Sigmund Freud once said that the human psyche is (and will forever be) a love-hungry mess, and maybe he was right. As in today’s world, love and work are two essential aspects of most human beings. Several individuals are seeking the kind of work they love, thus making it imperative. So we have to look at how we as organizations love them back; expressed via multiple factors, including recognition programs.
If you were looking at the history of recognition, you would find plenty of examples of kings rewarding their servants and soldiers for specific work or craft. The first recorded act of appreciation was probably 2600 years ago when Cyrus the Great of Persia (modern-day Iran) recognized workers for their work in building the Jerusalem temple. It would appear that 26 centuries later, we continue to follow some of the aspects of recognition designed then.
Recognition also has a deep-rooted cultural aspect; for example; India has been a traditional collectivist community, in which loyalty and family protection are necessary for survival. While focusing on collectivism, it also focuses on self-reliance through the achievement of enlightenment. It makes for a unique combination of behaviors and values to display at work. Combined with India’s recent colonial history, we agree with R Gopalakrishnan, Former executive director of Tata Son, when he says “For the Indian manager, his intellectual tradition, his Y-axis, is Anglo-American, and his action vector, his X-axis, is the Indian ethos.”
Thus, to design a successful recognition program, one has to look at not only the past but also the present and future.
It’s broken, and you don’t even know it
Most traditional recognition programs would focus on providing top-down designed and delivered “benefits” or “gift-vouchers.” Such recognition is typically handed over in public ceremonies with a lot of fan-fair and employees walk to the front of the group to accept the bag full of goodies. Usually, the leadership team forgets about it after the event and rarely checks back on whether the employee used the “coupons” or “vouchers” provided to them as part of the recognition program. Research has indicated that only 30-50 percent of people make use of such “coupons” or “vouchers” for a variety of reasons. The relevance of such gifts for the employee in their current life situation has a significant factor on the same. If you are not extending recognition to make the employee feel genuinely valued, you are not achieving the operational and strategic objectives through such a program. It would most likely become a ritual, and people may complain lack of relevance of the program in private.
Is Money Everything?
Typical traditional recognition programs are heavily dependent on monetary benefits. Many studies have indicated that the impact of financial rewards on reinforcing and sustaining positive workplace behavior is minimal. In today’s world, social recognition given electronically or even presented in person provides a lot more value than a simple monetary credit delivered either electronically or socially in person. Allowing flexibility for employees to choose from multiple options has hence emerged as an option that many companies adopt in their recognition journey. However, in reality, it’s a lazy approach where companies convert old monetary rewards into points which can then be redeemed online in a superstore. How employees use these recognition points and what behaviors hence shape the same are mostly unknown and ignored. If the objective of the recognition program is to aid and build an organization culture, such programs hide the most relevant data in this process from employees and managers alike.
Tenure – are you serious?
As we mentioned earlier, Indian society values loyalty and hence, tenure-based recognition has been a part of programs in India as well as in many western countries. These traditional programs celebrate the tenure of the employee by offering some monetary benefits or social recognition for the same. However, studies have shown that tenure-based recognition does less to improve employee loyalty and or improve their performance. Especially for millennial’s, such a tenure-based recognition program might prove counterproductive. It acts as a provocation for them to start thinking; ‘have I been here long enough already?’. Today’s recognition programs consider relevant and immediate recognition opportunities while presenting the tenure as a series of “glory moments.” Using technology solutions (think Facebook timeline) is a real opportunity for organizations to use tenure as a toll gate to further build an emotional bond with the employees. It’s a double-edged sword as if people from the “past” are no longer working in the company; I might start to feel “old” and may trigger my departure.
As companies look to adopt newer technologies for recognition programs, they will have to fundamentally rethink the design to use the available technology solutions effectively. If you digitize the existing, age-old methods of recognition, it may not provide real business benefits and value to build organizational culture.