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How ongoing recognition creates more engaged employees!
Jason Averbook interviewed by Swati Gangawane Gujar - 23rd April 2018

Jason Averbook is a leading analyst, thought leader, consultant and keynote speaker in the area of human resources, the future of work and the impact technology has on the future. He is the CEO and Co-Founder of Leapgen, a global consultancy helping organizations shape their future workplace by broadening executive mindset to rethink how to better design and deliver employee services that meet the expectations of the workforce and the needs of the business. Prior to founding Leapgen, Jason served as the CEO of The Marcus Buckingham Company (TMBC). In 2005, he co-founded Knowledge Infusion LLC and served as its CEO until 2012, when the company was sold to Appirio. He has more than 20 years of experience in the HR and technology industry. He has worked with industry-leading companies around the world to help them transform their HR organizations into strategic partners. Along with being cited in numerous publications as an industry thought leader in the HCM space, he has delivered keynote presentations for events worldwide including HRTECH, Towers-Perrin, SHRM, and IHRIM as well as more than 200 other large group presentations for HR and technology audiences. He currently is acknowledged as one of the top 3 thought leaders globally on the future of work and listed in the top 100 leaders globally influencing the future of work and the HR function. His latest book, HR From Now to Next was published in 2014 and is used in over 19 universities around the world today.

‘Don’t push an HR process to an employee.
Stop automating, and truly digitize. ‘

Q. We are on the cusp of digitization and automation. But are organizations geared to embrace this change? What could organizations do to take on this challenge and be ready for the next generation of workplaces?

Jason Averbook: So really the first thing they need to do is to understand the difference between automation and digitization. Automation is to take a manual process online. Now that’s putting it online, but it’s not adding value. It’s not looking at business outcomes; it’s not looking at tying into any more business value. Digitization is really taking a process and thinking about how do we imagine it to add more value and taking that process and truly through empathy driven personalization, making sure that I understand who the person is, but also for whom that process is designed for. So don’t push an HR process to an employee. Don’t push an HR process to a manager. Make sure that we are designing processes for employees and managers, so what organizations can do is really understand how to think about design and design thinking, how to understand personas and stop, stop, stop automating, and truly digitize.

Q. As with change, the transformation of a workforce to a digital workforce is something that is bound to face resistance. What could organizations do to make this transition for their employees as smooth as possible?

Jason Averbook: So the biggest thing that organizations can do is truly understand that digital transformation is made up of 45 percent of people. Forty five percent processing tech, which basically means my biggest issue is to deal with the people, the workforce and how my processes work. The biggest thing that organizations can do is they can truly say to themselves and think to themselves, I need to position this as what’s in for me, for my workforce to avoid resistance; I need to market the workforce. I need to get the workforce bought in and I need to make sure the business leaders who actually these people report to, are brought in and become my change champions. So I really have to ask myself what is it from what’s in it for me question and then make sure that I position that and make sure that my change champions are positioning that constantly.

Q. Millennialls are digital natives. How could organizations step-up to create more suited and engaged workplaces?

Jason Averbook: So once again, this ties back to empathy and really understanding millennials. Millennials are digital natives. That doesn’t mean they’re not humans. Millennials are just used to being serviced in a high touch digital way and it’s really important for us to think about the difference between high touch human and high touch digital and say, which of our processes will these digital natives want to do in a high touch digital way? Meaning having all the things right there come to them online versus having them talk to a human. So how can we best do that is to truly understand those people, get them involved in processes and say, guys, we’re not trying to create a frictionless workhorse experience for you. That ties into how you’re used to working in your personal and consumer lives.

‘We need to be thinking about ongoing engagement, ongoing feedback, ongoing coaching, ongoing recognition, and just ongoing communication and sentiment analysis to say, how are these people feeling?’

Q. 87% of recognition programs focus on tenure. Extending on my earlier question, millennials tend to stay for less than 2 years with an organization. By this standard, aren’t we losing on talent when we fail to recognize millennials often, and in a timely manner?

Jason Averbook: Totally yes. Most organizations, if they can keep their people for one year, they stay for five years, so when we think about personalization and we think about experience, we need to make sure that in that first year, providing them an optimal experience and that starts with day zero from an onboarding process all the way through. After year one, look at what you’ve accomplished as an employee or an associate within this organization. So we need to be thinking about ongoing engagement, ongoing feedback, ongoing coaching, ongoing recognition, and just ongoing communication and sentiment analysis to say, how are these people feeling?

