Executive Buy-In Essential & Necessary for Culture Change

Continuing the conversation on the importance of executive buy-in, you cannot expect to change the fundamental culture of your organization unless that change is seen as needed by your CEO and then promoted through actions and words by the CEO directly. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal discussed just this topic:

A study of 30 large corporations done during the past five years by Senn Delaney shows that a program of cultural change led from the top and encompassing every part of the organization can "deliver huge cost savings, improve performance and boost profitability."

In the report, John Roberts, chief executive officer in 1999 of United Utilities PLC of Warrington, England, says: "I saw my role as chief executive being about getting the very best people at the highest level and letting them get on with it, not telling them how to do their job.” …

Chris Roebuck, a visiting professor of transformational leadership at Cass Business School in London, says: "In the right culture, people believe in the organization, in their land manager, and therefore help them perform as much as possible, they think they are valued by the organization, both employers and workers are gaining mutual benefit.”
When employees feel there are valued by the organization and believe in the organization, they will do the right thing. The upscale American department store, Nordstrom, epitomized the truth of this. As the late founder, James Nordstrom was quoted as saying:

“People work hard when they are given the freedom to do the job the way they think it should be done, when they can treat customers the way they like to be treated. When you start taking away their incentive and start given them rules, boom, you’ve killed their creativity.”

This CEO attitude – promotion of a culture of trust to do the right thing – played out in two simple rules for store employees:
1) In all situations, use your good judgment.
2) In other situations, refer back to the first rule.

Have you attempted culture change with executive buy-in? How successful was the effort? Tell me about initiatives in your organization spearheaded by the CEO. What was different in how the effort played out over time?

Why You Must Secure Executive Sponsorship for Strategic Recognition

Securing executive sponsorship is one of our five tenets for strategic employee recognition, but not one I blog about frequently enough. So this week I’m focusing my blog posts on the importance of executive sponsorship, kicking off with an excellent article by Judy McLeish in Engagement Strategies Magazine.

“Employee Engagement is an employee’s psychological and emotional connection with their job, which influences both their loyalty and performance. The definition seems logical enough. So how hard can it be to foster an environment where employees want “to stay; say positive things; and use their discretionary effort to benefit a company”? …

“I believe that this traditional approach on solving for the “whole” has caused companies to brush over those that have the greatest impact on engagement: themselves – in other words, senior leaders and managers. After all, it’s the leader who has to drive engagement, the leader who has to understand how to engage his/her staff, and the leader who has to show progress and motivate change. It’s the engagement of these leaders and managers that companies rely on to move the needle. Yet, according to Development Dimensions International, only 25% of senior leaders and 17% of frontline leaders are highly engaged. No wonder companies are having a difficult time making progress.

“To reap the full benefits of engagement, companies must first engage those that lead the effort. The old adage holds true: “one bad apple can ruin the bunch.” If you have one leader who is actively disengaged, then this leader (according to Gallup) is three times more likely to have disengaged employees working for them. So if this traditional approach of creating company-wide engagement initiatives isn’t delivering the expected results, what should a company do differently? …

Start by engaging your senior leadership team. We have heard it all before: “It’s not the senior leaders who engage employees it’s the frontline managers.” Wrong…it’s every leader at every level of the organization, and it starts in the Executive Suite. Unless all executives believe in and want to foster engagement, there will be no engagement.”

Judy strikes to the heart of the matter in this piece, which I think needs no further embellishment from me. I’ve addressed it before in a discussion about holding managers responsible for engagement. Are you having a difficult time making progress with your employee engagement efforts? What are you doing to secure executive sponsorship

Employee Alignment with New Objectives in the Recovery

The recession forced many companies to assess the course of their company and adjust their strategic objectives for the new economic reality. But how many of your employees know what those new objectives are? Critically, if they do know the new objectives, do they understand how that change in direction may also affect what and how they should be doing in their everyday work?

As I’ve written before, recent studies show 32% doubt there is even a plan for their business. Only 27% feel they know how to face the challenges of 2010. The cover story of a recent issue of Human Resource Executive addressed this point as well:

“To make matters worse, employees at many organizations are ill-prepared to carry out the new business strategies CEOs and their executive committees are now working so hard to develop. Experts who have studied the situation say that, in recession-altered workplaces, employees are often adrift, without well-defined roles or managers who know exactly how those new strategies should be executed.”
One of the strongest, most positive, and most effective ways of communicating your objectives to all employees is through the work. Reinforce for employees in their daily tasks when they help achieve your strategic objectives while demonstrating your company values. The good news is HR professionals seem to be using this strategy. From People Management:

“Employers are reviewing their reward policies to make them more strategic and performance related in the wake of the recession, the CIPD’s annual Reward Management survey has found. Asked their priorities for the coming year, just over half (52 per cent) of the 800 reward professionals surveyed cited the need to align incentives with corporate strategy.”

