Wisdom on the Big Things * Tom Peters on Recognition

One more book recommendation for the week: Tom Peters’ The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue Excellence. Don’t be intimidated by the heft of this book. It’s not meant to be read in one go, but rather savored and considered piece by piece. Two elements in particular stayed with me – Tom’s discussion of rat psychology and his treatise on “thank you.”

I love the power, passion and force that Tom puts behind his words. In discussing rat psychology he calls out one of my pet peeves well and truly:
“You may by ‘one of those’ – one of those who believes ‘They’ve got to go well above and beyond to deserve praise – otherwise you’re just rewarding them for doing their job. Lunacy! Of course extraordinary work deserves extraordinary rewards. But what about the little barrier removed? The small but important helping hand offered? The milestone met a couple of days ahead of time? I am damn well suggesting in the strongest terms I can muster that you… CONSTANTLY …offer recognition. People. Any of us. All of us. Never get tired of ‘it’!” (emphasis original)

Yes! Exactly – Tom, well stated. We never get tired of hearing that we are doing is important and valued. Thank you for stating it so clearly.

I was particularly struck that, in a special section on “The Heart of Business Strategy,” the very first (in his words) “commonplace advice – reminders of the obvious” that Tom lists is:

‘Thank you.’ Minimum several times a day. Measure it! The rarest (and most powerful) of gifts: ‘THANK YOU!’ Recognition for contributions or support is of inestimable value in cementing relationships – and inducing future contributions and word-of-mouth support. By the way, you can practice ‘thank-yous'—proffering thereof is a learnable skill. And a measurable one.

“Bottom line: This must become habit-ritual in order to be successful!
“Bottom line: Measure it!”

And then his second “reminder of the obvious”:

‘Thank you,’ ‘Thank you,’ and ‘Thank you’ again. ‘Thank all of you!’ Message: Thank everyone even peripherally involved in some activity – especially those ‘deep in the hierarchy.’ There are no ‘small’ acts of support. The 'real work' of organizations happens several levels below the 'top.' Recognition and inclusion of 'support' members of a team, no matter how indirect, has multiplicative value when it comes to getting things done – perhaps nothing is of greater import.” (all emphasis original)

I really can’t add anything more to what Tom has stated so beautifully. Have you said thank you to anyone today?

Indicate Respect with Money * Indicate Value with Recognition

There seems to have been a flux in excellent books on the power of recognition to motivate and engage hitting the market in recent months. Two I recommend are Leading Outside the Lines: How to Mobilize the Informal Organization, Energize Your Team, and Get Better Results by Jon Katzenbach and Zia Khan and The 17 Rules Successful Companies Use to Attract and Keep Top Talent by David Russo.

I was first turned on to Leading Outside the Lines in this Forbes article in which the authors spoke specifically about why money is not a motivator.

“Emotional sources of motivation are more powerful [than money], and they are best conveyed informally in an organization through the respect of peers, the admiration of subordinates, he approval of one’s personal network and community and the like. Money becomes the default motivator because it is measurable, tangible and fungible.”

I think the authors are right. People designing employee reward programs often default to money as the primary reward mechanism because it seems easier – easier to distribute, easier to report on, easier to make sure the employee gets something they want and not another toaster, BBQ set or watch. The solution is to make strategic recognition rewards as measurable, tangible and fungible through a delivery model that makes sense globally. Local gift cards/certificates to merchants around the world is highly fungible but ensures the recognition recipient choose a truly aspirational and rewarding experience or item. Backed with our technology, such a delivery model is highly measurable on use, adoption and perceived value.

One chapter in particular from David Russo’s 17 Rules book was particularly powerful for me – “Cheerlead: The Magic of M&Ms.” In this one chapter, David hits on several important points of strategic recognition: frequent, on-the-spot recognition, authenticity in recognition, again on why cash is not motivational, and the bottom line value of recognition – as proven at SAS (currently No. 1 on Fortune Best Companies to Work For list).

I particularly liked how David dispelled the money as motivational myth. As I’ve said before, of course you must pay people an appropriate, living wage. But once people are paid properly, money as a motivator disappears. David puts it this way:

“The metric of the success was the employees’ response. If the employees wanted to be in the workplace, we were successful in our obligations as leaders. If the work environment was truly positive, we also noted that the workers – when paid good wages and benefits – didn’t focus on wages and benefits as the primary indication of whether they were valued.”

