When Chris Kempczinski was appointed the new CEO of McDonald’s in November 2019, the first thing he did was to send out a heartwarming email to all his employees. The mail started off with ‘I am particularly fortunate to be surrounded by such a talented team’ and ended with ‘Thank you for your commitment to McDonald's and for all you do every day, across more than 100 markets, to drive us forward and help us reach our incredible potential.’
Great leaders like Chris would vouch for the role recognition plays in driving employee motivation and the overall employee experience. We set out to prove this correlation - by understanding the fabric of employee experience and how recognition fits into it, using popular employee experience models.
Weaving Recognition into Employee Experience
Leveraging Technology for Social Recognition
The ‘Designing employee experience’ report by the IBM Institute for Business Value sorts employee experiences into three different spheres. The social sphere consists of employee interactions with their peers, the work sphere consists of interactions with their work-tasks and the physical sphere consists of interactions with their physical surroundings.
When employees conduct work that requires collaboration with other employees - their social spheres intersect the work spheres. Employee ‘social platforms’ use technology to publish, document and retrieve work discussions easily - facilitating this intersection. (See Fig. 1) As per Capterra listings, about 50% of these employee social platforms available in the market have ‘social recognition’ as a key feature.
The report further lists the five strategies to improve employee experience, namely - personalisation, transparency, simplicity, authenticity, and responsiveness.
Interestingly, ‘Social recognition’ - with the use of technology - facilitates each of these strategies.
- It is personalised owing to a range of recognition modes - like peer-to-peer, instant, or value-based.
- It is transparent because it is presented in front of a virtual company town hall that consists of the entire organisation.
- It is simple because it is as easy as posting on social media.
- It is authentic because it comes from people who have experienced the reason for recognition.
- It is responsive because it is a technique of positive reinforcement that conveys ‘you are doing a good job and keep doing it’.
Role of Recognition in the ‘Purpose Economy’
PwC’s employee experience model is based on Aaron Hurst’s definition of Purpose Economy. The study states that the new era of work - the fourth industrial revolution - transforms the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) from ‘employee engagement’ to ‘a personal sense of purpose and meaning for employees’.
What does this ‘sense of purpose and meaning’ mean and how does it impact the employer?
The report goes on to explain that this ‘sense of purpose’ has three parts to it -
- A sense of belonging and connection to others
- Ability to make an impact
- Opportunities to achieve personal growth
Employers can help create the ambience for this ‘sense of purpose’ - by giving employees opportunities to collaborate, clarity on goals and feedback on how well they are progressing towards it.
How is recognition tied with this ‘sense of purpose’?
While the employees themselves hold the key to most of the fulfilment they shall achieve in their role, ‘recognition’ is one lever that the organisation can control. For instance:
- Organisations can recognise ‘behaviors that promote relationships and growth’ to help modify the purpose-led culture.
- ‘Recognizing individuals for a job well done’ can promote ‘a sense of belonging and connection to others’.
- ‘Rewarding/recognising delivery of results as well as efforts’ affirms the employee’s ‘ability to make an impact’ on the organisational goals.
How recognition helps create a positive work environment
Deloitte uses design thinking to define, rather re-define, employee experience. In their report ‘Reimagine and craft employee experience’, they’ve used the design-thinking framework to craft employee experience for ‘higher engagement, satisfaction and strategic alignment’.
Using this framework, Bersin by Deloitte developed The Simply Irresistible Organization™ model that defines the ‘irresistible employee experience’.
This model has ‘Meaningful work’, ‘Supportive management’, ‘Positive work environment’, ‘Growth opportunity’ and ‘Trust in leadership’ as its pillars - overlaid with ‘Collaboration and connection’. (See Fig 2.)
Panning into the Positive work environment pillar, Bersin identifies ‘culture of recognition’ as one of its four components - others being ‘flexible work environment’, ‘humanistic workplace’ and ‘fair, inclusive, diverse work environment’.
Looking closely, recognition even helps create a ‘humanistic workplace’ by providing avenues for employees to appreciate each other's efforts and create bonds. Recognition also helps make workplaces ‘fair’, by giving opportunities to appreciate good work - irrespective of the ‘who’ and ‘what’ of it.
Implementing a High Impact Employee Recognition Plan
A dearer recognition does not make it the better recognition. Gallup’s study on employee recognition states that honest, authentic and individualized recognition renders the best value. If a recognition fits this bill, its monetary value becomes trivial - this kind of recognition can even be as small as a thank-you note. The trick is to make this recognition an employee moment that matters.
Who should give the recognition?
In a recent workplace survey, employees claimed that the most memorable recognition comes from their manager (28%), followed by the C-suite (24%), their boss’s boss (12%), customers (10%) and peers (9%) - shedding light on how even the C-suite should get busy ‘Recognising’.
How should the recognition be given?
During the same survey, employees list the following as the most impactful of recognition modes.
- Public recognition that includes an award or a certificate
- Private one-on-one recognition from the boss, peers or customers
- Performance-based recognition
- Promotions or increase in job responsibilities
- Monetary awards (Note that this is the last of the options)
What should the frequency of this recognition be?
Recognition that is frequent, as frequently as once in seven days is recommended by the experts. This timeliness conveys the significance of employee achievement and helps reinforce values that the organisation wants to drive. If this frequency seems implausible, it can be modulated by introducing weekly contests or performance drives. Technology can help automating the recognition process for these performance based achievements.
Not achieving this frequency benchmark is venial - but what’s cardinal is to never, ever miss recognising a significant employee milestone.
When should employees be recognised?
The recognition strategy should be carefully congruent with the purpose, brand and culture of the company. The recognition process should have an inspirational value to it and should work to inspire others.
To sum things up, let us look at a case of how a market leader used recognition to transform their employee experience (social sphere/ sense of connection).
HRs of Luminous India wanted to nurture the culture of collaboration to avoid departmental silos - so as to remain agile to dynamic market demands. They created cross departmental peer-to-peer recognitions and drove it across the organisation. This initiative thrived - the employees reinforced their collaboration efforts and celebrated achievements together. The success of this initiative is also attributed to how it aligned with what each of them believed Luminous was - a lean, high-performing and humane company.