The importance of recognition to employees was further highlighted by the Corporate Executive Board (also from the Human Resources Executive article)

“Research by the Corporate Executive Board found that some of the top drivers of employee commitment have shifted significantly. As the recession has limited opportunities for development, workers have come to consider other things more important, particularly individual recognition. According to the study, employee desire for recognition jumped 15 percent from October 2008 to March 2009.”

If employees desire recognition, which is also a powerful means to foster alignment with your strategic objectives, why wouldn’t you pursue strategic recognition to achieve your goals in the recovery?

The Opportunity to Create a New Culture in M&A

Another reality of the recovery is continuing mergers and acquisitions, especially on a global scale. As discussed in a recent Workspan magazine cover story:

“According to a KPMG study, 'Eighty-three percent of all mergers and acquisitions [M&As] failed to produce any benefit for the shareholders and over half actually destroyed value.' Interviews of more than 100 senior executives involved in these 700 deals during a two-year period revealed that the overwhelming cause for failure 'is the people and the cultural differences.' Difficulties encountered in M&As are amplified in cross-cultural situations, when the companies involved are from more than one country. …

“Companies routinely underestimate the value of integrating cultures and its stickiness. Increasingly companies have realized the folly of this approach. Low morale, resignations, unionization, expensive retention Band-Aids, political infighting and outright conflict lead to a sapping of energy and an inward focus rather than competing in the market. …"

Merging companies requires merging company cultures as well as bridging the geographic cultures in global acquisitions. In some M&As, this may involve new geographic cultures never before encountered, which creates potential for serious cultural gaffes and misunderstandings.

I’ve written before on five steps to unite company cultures and goals on acquisitions. But in geographic cross-cultural M&A scenarios, it’s just as important to create and offer a single “language” of recognition that communicates consistently and clearly to all employees, from both original organizations, the company values and objectives.

Use a merger or acquisition as an opportunity to launch a new culture of recognition for all employees.

To Boost Productivity, Cast a Vision that Gives Personal Meaning & Purpose

As the economic recovery continues, employers remain reluctant to hire new staff. Yet productivity has risen for five straight quarters as employers cut costs through layoffs. But can productivity continue to grow to meet new demand without new employees and with current employees who are battered and beaten down after the last year? As Stefan Stern said in the Financial Times:

“Employees cannot be battered into producing more. They have to be persuaded. That persuasion can be forceful and urgent. But it will also have to make sense. So managers need to be able to tell a convincing story about the future.”

In addition to casting a vision for the future, you also need to clearly and frequently communicate with employees on how they can help you achieve that vision. Doing so not only aligns employees and their efforts with your objectives, it also boosts their productivity.

In an article on motivating employees at Knowledge@Wharton, management professor Adam Grant says of his recent research on the topic:

“Employees who know how their work has a meaningful, positive impact on others are not just happier than those who don’t; they are vastly more productive, too.”

All employees want is to know that what they do matters, that THEY matter. And they want to be told that personally. Overcoming the barriers to interpersonal relationships created by our highly technological workforce is a challenge, as noted by Mr. Grant. This IS where strategic employee recognition plays a fundamental role by encouraging frequent, personal acknowledgment and appreciation of employee effort in a highly specific and meaningful way. This goes beyond a simple, "Thanks. Great work." to say instead: "Joe, I really appreciate the way you tackled XYZ problem. Not only did you help me get my job done more easily, but you demonstrated true integrity in how you handled a tricky situation and in the process contributed to us achieving our 25% customer satisfaction improvement goal."

Now that kind of personal, specific, meaningful recognition can powerfully impact the entire culture of an organization.

Don’t Complicate the Simplicity of Recognition for All

Continuing on the theme of what you should avoid as you take on a Recognition Resolution, be sure not to complicate the simplicity of recognition. When making recognition available to all, which we’ve seen is most effective with peer to peer recognition, always keep clearly in mind who your power users are and remember they are far outnumbered by your casual users.

In a recent post to his excellent HR Technology blog, Steve Boese spoke well on this when discussing the new Apple iPad and the likely response from users. His points translate well to strategic recognition programs, too.