That’s what employees are truly seeking – an indication that they are valued. Respect them and their efforts with a proper wage and appropriate benefits. Then show and tell them how much you value them and their efforts with clear, consistent and frequent recognition of their behaviors and actions that demonstrate your values and help achieve your objectives.

Free Webinar: Restarting Recognition during the Recovery

Join me tomorrow (Tuesday, 25 May 2010, at 11:30 EDT, 4:30 GMT, 9:30 PST) for a free, live webinar on the results from a recent Globoforce survey on how companies changed their employee recognition approach in response to the recession and how they are now adapting their recognition programs during the economic recovery. Attendees will receive the full survey report "Restarting Recognition during the Recovery."

Register for the webinar by clicking here.

I will be discussing in detail how responding companies sustained their recognition programs during the recession and what lies ahead for those who are just beginning their recognition endeavors.

I will also address these questions for HR and business leaders:
• Is employee recognition spending on the rise, flat, or down during and after the economic downturn?
• What are the main roadblocks that HR leaders face in implementing employee recognition programs and budgets?
• What impact did an increase or decrease in recognition spending have on respondents’ organizations?

A recording of the webinar will be available free of charge following the event on the Globoforce website and can be requested by visiting: http://www.globoforce.com/corporate/eng/innovation-center/webinars/.

Part 3: Catalog Providers Hate Gift Cards Because Your Employees Love Them!

Continuing my look at why employees love gift cards in a reward program where we saw how if you introduce gift cards into an old catalog selection – within weeks 90-99% of employees will select the gift cards! That’s exactly why catalog providers hate them, because your employees love them!

Let’s look at one more of the reasons employees play back to us as to why they love gift cards. Customer employees tell us…

“I love that they are LOCAL to where I live, not one size fits all”.

I know it’s hard for program managers to evaluate which are the best rewards to offer employees, so I shall try and keep the comparison on this employee reason as straightforward as I can.

Basically, I recommend you think about recognition program providers as behavior consultants, technology solution providers and reward vendors. That’s as true of us as it is of our competitors. A good way to look at classic merchandise catalog reward vendors is to think of them as a store, with a storefront called, say, “Incentive Boulevard.” Behind this storefront they are offering their merchandise items that they have purchased, sourced, and stocked in their warehouse facility, fork lift drivers and all! They are in effect merchants, and some have even got manufacturing facilities where they make some of the items they sell (e.g., jewelry). This model has certain built-in characteristics:

• Stock of items available is limited to their warehouse capacity.
• Stock rotates about 3-4 times a year.
• Their buyer team of 2-3 people is selecting what items to stock.
• Cultural sensitivity is covered by merchandise groupings for like-minded regions.
• Merchandise items are shipped by courier around the globe.

The most common descriptor I hear from employees for this approach is the “One Size Fits All Catalog”. Much like that T-shirt we’ve all picked up at trade shows that is just not meant to fit you!

Now, compare this traditional catalog approach to our gift card experience delivery model. Yes we are reward vendors too, but the key difference is that we are not selling our merchandise – rather we are opening the way for your employees to go select their reward from an enormous portfolio of famous-name merchants that are respected brands in every country -- famous department stores, restaurant and cinema chains, sports stores, travel providers, local online retailers, and local charities among other all-local choices, too. So employees choose LOCALLY an aspirational reward – at what I call street level - from the millions of items suited to their local culture. Let’s compare this model to the points bulleted earlier:

• Stock of items available also limited to the items in stock. But how limited in stock is Macy’s or Kohl’s, Marriott or Travelocity, Pottery Barn or Amazon.com – just to name a few. Globally, stock exceeds 20 million possible reward experience choices.
• Stock rotates every week.
• The buyers are professionals catering to the needs of real consumer populations locally. These local buyers know what an employee in Beijing wants, because they are LOCAL citizens in China, and not based in Cincinnati!
• Cultural sensitivity is built-in and ensured in ALL countries, as merchants are LOCAL.
• Bulky items are NOT shipped, but locally selected, locally collected, and locally consumed.

