Archives for April 2016

When Employee Recognition Goes Wrong

Anyone who has ever felt ignored by their company’s “high performers” track or frustrated that only salespeople get bonuses is familiar with the curse of the failed recognition program.

According to a 2015 report from employee recognition provider Globoforce, 81 percent of companies offer some form of formal recognition program. But just having a recognition program doesn’t mean it’s working, according to Jim Hemmer, CEO of WorkStride, an employee recognition platform.

“Randomly handing out gift cards from your bottom drawer isn’t going to make a difference,” Hemmer said. Recognition initiatives are intended to make employees feel more engaged with the company and to drive specific behaviors that improve the business.

Many companies make serious errors when implementing recognition programs that cause them to have no effect — or worse, make people feel left out, undervalued or stressed from constant competition.

High-Potential Rewards

George Marc-Aurele learned this lesson the hard way when he joined digital media company CPX Interactive, or CPXi, in 2012 as its chief people officer. At the time, the New York-based firm was growing rapidly, and Marc-Aurele was brought on to help develop a more mature human resources culture and improve the overall employee experience.

At the time, the company had no formal recognition program, so one of the first steps Marc-Aurele took was to implement an end-of-the-year reward for high achievers. The idea was to reinforce the desired “performance culture” of the organization, Marc-Aurele said, but it wasn’t entirely well received.

“People were upset because some people got recognized while others didn’t,” Marc-Aurele said. However, this wasn’t all bad. “It spurred a lot of conversations about what was important to the company.”

Marc-Aurele dropped the program after the first year. Instead, he decided to work with employees to figure out what they wanted from a recognition program. He surveyed employees about the words they felt represented the CPXi culture, then formed committees to hone those words into six core values: accountability, uncommon ability to achieve, rapid adaptability, caring community, balance, and curiosity that pushes boundaries.

“It was critically important that we put the words into the language of the culture,” he said. “Otherwise it would have just been words on a wall.”

Once the values were defined Marc-Aurele returned to the idea of a recognition program, this time rolling out a game-based, peer-driven program where employees get points for demonstrating the company’s core values on a day-to-day basis and for nominating other employees for recognition. They can also get points for completing recognition challenges, like writing a blog about their achievements at the company or posting a selfie in their company T-shirt outside the office.

Moreover, employees can trade the points in for prizes, and there is an end-of-the-year raffle for a $1,000 plane ticket voucher. “It took hold really quickly,” Marc-Aurele said, adding that the prizes are less important than the opportunity to give teammates a shout-out.

Within a few months of rolling the program out, employees had given out hundreds of nominations. Marc-Aurele highlights nominees in the “Monday Missive” email the company sends out and in weekly meetings to spur ongoing participation. “People have a psychological need for recognition,” he said. “Having this program in place has made CPXi a better place to work.”

What Should Be Recognized?

Many recognition experts agree that peer-based programs can be the most successful because they address many common challenges recognition efforts face.

For instance, when employees are empowered to recognize their peers, they are more engaged with the initiative and feel value both in giving and receiving acknowledgment. It also lifts the burden from managers to be constantly looking for the right behaviors to recognize.

That all helps to make a program stick, said Kate Ondrasik, director of internal communications for Orlando Health, one of the largest health care service providers in Orlando, Florida. And that’s exactly what Ondrasik was looking for two years ago when her team was asked to come up with a replacement for the company’s outdated, management-driven recognition program. The old system was paper-based and relied on managers to recognize “champions” in the workplace. “It had a lot of problems,” Ondrasik said.

The old program, which had been in place for years, was also time consuming, requiring managers to fill out and submit paperwork for every formal recognition. Additionally, the values they were supposed to recognize were vague, making it difficult to identify specific behaviors that define a champion.

“It eventually evolved into awards being given to people for being ‘nice’ or ‘helpful,’ ” she said, and only a very small number of people were recognized every year.

This is a common problem with recognition programs, according to WorkStride’s Hemmer. When recognition programs become confusing, vague, cumbersome or not well marketed, they become a burden rather than a benefit. Ultimately, only a few managers take part and nobody really knows who’s getting rewarded or why.

“If you are going to build a reward program, it should be easy, flexible and build affinity back to the company,” Hemmer said.

Ondrasik eventually ditched Orlando Health’s old program and turned to employees to figure out how to replace it. She reached out to the company’s “team council,” which is a group of employees who apply for annual positions to help shape the company’s culture. The council in turn surveyed employees about what they wanted in a recognition program, reviewed other programs, and talked to recognition vendors to come up with a plan. It came up with a new recognition system named Applause Central.

The new program is designed to reward seven behaviors focused on things like respect, ownership and inclusion. Using the WorkStride platform, all 15,000 employees can publicly recognize each other for demonstrating any of these behaviors. Rewards vary from “kudos,” which anyone can give, to gift cards of up to $20, which managers are allotted on a monthly basis.