“In the enterprise of say 10,000 people that are the planned users of workforce technology (e.g. a performance management system), maybe 100 or so people could be placed in the category of 'power users'. They need the most advanced functionality, can adapt to a less than intuitive design, and often are willing to spend long periods of time learning how to use the technology.

“The other 9,900 or so people are 'casual users'. Ease of use, simplicity, clear workflows and speed in which tasks can be completed are of primary importance. Use of workforce technologies are almost never their 'job', they are meant to be compliments to help them perform their jobs better. They technologies can't be seen as a burden, time suck, and require lengthy and frequent pauses to ask for assistance in their use. And the power users probably can't help all of them anyway, there are simply too many of them to effectively serve.”

In terms of strategic recognition programs, the power users need the additional components of reporting dashboards, approval processes, and systems integration. The vast majority of casual users, however, just need to know they can quickly and easily tell their colleagues how valuable and appreciated their efforts are. They don’t need the details of approval process, just the knowledge that their own manager will also see the praise they may receive.

Just like with the Apple iPad, easy-to-use, intuitive recognition technology is never simplistic. It just seems that way.

Recognition * More than Just Appreciation

Many mistakenly think that recognition is only about expressing appreciation – telling someone thank you and moving on. In reality, recognition is about far more and, when applied strategically as in peer-to-peer recognition programs, it encourages teamwork and builds chemistry.

Kris Dunn, the HR Capitalist, wrote well about this, keying off this basketball highlights video:

“For those of you that don't know the culture of basketball, it's now common and customary for teammates to come up after a free throw and give the shooter a high/low five before he shoots his second shot.

“Let's look at what Bogut [the shooter] did. His team (the Bucks) are in the dramatic minority in that the two teammates on the side of the lane did not come up to encourage him after the first shot. I'm guessing Bogut is used to this, because instead of staying on the line, he comes forward and is either trying to give himself encouragement or is mocking the fact that his teammates won't give him encouragement that has become customary at the college and pro level. Get with the program, he seems to be saying. Either way, it's bad.

“Is there any doubt after viewing that the Bucks are in decline as a team? If they refuse this level of chemistry, what happens when teamwork and chemistry is really required?

“Small recognitions in the day-to-day workplace. It's not always about recognition, sometimes it's about encouragement and chemistry.”

I admit I don’t know the culture of basketball as well as Mr. Dunn. But I do know the power of a culture of recognition. Frequent recognition of the efforts of our teammates and colleagues that make our jobs easier and help us all succeed builds such a powerful culture.

Thoughtless Rewards & Methodologies * Bad Recognition Practices

A week ago on Employee Appreciation Day, I issued a challenge to make recognition an ongoing effort and not a once or twice a year affair. With that in mind, let me offer you a few more cautionary tales on how not to recognize as you make recognition part of every day. Two common ways to wreck recognition is with thoughtless rewards and thoughtless methodologies.

1) Thoughtless Rewards: If people on your team have achieved something truly worthy of recognition and reward, don’t ruin the experience by assuming you know the tastes and desires of all employees equally. This story from the Fistful of Talent blog illustrates my point perfectly. Marisa Keegan tells the story of her brother and his team members who were recognized equally (but not appropriately) for successfully completing a very profitable project. All team members received an iPod from the manager. Marisa’s brother turned to his interpreter and signed, “Are you freaking kidding me?” As Marisa writes: “Who gives a deaf guy an iPod?”

I’ll tell you who as I’ve seen this many times before – a manager who doesn’t want to put the effort into considering the unique preferences of his employees (or leaving the choice up to them) or who wants to be sure the awards are always equal. The thought process goes something like this: “I want to be sure nobody feels like I’ve shown favoritism to someone on the team, so I’ll give them all iPods. Sure, Tom can’t use his, but I’m sure he knows someone he can give it to. Or he can always sell it on eBay.” Laziness or, at best, a lack of training resulted in a talented, highly valued employee looking for a new job.

2) Thoughtless Methodologies: Recognizing and rewarding people for base expectations in the workplace does nothing but demean the value of recognition. A good example is attendance incentives in which employees who miss zero days of work receive bonus pay. Justification for this methodology is: “We expect everybody to come to work every day, but we understand it’s an achievement to do that, so we like to reward that.” (Direct quote from HR manager)

All you’re encouraging with this kind of approach is employees who come to work sick. This does nothing but increase your presenteeism rates, which is more than seven times more costly to employers than absenteeism. Is this really what you want to be rewarding? Instead, you should be practicing behavior-based recognition that recognizes those actions and behaviors that reflect your company values and contribute to achievement of your strategic objectives.