My advice – THINK GLOBAL, BUT THANK LOCAL. By adopting a local-level reward approach you show respect for the local employee, respect for their local culture and respect for their ability to choose a reward that is truly motivating to them – locally.

Now what is more motivating than respect?

For those just joining the GloboBlog community today, these are the links for the past related posts in this series:

Part 1: Catalog Providers Hate Gift Cards because Your Employees Love Them

Part 2: “I love REAL CHOICE, not pretend choice.”

Recognition: How Much Will This Cost Me?

Are you on board with employee recognition? Perhaps you’re ready to restart recognition after shutting down efforts during the recession. Perhaps you want to start up a strategic employee recognition effort for the first time. But one major concern you have is “how much will this cost me? What’s the proper budget for a truly strategic recognition program?”

Before considering the cold, hard money question, you must first answer this one: “What’s the goal of your program?” If all you want to do is give people a trinket on their major milestone anniversaries with your organization, you needn’t budget much. But if you want actively drive the culture of your organization to create an environment of appreciation and productivity, then the money factor becomes much critical question.

In “2010 Recognition RX: Engaging Employees for Economic Recovery”, the Recognition Council never gives an actual figure or percentage, but they do offer this excellent advice:

“Recognition and rewards programs that do not align with overall corporate strategies are usually looked at as an expense instead of an investment. These programs often can’t be justified because they lack an underlying recognition strategy. Without a business-focused strategy, there is very little to defend and so these programs often are the first things to be eliminated in tough times. A well-devised recognition strategy will ensure the program ties directly into the corporation’s business objectives, mission, vision and values. When your recognition strategy is linked to corporate objectives, it is much easier to defend and keep, as well as deliver a better overall result.”

This is the approach Globoforce has been preaching since our founding. It is the key best practice in our philosophy of recognition – only recognize those behaviors or actions that reflect your company values in contribution to achieving your strategic objectives. This helps your employees to understand how your values and objectives are real in their everyday work as well as giving you the ability to clearly and easily report on employee understanding and demonstration of your values and objectives across all regions. With this knowledge, you can now directly address low performing areas to bring everyone up to speed.

So what’s the answer? How much do you need to budget? Just 1% of total payroll will transform your culture, focus all employees on precisely those objectives you need to achieve and unite everyone in a common purpose.

Be Sure to Say “Thanks” or You’ll Be Saying “Good-bye”

The Recognition Council, a strategic industry group within the Incentive Marketing Association (IMA), issued some very interesting research in the last couple of months.

“Pump Up Employee Engagement: Fuel Prosperity with Strategic Recognition” presents a nice summary of the research supporting much of what I’ve been preaching in this blog for the last several months – the need to realign talent with your changed business strategies through strategic recognition and to make that recognition personal and meaningful for each individual. Excerpts from the report are below:

Alignment of Personal and Company Goals through Recognition

“People tend to do things if they feel that it is in their own best interest. Organizations need to connect what employees want for themselves to overall organizational goals by rewarding behavior in a way that is meaningful to them and their own self-interest. By pointing out that a particular behavior is rewarded, you could be well on your way toward reinforcing the performance that will help achieve business goals. Moreover, people don’t walk away from companies they feel care about them, so rewarding them can stabilize your talent pool.”

Citing an October 2009 Watson Wyatt study: “44 percent of the companies surveyed encouraged an increase in the use of recognition plans during the recession and 64 percent of those same companies expect to keep their recognition programs permanently because ‘increased use of recognition programs is one way to help keep key talent engaged and motivated. Having the right people in place and productive will be a key differentiator for companies looking to outperform competitors in a recovery.’”

Make Recognition Personal

“Workers respond to feedback and rewards and recognition, especially when it pervades a company culture that is embraced from top management down to the front line. The trick is to get it right for the specific audience and make it genuine and meaningful for each individual employee.”

“If employers are able to successfully tap into the right employee motivators, they have a real chance of achieving success. Studies show that employees who receive the recognition they want are more engaged, more willing to put in the discretionary effort that will be necessary in a challenging recovery.”

There is no denying the power of recognition to lift employee morale, unite your team, foster loyalty to your organization and, critically, align their efforts with your changed business objectives. I encourage you to read the full report. What are you doing as the economy improves to ensure you are retaining your greatest competitive advantage – your people?