Because the program is run both online and through a mobile app, people are more likely to use it. “Having a mobile feature was key because most of our employees don’t sit at a computer,” Ondrasik said.

To promote the program, all nominations are posted on a digital leader board and on a scrolling news bar on the company’s intranet. Ondrasik’s team is also always looking for opportunities to promote the program through the company newsletter and in team meetings. The employee council also chooses a champion from that week’s nominees to showcase in a video interview on the company portal.

“They always have a lot of options to choose from,” Ondrasik said. For example, one week they featured several neonatal intensive-care unit staffers who used their own wedding dresses to make christening gowns for babies who wouldn’t survive. Another week they interviewed a trauma center employee who gave his shoes to a homeless patient when he got discharged.

One of the great benefits of the peer-based system is that employees are more likely to see their colleagues going the extra mile for patients. The platform gives them an easy way to acknowledge that. Ondrasik said one of the most popular features of Applause Central has been the simple thanks that anyone can hand out.

In the first 10 months, employees and managers gave out 82,815 recognitions, 88 percent of which were nonmonetary, Ondrasik said. “The data tells us that including nonmonetary awards is key to success of recognition.”

Bribes Don’t Work

Many HR leaders find that money isn’t the most valued part of employee recognition and might often just be a throwaway expense. “Gift cards and prizes feel like bribes, and you should only use bribes as a last resort,” said Kris Duggan, CEO of BetterWorks, a cloud-based goal-setting software program. “Bribes don’t change behavior, which is the whole point of recognition.”

Duggan discovered this two years ago, when BetterWorks was trying to fill a few key executive roles but couldn’t give the base salary that competing companies were offering. So he created a base-plus-bonus compensation package just for those new hires, with incentives for meeting key goals.

The rest of the company just received public recognition on the company’s social network via “cheering” and other acknowledgments given by peers and managers. The result: “The people receiving the ‘bribes’ didn’t perform any better than the people receiving cheers,” he said.

As a result, the company is phasing out all base-plus-bonus salary packages and focusing more on encouraging peer-to-peer recognition and teaching managers how to celebrate their people and provide real-time feedback that reinforces the right behaviors. “You have to pause and reflect on what you’ve accomplished before you can move onto the next thing,” Duggan said. “A lot of companies skip this step, but I think it is the lifeblood of any recognition effort.”

George Hu, founder of the social recognition platform Peer and former chief operating officer at, has a similar sentiment about tying financial gains to recognition. “Giving people gift cards has no impact,” he said. “And it can be demotivating when the same people get recognized over and over.”

Instead, Hu prefers to reward people with access. As the COO at Salesforce, when he saw that an employee was going above and beyond, he invited them to sit on a management meeting or gave them opportunities for one-on-one mentoring. He also encouraged managers to do the same. “It’s more valuable because it gives them entry into a new relationship and makes other executives aware of them,” Hu said.

Managers in these situations used Chatter, the company’s peer-to-peer social engagement platform, to find employees who are frequent recipients of praise for additional mentoring. Every quarter, the leadership team invites the top 30 recipients of praise to the worldwide management meeting where they get a chance to build relationships with top executives who they might otherwise never meet.

Because these employees are chosen based on the number of acknowledgments they receive, it takes bias out of the process, Hu said. In one case, the data drew Hu’s attention to an engineer who was extremely shy and introverted but had been recognized more than 100 times in one quarter for mentoring new hires. “The recognition program helped us identify him, and now he’s being developed as a leader,” Hu said.

Hu noted that retention rates among those employees who were rewarded with access and mentoring was “through the roof,” reinforcing his belief that development and encouragement hold a lot more value than a gift card. Hu is now applying that model at Peer, which links feedback with performance and recognition.

“Recognition and feedback go hand-in-hand,” Hu said. “You have to approach them both together if you want recognition to have an impact.” While most recognition programs have some redeeming value, Hu added, putting extra time and thought into what, how and who leaders recognize can go a long way toward making these programs worth the effort.

How to Make Recognition Stick

There are a few steps talent leaders can take to be sure their recognition programs have the effect they desire.

  1. Ask employees what they want. When employees help shape the recognition program, it’s going to reflect their voice and values, said George Marc-Aurele, chief people officer at CPX Interactive.
  2. Make it social and peer-to-peer. “When people see others getting recognized, they want to get in on it, which makes it grow organically,” Marc-Aurele said.
  3. Make it easy. You want a system that allows employees to give recognition at the click of a button, said Kate Ondrasik, director of internal communications for Orlando Health.
  4. Broadcast leadership commitment. Put a video on the intranet of the CEO talking up the program as a way to promote it,said Jim Hemmer, CEO at WorkStride.
  5. Use recognition as an opportunity to mentor. “All recognition is good, but access to new development opportunities is a lot more valuable than a gift card,” Marc-Aurele said.
  6. Don’t “set it and forget it.” Promote the program via company communications and social media, highlighting winners at meetings and on the website, and sending reminders to keep people engaged, said Cord Himelstein, vice president of marketing for Michael C. Fina.
  7. Let future employees know you care. If you have a great program, talk it up on your website, on social media and in recruiting and onboarding efforts.