 ‘Digital has to be embedded into the DNA of an organization.’

Q. In a blog post, you have mentioned ‘The digital decade requires a new kind of leadership; leadership that has vision and inspires a cultural change at all levels.’ Could you elaborate on this for us? In your opinion how can culture be scaled?

Jason Averbook: Digital has to be embedded into the DNA of an organization. We have to think digital first. We don’t think about a capability and what we want to do and then say, oh, now let’s think about what’s the best way to do this. We have to say the only way to do this is through digital, and if we think about it that way, then that becomes our culture, so our culture has to be digital, always digital first, and then because of that truly saying to ourselves and that capability needs to be pushed through this intravenous of workforce experience out to the workforce. Now people ask all the time what the difference between digital and technology.

Digital is a mindset. Digital’s a growth mindset. Technology is stupid. Technology is a piece of software, so really, really important to understand the difference, and digital requires a new kind of leadership with that mindset.

 ‘You have to know your people and understand your people and not do a peanut butter spread when it comes to recognition.’

Q. People have an inherent need to be recognized and appreciated. Often this is what employees want most i.e. being recognized for their individual contributions. Despite so many studies, we still find many organizations stuck in a blindspot when it comes to employee recognition. How would you approach this problem?

Jason Averbook: You know, this is knowing. It’s not that simple. You have to know your people and understand your people and not do a peanut butter spread when it comes to recognition, so I don’t want to say everyone’s recognized the same way. I have salespeople that are under-recognized one way. I’ve feel people that want to be recognized in other way. I have people that are in their sixties that want to be recognized when we have people that are donot want to be recognized either way. Organizations get stuck in a blind spot when they do a peanut butter spread to recognition and what they really need to do is understand what type of recognition they are looking for and making the effort to personalize the way that they recognize.

 ‘The focus should always be on recognition. It should be a part of the coaching that leaders do.’

Q. Employee recognition and appreciation is much more and beyond monetary incentives. Often looked upon as bribes, the most they can achieve is temporary compliance. Isn’t it time organizations realized this and brought about a culture shift to bring in a more genuine and authentic recognition program in place?

Jason Averbook: Yes. The focus should be always on recognition. It should be part of the coaching that leaders do. And finally, recognition should be expected by employees. And recognition, by the way, is nothing more than a good job, maybe a thumbs up, so you know, if we’re in a once a year recognition program or once a year performance management program, we have an old school culture that we’re going to continue to struggle to drive engagement with over a period of time.

 ‘Data itself doesn’t do much.
It’s how we use data to know how someone feels, that’s what creates more engaged workplaces.’

Q. ‘We are way, way, way, way behind when it comes to data. And it’s not bad; it’s just a rallying cry. We have to realize that data is sexy….Data is power and data is the capital of the future.’ This is a quote from an interview you did. People analytics brings in paranoia. Humans however have an inherent need to feel connected and be treated as people. How can organizations overcome this challenge to achieve a sweet spot to create more engaged workplaces?

Jason Averbook: We are way, way behind when it comes to data. We have the power to realize that data is sexy. How do organizations overcome this challenge? By making sure that they understand that data in itself is not sexy. How data is used and how data fields are sexy. So what’s really, really important is to say, how do I leverage data to make sure that I’m personalizing  the experience? How do I leverage data to make sure that I’m pushing out intelligence? I don’t mean leveraging data to make sure that people are finding what they’re looking for. That’s what’s creating more engaged workplace. The data itself doesn’t do that. It’s the how do I use data and how does the data makes me feel, that’s what creates a more engaged workplace.

Q. ‘HR as we see it is going to die. The good news is it will be re-born.’ You envision workplaces, having done so in your book ‘HR From Now to Next: Reimagining the Workplace of Tomorrow’.  What do you think the next 5-10 years will bring into HR that could revolutionize the way we see it today?

Jason Averbook: There are three key things that are going to change – first, employee experience and AI and robotics is going to draw from a problem or to me from a question. So question answering function to a problem-solving function that’s going to naturally change the function. AI and robotics is going to change the function automatically because of that. What’s really going to happen is because I’m problem solvers; I’m going to ask for different types of data and different types of information. So the table stakes for as what I provide my leaders isn’t going to change drastically because to answer, I’m assuming there will solve problems, I’m going to need different types of intelligence.