Part 2: Catalog Providers Hate Gift Cards Because Your Employees Love them!

Continuing my look at why employees love gift cards in a reward where we saw how if you introduce gift cards into an old catalog selection – within weeks 90-99% of employees will select the gift cards! That’s exactly why catalog providers hate them, because your employees love them!

We’ve 1.7 million employees worldwide using our solution today, a sizeable population, and one that we survey frequently and hear many comments from. When it comes to gift cards what do we hear from employees? Well, employees tell us they love gift cards because:

• I love REAL CHOICE, not pretend choice.
• I love they are LOCAL to where I live, not one size fits all.
• I love BEST VALUE for my money, not being price cheated.
• I love that gift cards are GREEN and SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE too.

Using the verbatim survey comments from employees, let’s look further at each of these, as employees explain their reasoning, often better than I will.

I love REAL CHOICE, not pretend choice:
“In our previous catalog program, we’d a pretend choice of probably a thousand items. I always felt like I had to pick something that I didn’t really want, just to get something, anything really!”

“Now, I actually enjoy my reward! I can shop at my local department store in Paris, or take the family to a local restaurant. Much more choice – everyone is catered to.”

“Now I get rewards I love!”

“I really want the latest versions of electronics items, I was nearly always disappointed not to find them in the old catalog, now I can shop online at Amazon, or go to my local electronics store."

In a global population of employees representing all generations from Y, X, baby boomers, close retirees, across many different geographies and different cultures too – what catalog of a thousand items, or even twenty thousand items could possibly cater to this wide, diverse group of consumers and their varied needs? For that matter what global retailer has ever done this? Is there a global retailer that succeeds in catering to all consumers worldwide? Not even close! There is no single global retailer like this. Oh, except one – your local merchandise catalog company – that claims to be able to cater to a worldwide employee base, when no single world retailer has yet done this. Really think about that one, can their claim be true?

Some employees are conservatives, some are hedonists, for some a great reward is a watch, but for others it’s a Def Leppard music collection, or a fishing rod; for some of our Chinese factory employee users it’s a chance to visit high end bakery store Ganzo for special cake treats.

REAL CHOICE is about providing your employees the opportunity to get a reward that is personal, meaningful to them, and meets their view of what is inspiring to get, and not – with all due respects – your view! That’s exactly why we have built over the past decade the world’s largest portfolio of gift cards from thousands of local famous-name merchants, respected brands in every country, famous department stores, restaurant and cinema chains, sports stores, travel providers, local online retailers, and local charities among other choices too, so that your employees have REAL CHOICE from the millions of items suited to their local needs.

I’ll be returning to this topic next week…more soon.

Rewarding Outcomes or the Process * Which Delivers Better Results?

Did anyone else read the Time article on the motivation and reward studies conducted on American school children, designed to determine which bribes worked best in getting desired results?

The study results were a mixed bag. Different approaches were applied in different cities and school systems that had very different challenges. The scheme that worked the best in terms of meeting desired outcomes was the Dallas test in which second grade children (average age 7-8) were paid every time they read a book and completed a computerized quiz. The one that worked worst was in New York where students were rewarded for improving test scores. Zero results.

If you compare those results for external motivators to Dan Pink’s approach of addressing the internal motivators of autonomy, mastery and purpose, what are you left to think? I like where Alexander Kjerulf, the Chief Happiness Officer blogger, came down on this issue:

“I think the answer might lie in the fact that the NY scheme rewarded results while the Dallas scheme rewarded the process, ie. the actual steps towards the results. I’m going out on a limb here, but I do think that this carries directly over to the business world. At work it is more motivating to reward effort rather than results because while results are rarely directly under your own control, your efforts are. In other words, you can work your butt off on a project or a sale and still not get it because of factors completely outside of your influence.”

As I said in my comments to Alexander’s post: Think of it this way – rewarding outcomes = incentives. Rewarding the process = recognition. To carry it a step farther, incentives are about hitting targets (left brain) and recognition is about applying values (right brain).

That’s why, in most instances, we strongly advocate for behavior-based employee recognition that is focused on company values. In such programs, any employee can be recognized (preferably frequently, specifically and in the moment) for demonstrating behaviors that reflect your company values in contribution to achieving your objectives. Sure, they can be recognized when the final deliverable is realized, but it’s just as important to recognize them along the path when they consistently and sometimes extraordinarily contribute to the coming success.