What other thoughtless recognition practices have you seen, or worse, experienced?

Understanding the Difference between Engagement and Satisfaction

Let’s be clear. The terms employee engagement and employee satisfaction are NOT interchangeable. This article is one of the worst examples I’ve seen of the terms being used interchangeably, to great confusion.

Why does this matter? Employees can be quite satisfied with their job, your company and their place in it without ever engaging in the work. Think about it. Have you ever had an employee or colleague who was perfectly satisfied to come to work every day where they could happily surf the web, Facebook with their friends or play computer games? Perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but we all know employees who are satisfied with being left alone in their mediocrity.

Engaged employees, on the other hand, are passionate and alive with the desire to perform well and do so in alignment with your strategic objectives. These are the employees you need to be focused on. These are the employees for whom you need to be creating an environment in which they want to engage for the long-term. Measuring employee engagement with a goal for improving that environment is always worthwhile.

A new book, Engagement: Winning the Battle for Customer and Employee Hearts and Minds, explains why this is important – to both employees and customers:
“We know that emotionally engaged employees feel like they are doing something valuable for their organizations and that their efforts will make a difference. Customers know when they are talking to emotionally engaged employees. The positive feelings that employees have about their jobs and employers influence the level of service they give to customers. When these positive experiences continue to happen, then customers become engaged, and they become advocates for the company’s products and services.”
With this in mind, are you measuring and trying to improve employee satisfaction or employee engagement?

Don’t Ignore the Hidden Power Players

Do you know who the real power players are in your organization? I don’t mean your star salesperson, either. I mean those people who are the “go-to” people when you need to get something done.

Who’s the mid-level associate who always brings the project in on time and under budget, even though he’s not the one ultimately responsible for the project? Who’s the administrative assistant that everyone goes to with this request: “I know it’s not your job to do this, but I really need help. Can you do XYZ for me?” And the answer is always, “Sure. Happy to help.”

Those are your hidden power players. Unfortunately, they are also the ones most frequently forgotten in traditional elitist recognition programs that focus on the top 10% in an organization. Often, their direct managers are unaware of how much help they lend to others outside of their official job descriptions. What happens when they’re not appreciated for their efforts?

This letter sent in to the “What Would Bing Do” column of Bnet is an excellent example of this reality:
“In two years on the job, I’ve done some serious tasks that required trained skills in the administrative area. I make everyone look good to the state. But while they’re making state money, I only get minimum wage — and to top it off, when it’s time for recognition and they receive their little award, there is no mention of my contribution. I feel used and abused and also frustrated. Am I asking too much?”
Bing’s advice to this letter writer was to find another job where she would be appreciated.

Rather than lose your true, if hidden, power players, bring their accomplishments to light through a formal peer-to-peer recognition program that allows anyone to express detailed appreciation for assistance given through a process that alerts the power player’s manager to their excellent contributions as well.

Wisdom on What Not to Do

Last week we looked at various attributes of recognition done well. This week will be a few examples of what recognition is not.

First up, Paul Hebert over at Incentive Intelligence and the i2i blog recently posted a couple of interesting ideas on this topic. First, in a post on the differences between incentives and recognition, Paul made this point:
“Incentive programs do NOT provide motivation. Incentive programs provide direction. Incentive programs provide employees with clues to what you as the sponsor think they should be working on/toward.”
This is an important distinction. Well designed incentives programs can certainly provide clarity for those participating in them on precisely what their short-term goal is. Conversely, after-the-fact recognition can provide direction on long-term objectives by reinforcing those actions or behaviors that help achieve strategic objectives. In this way, recognition can also be a motivator by acknowledging mastery of skills along the way.

In another post on why some programs fail, Paul accurately identifies program design as at fault, not the audience. Just two of the reasons for failure he points out are:
Energized Chaos: Lack of alignment - if there are ten incentives all pushing in different directions your audience can't figure out which to do first or which to do at all.

Energized Greed: If the program structure is too rich for the behavior required you will get huge effort but many unintended consequences - don't give people too much incentive for something - they will do it - any way they can.”
As I pointed out in a comment to that post, these are also key differentiators of truly strategic recognition efforts. When you do recognition right, you align employee behaviors and actions with your objectives, but only within the context of your company values. Otherwise, you end up with an Enron situation – people certainly achieving and surpassing goals for company success, but definitely outside of the stated company values (in Enron’s case, the value of Integrity).