Reprinted from TALENT MANAGEMENT magazine






Stop Pretending to Be an Expert All the Time

As Janet walks back to her office, she reflects on the meeting she’s just wrapped up with her team, the top learning and development staff in their large consumer goods organization. They had been discussing their new people management curriculum rollout, and at one point, she suggested they all participate in one of the pilot groups. Their response? Dead silence, and looks ranging from surprised to puzzled to irritated.

Janet tried again. “We’ve all agreed that many of our executives aren’t excellent people managers. Wouldn’t it be great for us to model the kind of openness to learning that we expect from them?”

No one disagreed with her outright, but she could tell they weren’t comfortable with the idea. She could mandate her team’s attendance. But if they show up looking bored or spend the course surreptitiously checking their phones, it will have exactly opposite the effect she wants.

The other attendees will see them as know-it-alls who don’t think they have anything to learn about people management. And, she thinks to herself, the irony is that every one of them — including her — could use some improvement in their management skills.

Janet’s difficulty is all too common. Senior executives — including learning leaders — often resist learning, even when they need it. From leadership development to learning new company processes, new technologies or industry advances, senior people often act as though they’re supposed to know everything already. It makes it difficult for them to keep up with the demands of an ever-more-rapidly changing world.

What’s a chief learning officer to do?

Fortunately, it is possible to help people at any level become masters of mastery: learners who expand their skills, knowledge and understanding daily. These three things can help you and others become high-payoff learners.

  1. Publicize and reward the power of “noviceness.”Many of the most effective, innovative leaders are willing to be beginners, to acknowledge they don’t know things, and to open themselves up to acquiring emerging skills and knowledge necessary for success. You likely have some of those in your company. Find them, and find ways to showcase them — for not just their achievements but also the learning process they went through to get there. Point out how they tried new approaches, made mistakes, got better and finally succeeded. Most people — most companies — tend to emphasize only the happy outcome, rather than the learning that came before the success. Focusing only on the end product reinforces people’s unrealistic, and unhelpful, expectations about having to be expert at all times. Learning leaders can make sure people are acknowledged for doing the learning that leads to better results.
  2. Make sure learning is happening in learning. Janet has the right idea about having her team model openness to learning. She just has to help them see the value for them and the rest of the organization. People often only want to do new potentially daunting things when they can see the personal benefits of doing them. So, rather than trying to convince them to participate in the pilot management skills course, she could go back to them and ask: “How might it benefit you to be a part of the pilot? How might it benefit our function? How might it benefit the company?” If they can answer those questions in ways that are meaningful to them, they’re more likely to attend and benefit from the training.
  3. Recognize the inevitability of “being bad first.” Humans love to be good at things. But every time we need to learn something new, we’ll likely be bad at first. When you’re attempting to get good in a new area of skill or knowledge, you’re going to feel clumsy, make mistakes, have to ask 101-level questions. You can’t change that, but you can make the process easier by simply accepting it. Tell yourself and others: “We’re going to be bad at this until we get good at it.” If Janet can help herself, her staff and their senior executives shift their mindset into “accepting being bad,” at the start of new learning, it will make them feel less pressured, more capable and hopeful. That will make it easier for everyone to learn and grow.


AUTHOR:  Erika Andersen is the founder of Proteus, a consulting, coaching, and training firm and author of “Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future.” 



How HR & Marketing Can Build a Better Brand Together

Enduring brands are built by people—not ads, clicks or views.

Marketing has traditionally taken the lead in communicating the corporate brand promise, but when it comes to delivering on those promises, it’s people from all around the organization who have to do the meticulous work of successfully bringing the brand promise to life. In fact, employees need to do many things (often behind the scenes) that are “on brand” across dozens of customer touch points. Ultimately, it’s the organizational culture—”the way things are done around here”—that becomes the true brand differentiator.

That’s precisely why HR has a significant role to play in the process. It’s time to recognize and leverage the critical role employees play in enhancing and delivering the brand promise.

The Challenge

The digital age has brought forth exceptional corporate transparency. In order to productively drive cohesion and a seamless customer experience, organizations have to communicate internally with employees as aggressively and consistently as they do externally with customers. Branding is no longer just visual identity and an external promise to customers, but has become a means of executing business strategy via internal brand-led behavior and culture change to create a compelling customer experience delivered by the entire organization.