A New Model for Recognition * Give Them What They Need AND Want

I’ll be returning to the topic of employee preference for gift card rewards in future posts, but I will also continue to offer my take on the latest research and news in our industry as well. To that end, the Ascent Group puts out an interesting report on Reward & Recognition Program Best Practices (requires purchase) every year. The most recent report contains many of the same themes as the prior year.

Why is getting recognition right so important?
“Research has shown that employees who are satisfied with their company’s reward and recognition program are usually more satisfied with their jobs, more likely to remain with the company, and more likely to recommend their workplace to others.”
So how do you get recognition right? I am always pleased to see how closely reflective Ascent’s key recommendations are of our own best practices:

Key recommendations:

• Reinforce behaviors and reward results
• Be timely, specific and communicate
• Match the reward to the person & the achievement
• Involve employees in the design and refinement of R&R programs
• Look to technology to facilitate program admin and tracking
• Review programs & rewards frequently to keep them aligned with corporate goals and employee expectations
• Design R&R programs so the entire team/group is working towards the same goals & appropriately recognized
• Train supervisors and managers so they are skilled in recognizing & rewarding employees
• Measure the effectiveness & impact of your reward & recognition programs

Key findings:

• Primary basis for reward and recognition: meeting/exceeding metrics (74%)
• R&R program goals: improve performance (51%), improve morale (45%), support business objectives (28%), influence change (13%)
• Average spend per employee: $650
• Total budget per year: less than 1% (33%); 1-5% (36%)

Worst program characteristics:
• Inconsistency
• Untimely R&R delivery
• Unclear program qualifications or criteria
• Perceived unattainable goals
• Rewards don’t match employee desires/limited choice/undervalued rewards
• Don’t include all employee classifications
• Few winners/popularity contest
• Catalog selection limited/company logo items are stale
• Disingenuous praise

If you’re looking for strategic employee recognition that bases recognition on your company values and objectives, encourages participation of 80-90%, and eliminates the catalog of unwanted, undesirable rewards, then you need a new model for recognition that turns the 100-year-old catalog method of trinkets on its head. Listen to what your employees and the industry as a whole are saying. I’ll close with this final thought from the Ascent report.
“Recognition is about acknowledgment and appreciation for a contribution, improvement, innovation, or excellence – a message to employees that they are valued. The act of recognizing an employee affirms the values and spirit underlying the achievement. It’s also about reinforcing desired behaviors and increasing their occurrence. Attitude and performance are closely linked; the appropriate recognition at the appropriate moment will create a positive attitude that, in turn, will lead to improved performance. Communicating this to the rest of the organization creates role models and sets the standards of desired performance.”

Catalog Providers Hate Gift Cards because Your Employees Love Them!

I know, this sounds counter intuitive, the companies that build recognition programs based upon catalogs of their pre-selected merchandise items do appear to hate gift cards, and they hate them precisely because they are truly loved by your employees!

Recent blog postings – some of which went to really low levels of name calling – proved just how much these catalog companies truly HATE gift cards and how low they are willing to go to fight for their corner. But it’s a Love/Hate tug of war here, with different parties on both sides. Let’s take a look at who sits on each side.

The LOVE gift cards side:
• HR Leaders & Recognition Program Managers, why? Well, because…
o Employees truly love them!
o They really, really do work internationally – low costs and NO hassle for HR.

The HATE gift cards side:
• The catalog merchandise companies.

Let’s look at the Lovers first in more detail and, unlike the catalog company bloggers, let’s actually quote some research drawn from the incentive and recognition industry, and not the unrelated, inappropriate consumer research they like to quote.

Year after year, HR Managers/ Recognition Program Managers state their strong preference for gift cards. In the latest Incentive magazine research (yes that’s our industry) 64% say gift cards are MORE effective than merchandise. That figure has grown up and up each year for the past several years.