A Challenge: Make a “Recognition Resolution” on Employee Appreciation Day

In an effort to encourage appreciation of employees, Recognition Professionals International created Employee Appreciation Day as a day to focus attention on the efforts of all employees, in all industries and thank them for their work.

This isn’t enough. We know strategic recognition works in increasing employee engagement, productivity and loyalty. So what are you waiting for? One day a year where you better not forget to say thank you?

As I said in this news release, today should not be just a one-day celebration. Rather, today should be a wake-up call to make a commitment to recognize and appreciate employees year-round and see firsthand the impact that a recognition strategy can have on business results.

What’s your excuse for not yet actioning a strategic recognition program that can boost employee engagement by 10-15% in one year?

I’m issuing a challenge: yes, show your employees how much you appreciate them today, but also resolve to make recognition part of your every day going forward. Why is this important? Just ask those around you how a sign of appreciation and thanks made an impact on them.

In fact, that’s part of my challenge. Share your inspirational stories of employee recognition experiences with us to help others see the dramatic power of recognition in the workforce. Some ideas:

• How a particular recognition moment made a personal impact
• How the use of a recognition system helped engage employees and change a company’s culture
• How recognizing an employee changed the perspective of a manager
• Recognition examples that differ from one country to another
• An inspirational employee recognition story that demonstrates the power of appreciation
• A company’s or individual manager’s commitment to meeting Globoforce’s challenge of making a “recognition resolution” and how the goal will be accomplished

Tell me your story here in comments, or post on Globoforce’s Facebook page as well as on Twitter. Tweets should contain the following official hash tags: #recognitionstory #EAD2010 (in honor of Employee Appreciation Day)

Recognition Best Practices

Judith M. Bardwick, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, recently posted to the Huffington Post the transcript of her interview with literary critic Robert Morris on employee recognition. Judith hits on four best practices of strategic recognition: be timely, be specific, be meaningful and be personal.
“I find the most effective forms of recognition are personal and either spontaneous or very close in time to a significant accomplishment. … Whether literally or symbolically, say thanks! and in a timely fashion. … What's necessary is exquisitely simple: in one way or another, express your gratitude meaningfully and personally for what someone has done and your real pleasure in having them around. … An easy and very effective sign of appreciation, for example, is a letter from someone's boss -- or that person's boss -- signaling appreciation for very specific accomplishments. In itself, that's effective. It's even more effective when, for example, flowers are sent to that person's family thanking the family for their generous gift of that person's time.”
I only have one quibble with Judith’s advice. Instead of choosing the gift for the person, let them make the most meaningful selection for themselves and, potentially, their family. Certainly acknowledge in your expression of recognition that you are aware of the sacrifices made on the home-front, but let the recipient choose what would be truly meaningful or appropriate. Otherwise, you risk an expensive and needless mistake.

Judith also talks about what to do if you work for a “toxic leader.” Her advice? Quit. So all of you leaders out there who justify keeping toxic managers on staff for other skills or talents they may bring, realize that you are killing the loyalty of those who report to the toxic manager and encouraging them to leave.

Creating a Happiness Machine in Your Workplace

This week I’m focusing on methods and best practices for doing recognition right.

Have you ever playfully done the unexpected at work in an effort to appreciate, encourage or inspire team members? How about to just make them laugh or look at the commonplace in an entirely new way? See how Coca-Cola did just that with their “Happiness Machine.”

I originally saw this video on Tanveer Naseer’s blog and, while I thought the video was fun and interesting, I was much more impressed with Tanveer’s insights:
“While it’s common practice for businesses to offer incentives for employees to take on a new task or assignment, it’s sadly a rare occurrence for leaders to offer praise or appreciation to employees for their own initiatives or efforts. In other words, instead of simply thinking one’s role is to evaluate and judge the performance of others, leaders need to understand the importance of validating what their employees see as their contribution to the company.

“As before, this doesn’t require any huge effort or expense for companies. It could be something as simple as taking the time to stop by an employee’s desk after a meeting and thanking them in person for the contributions/insights they provided to the discussion. Or perhaps writing a personal note of thanks to an employee for the initiatives they undertook on a recent project, leaving it in their cubbyhole as an unexpected surprise in their day (a perfect tie-in to the first point made above).”
Keying of just one of the many important points Tanveer makes, do you only sit in judgment of those who work for you, or do you also validate them for their contributions to the company? Perhaps more importantly, do you help gain a vision and understanding of precisely how they contribute to the company’s success? So few employees know this at a level such that they can make it real in their daily tasks. The most effective way of achieving that goal is through such strategic recognition, and thereby validation, of their efforts.