to make sure that recognition given does not set a precedent that is difficult to sustain. This is the main danger in an impromptu recognition because when the employee delivers an unplanned but critical performance, emotions run high, logic goes in the hiding, and decisions turn more emotional than rational.

If the two member are given a special tough task, but with substantial role differentiation, then the recognition can also be different. However, it is again useful to reemphasize that the prior declaration is always useful as it helps in avoiding the heartburns.

Ironically, in many instances the HR Pro forgets that the team has a few female members also. This forgetfulness causes an embarrassment when the female member receives a male-specific reward. With female members in the team, the type of recognition has to be gender-specific or gender-neutral.

The value of the recognition gets super-enhanced, when the staff receives it publicly and that too from the top leadership. Further, when the recognized performance is worth emulating across the organization, all communication channels should carry the flash at the earliest. This is also a good way to convey to staff member at large about the organization's expectations.

One of the most critical, but often overlooked elements in the recognition program is the 'immediacy'. It means the time gap between the actual performance and the giving-away of the recognition. This error is the result of either the lack of priority or non-availability of the concerned senior people or oversight by the HR Pro. The law of diminishing return suggests that, as the 'immediacy' gap increases, the perceived value of the recognition diminishes.

The recognition can have three distinct forms and not two as conventionally known. They are; 'Direct monetary', 'Indirect monetary', and 'kind'. 'Direct monetary' means cash receipt, 'Indirect monetary' is a recognition that has a high opportunity cost for the staff member, and 'Kind' is self-explanatory.

When I was typing this article, I received a Face book message from a dear friend, who works with a leading multinational company in India. He shared that he had recently participated in a Leadership Development Program at a reputed institute in Singapore and now the company has nominated him to a course in Harvard.

This is what I exactly mean by the term 'Indirect monetary'. Imagine the power of such recognition! Fancy that a CEO is inviting a worker & her family for a five-star dinner as a special recognition of her performance. What an impact such a gesture would make? Huge.

In the end, I unhesitatingly advocate that the recognition in any form should never have any linkage with the recipient staff member' continued association with the organization. Such a linkage is nothing but a sophisticated form of the 'bonded labor'. Whether the staff continues or not, she turns the organization's permanent brand ambassador the moment she receives the recognition.

After all, Oscar is the most coveted accolade for the film fraternity. Winning aside, mere nomination to the Oscars in itself is a special acknowledgement. Cannot we conceive and design an 'Oscar' like recognition programs?


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