A LOVE FACT: Employees vote with their feet and prefer gift cards over merchandise catalogs in enormous numbers. The figures are staggering actually – introduce even just 10 gift cards into a catalog filled with thousands of merchandise items and within weeks, 90% to 99% of employees will select the gift cards! How do we know this? Well, Stanford University studied and wrote an MBA case study about the history of different employee recognition programs at one of Fortune’s Most Admired companies – Intuit. Full disclosure here: Intuit is a client of ours now, but only AFTER they witnessed this incredible landslide vote from employees calling for gift cards in their previous supplier’s program. We recently ran our own research on this topic too, and found in a live case study of 12,000 employees, 99% chose a gift card over pre-selected merchandise catalog items.

I am going to jump into the reasons behind this resounding preference for gift cards among HR leaders and employees alike over the coming weeks – believe me there are plenty of reasons why this love affair is true and is real. All of these reasons are rooted solely in the realities of employee behavior, international trade, and different shopping cultures worldwide. Watch this blog for more.

But before I close – let’s just touch one of the hate facts.

A HATE FACT: I do agree with my fellow bloggers on one point, profit models certainly play a role here. They have theirs and we have ours. They of course hate gift cards, because they attack their business model and the extraordinary mark-ups on their merchandise items. It’s painful for them I know, just like the sellers of music tapes and cassettes must have hated CD makers who in turn must have hated Apple and its iTunes model. It’s an earthquake! Industry change is painful, but at the end of day I firmly believe the consumer (in our case, your employees) deserve to win and WILL win.

More in the coming weeks...

How Rooted Is Your Workforce? Towers Watson Global Workforce Study

Towers Watson recently released an executive summary of their 2010 Global Workforce Study, noting primarily the impact of the recession on employees. Key findings include:
“Our study reveals a recession-battered workforce — one with lower expectations, increased anxiety and new priorities. … The desire for security and stability trumps everything else right now, in part because employees see security as a fast-disappearing part of the deal. Confidence in leaders and managers is disturbingly low — particularly in terms of the interpersonal aspects of their respective roles.

“In short, “business as usual” on the people front is not an option because there is no business as usual any more. (emphasis original) … Employers need to adopt new and creative practices to balance effective cost and risk management with enhanced employee retention and engagement. Employees will likely view careers, skill building and mobility very differently from how they did in the past.”

While I agree that confidence is low and that there is no such thing as business as usual any more, I believe the current low mobility of employees will change, and it will do so relatively soon. Employees have seen the lack of commitment the company has towards them. Just as this has escalated in the last 30 years, it will only continue to do so as employees use an improving economy to exercise their ability to find new, better, more exciting work.

Trust in management is lost. Some see this as a permanent break in the employee/employer workplace relationship. Dan Pink coined the term Free-Agent Nation more than a decade ago referring to this phenomenon.

While mobility is currently at a low point, this will change. The primary benefit of a free-agent nation to the employer is the constant stream of new, fresh ideas. But the costs are potentially much higher from the investment to find, hire and train them, the loss of accumulated knowledge in longer term employees, and the loss of people to serve as mentors to new employees on the company culture as well as the job function.

What do you think? Are employees so in need of job security they will stay put and hope for a return of “jobs for life?” Or do you think this is a temporary state of mind, soon to change as opportunity improves? What are you doing to prepare now for the outcome?

Making Recognition More Relevant than Cinco de Mayo in Mexico

I’ve been traveling around the U.S. for the last two weeks, visiting our Boston offices and several customers as well as participating in the IHRIM 2010 conference. I greatly enjoy the opportunity to travel in the US and experience the many different global cultures that make up this one country. I’ve noticed, however, that American traditions that celebrate these various cultures have taken on a rather unique American flavor. I’ve experienced St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin and in Boston. Let’s just say that green beer does not flow freely in Dublin pubs.

I was struck by all the promotion around Cinco de Mayo. After a little investigation, I learned Cinco de Mayo (the Fifth of May) was originally a small, very local celebration in one Mexican state, celebrating victory over the French in a battle in the mid-1800s. It has nothing to do with Mexican independence (as was assumed by many Americans I chatted with on the topic) and is not an observed holiday in Mexico. Cinco de Mayo has become "Americanized." My American friends and colleagues are celebrating a Mexican holiday that is not relevant to Mexicans.

What lessons about employee recognition can we learn from this? Think about your current recognition program(s). Is it largely based on the needs and desires of employees in the country where you are headquartered? Have you “Americanized” recognition to make it one-size-fits-all, or are you truly honoring your employees and their accomplishments within the context of their own culture, traditions and expectations?