And third, I truly, truly, truly believe that we finally are in a spot where people are ready to own their own data. People are ready to engage in processes and the technologies that allow them to do that. So I think that HR is going to turn into much more of a machine as far as how it is collecting data, how it is using data, how’s it storing data. It’s going to turn into much more of a need around how do we tell stories about our data, how do we use our data to be prescriptive about what we give to business leaders. And finally, how do we once and for all truly say that we are a strategic function and not a transaction conscience.

Q. Another question on a slightly different note. Everyone loves to be appreciated. Can you share with us a memory where someone (could be a parent, teacher, colleague, boss, friend or a stranger) appreciated/recognized you and which had the most profound impact on your life?

Jason Averbook: The biggest impact that someone’s ever had on my life is when I had the opportunity to work with a CEO, a CEO from one of the largest insurance companies in the United States, and the CEO said to me, you know, the way that HR is being done here is measuring HR itself. It’s measuring HR looking at itself in the mirror versus thinking about the impact that HR is having on the business. If you can actually think about, how would you help an organization and put in place an action plan to do that, that would be worth an unprecedented amount of money to me. We were able to put in place a roadmap guideline –The Vision for this organization. It changed HR. It changed how HR was perceived and the CEO looked back at me and said, Jason is exactly what we asked for. And for the first time in my life, I actually see the value of the HR function and there’s someone who has been trying to make a show that his whole life —that was an amazing moment.

The second moment I’m going to share is a much more personal moment to me. Our goal as leaders is to create people that are greater than us. And the number of people that have come back to me or they’ve been colleagues, whether they’d been friends that have said, you know what? You know, I love the fact that you’re comfortable enough in your own skin to create someone that’s greater than you. And you spend the time to teach, coach and mentor them. When people appreciate that, that has an amazing impact on your life. Because what it shows is you’re past the point of self-actualization as to who you are. And you’re to the point of really thinking about how are you going to create a better world that just has an amazing impact!

Q. You are a leading analyst, thought leader, consultant and keynote speaker in the HR-Tech space. You also have envisioned an entirely new HR landscape. Can you share some significant milestones from your life that carved your career as it is today?

Jason Averbook: If we think about significant milestones, there are probably three. The first milestone was when I was working for Ceridian Corporation. We developed the first windows based HR system and realized that as people move from the DOS platform to the Windows platform, they really did the same thing. They didn’t transform the way HR worked ‘A’ and ‘B’; HR was really concerned that we took away their ability to do heads down data entry. That’s when the first thing that really helped me realize that, HR was a transactional machine. You really need to think strategically.

The second big milestone was while leading product at Peoplesoft, and what really stood out to me was PeopleSoft was the leading product in the world when it came to HR and workforce technology. Yet our customers were unhappy bothered me to the point where I really wanted to find out why and had the Aha moment! These people – what they don’t like is not our software, but what they really don’t like is the way that their company strategy is not aligned  with that particular piece of technology.

The third milestone that’s really hitting me today is the whole concept of having better technology as consumers than the workforce gives us to work with. We have better experiences as consumers than we have dealing with our business that our work life and that’s a huge problem we’re not. Customer experience is worse than our employee experience. When our branding is from an outside standpoint is better than the way we brand inside. Those are huge, huge gaps and there are huge problems and illnesses for organizations down the road.

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Pozitive” a Product Division of SpadeWorx is next step in taking forward our mission - “Employee Engagement To Drive Productivity & Innovation”. We have been privileged to work with lot of customers over the last decade and have learnt a lot when it comes to the increasing importance of Employee Engagement as organizations are getting on the digital transformation journey.

Increasing Employee Engagement requires a cultural transformation at many organizations and we believe reimagining recognition is a good start. For this purpose, SpadeWorx launched “Bravo – Workplace Recognition Reimagined

With our research, surveys ,participation in expos and conferences a very clear message has emerged which is voiced by thought leaders in HR space that Culture is the most important catalyst in a company for vibrant and positive work place which can bring increased productivity and efficiency.

Bravo is aimed at promoting desired cultural traits which is so very essential for strategy execution.