It seems to me that Cinco de Mayo has become more a reason to celebrate Mexican heritage in America, just as St. Patrick’s Day is a reason to celebrate the Irish in everyone. So should recognition be a reason to celebrate the achievements that are common to your company culture as a whole – demonstration of your company values in contribution to your strategic objectives.

Too often, well-intentioned company or HR leaders offer a recognition or incentives program that forces people to choose a reward from a catalog of items they’ve pre-selected. We see this all the time. Even though it’s well meaning, this approach can come off as insulting and is uninspiring for international employees.

Why fight against this approach? Local department stores, local restaurants, local cinema chains, local entertainment venues, local travel companies - they know best what your local employees want. That's why we've invested the past 10 years in building the world's largest selection of rewards entirely on the shoulders of these locally based merchants – so your employees will always have a culturally correct and personally meaningful reward that inspires them. Show your employees you truly value them, their contributions – and their uniqueness.

What’s Critical to Retention? Clear Communication and Trust

In December 2009, The Economist Intelligence Unit surveyed 410 senior executives from across industrial sectors and countries on the talent management challenges they face as they recover from the recession, issuing the results in their Companies at a Crossroads report.

Among the key findings were the realization that business confidence is returning, resulting in increased hiring, talent issues are high on the agenda, and employee trust becoming an issue. Nearly 90% of respondents expected a slight to significant improvement in overall growth prospects for their company in the next three years, signaling a need to hire, train and develop talent.

The majority (57%) agreed that clear communication of the organization’s strategy was the most important action to take to rebuild employee trust. This response was well balanced between respondents aged 18-39 and those 40-69. However, a significant disconnect between those two groups on the current level of trust could potentially skew the message and success of any such communications.

In response to the question: “How would you describe your employees’ attitudes to their jobs right now?” only 21% of chief executives, presidents and managing directors replied, “Levels of trust are very low: I am concerned a lot of people will resign in the next 12 months” as compared to 55% of managers.

Since managers are arguably closer to the pulse of the average employee, I would encourage senior executives to listen to the need to repair the trust relationship. As Doug Conant, president and CEO of Campbell Soup said, without trust from your employees you cannot achieve amazing things. And “amazing things” are precisely what companies will need from every employee to thrive in the recovery.

Should Motivation Strategies Be Different for Top Performers vs. the Average?

As we continue to emerge from the recession, companies will be struggling with retention and loyalty. The Chartered Management Institute (CMI) recently reported that “more managers resigned from their jobs in the past year than in the previous 12 months” – and that was in the midst of the recession. Think how much more these resignations will grow in the recovery.

Hay Group focused on the importance of recruitment and retention of key talent in their recently issued report: “The Changing Face of Reward.”

“The focus is on motivating, engaging, and rewarding critical high performers. … Reward strategy is now driven in the Boardroom as executives recognise that the war for talent knows no boundaries, so strategies for retention, motivation, engagement and performance improvement are integral to competitiveness."

There is a risk in putting too much attention on the high performers and not as much on the vast majority of middle-tier performers.

The war for talent has narrowed to three fronts, the study finds: around high performers; high potentials; and ‘mission-critical’ roles. … There is a danger that ‘average’ performers – who make up the bulk of the population – can find themselves ignored in the rush to reward top talent, and weed out poorer performers. But for most companies, shifting performance in this middle category is what will really make a difference to surviving the present recession and performing in the upturn. Organizations should not take their eye off the ball on efforts to keep this critical set of staff motivated, engaged and adequately rewarded for the positive contribution they make.”

Watson Wyatt (now Towers Watson) pointed this out in their 2008/2009 WorkUSA report, encouraging investment in the core, noting that working to increase the productivity of this middle 60% can help improve the productivity of the high performers as well. And Jack Welch, long misunderstood in his approach to differentiation, actually said, “Everyone in the middle 70% needs to be motivated and made to feel as if they truly belong. You do not want to lose the vast majority of your middle 70 – you want to improve them.”

What are your retention, motivation and engagement strategies for your high performers? Do they differ from similar strategies for your middle tier? How so? Is this difference even necessary?