Rather than viewing brand as an outcome or intangible asset, the concept of employee-based brand equity affords us the opportunity to use brand as a lever to value and capture returns across the organization, and this is achieved with HR practices at the core.

What HR Gains

Recruiting top-tier talent is crucial for any organization wanting to achieve and sustain success, and hiring the right people is essential to building a workforce that’s truly engaged in what your company does. However, attracting that talent has become an increasingly challenging proposition, as candidates have become more discerning, and have far greater resources for evaluating their fit with your organization. Discovering brand inconsistencies between what’s promised externally and the internal reality employees experience could be enough of a deal-breaker to turn off those coveted candidates.

To prevent that from occurring, we have to consistently tell our brand story through a variety of channels, not just to reach customers but to reach prospective employees as well. Many companies fall short on communicating with current employees, much less extending the brand story to those they hope to recruit.

Marketing has the talent to help HR target an employee audience—just like it does a customer audience—and bring the brand alive by creating passionate, emotional connections with potential candidates. The qualities that matter to customers also matter to the high-potentials we want to recruit—especially on the topics of culture, leadership, challenge and growth.

Marketers know how to drive and measure audience engagement, how to create engaging experiences, how to nurture audiences, and how to tell a story that keeps people interested and engaged over a long period of time.

Invite marketing to help you map the employee journey, understand what matters to potential employees, how to find them and capture their attention, how to woo them into an employment relationship, and how to nurture, grow and retain them as valuable leaders at all levels of the company. Likewise, invoke marketing’s assistance to craft congruent messages so what new employees are presented with is consistent with the brand promise.

What Marketing Gains

HR’s role is to connect the dots between the customer value proposition/brand position and the various codes of conduct around the organization, starting with the mission, vision and values, to the employee value proposition and leadership model. A frequent challenge is that these values are often generic, disconnected, and say very little about the brand they represent.

HR professionals should take branding out of the marketing communications silo and into employee and organizational processes that underpin the delivery of the brand. Reconfigure existing HR processes like hiring, onboarding, training, reward and recognition—adapting them to ensure effective delivery of the brand and strategy.

Marketers’ ongoing quest for authentic and compelling brand stories can be supplemented by human resources. Partner with HR not only to tell the brand story through them, but also to discover new stories about why people come to work at the company, what matters to them, and how their own stories mesh with the brand story. This provides marketers insight into how their efforts make a difference in helping to recruit the right people.

Making It Work

Marketing and HR need to talk about what HR wants to accomplish with new and existing employees, and explore how the message and the experience between the brand and new employee onboarding can be unified.

In “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing,” authors Carla Johnson and Robert Rose support increased collaboration between HR and marketing, and outline a plan for making a partnership like this work:

  • Extend the brand story through HR so the people recruited fit the culture, believe in the company’s purpose, and seamlessly step in to begin contributing in significant ways and creating delightful experiences for customers.
  • Reach candidates and new hires in new and meaningful ways based on their generational preferences.
  • Decide how and when to bring IT into the picture so the candidate experience is easy and user-friendly.
  • Help colleagues understand what could be, how all the brand pieces fit together, and how to work together to create new and different experiences for both employees and customers.

As the war for talent continues to rage, and customer expectations continue to escalate, we need to begin to create incredibly customized and personal experiences for those who have such enormous impact on our organizations and our ability to achieve our corporate goals. Increased and targeted collaboration between marketing and HR will go a long way in helping to accomplish those goals.

It’s time to recognize and leverage the critical role employees play in enhancing and delivering the brand promise.

AUTHOR:  Named one of the most influential women in the incentive industry, Michelle M. Smith, CPIM, CRP, is an accomplished international author and speaker, past-president of the FORUM at Northwestern University, president emeritus of the Incentive Marketing Association, vice-president of research for the Business Marketing Association, and vice-president of marketing for O.C. Tanner.

Reprinted from PREMIUM INCENTIVE PRODUCTS magazine

Ten Steps to Building a Learning Culture

A learning culture is an environment that celebrates and rewards learning, incents people to freely share what they know, and helps them to change based on the acquisition of new skills and knowledge. We all like to think we work in a positive learning culture, but that’s not always the case.

There’s no question that learning is likely to fail if it’s poorly designed, the content is weak, or the technology doesn’t work. But learning will absolutely fail if the culture doesn’t support it. As I mentioned in The Three Laws of eLearning Failure, when great learning comes up against a lousy learning culture, the culture wins every time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are 10 key steps to building a positive learning culture in your organization:

  1. Start with leadership. Culture begins at the top. If senior leadership doesn’t support a learning culture, no one else will. If you are looking for a breakthrough, find leaders who will invest in and champion your efforts, even if the project is smaller, or less visible or significant than you would like. You need some initial success stories to help spread your message.
  2. Expand the mission. You’re going nowhere if you simply equate learning with training. Learning—individual and organizational—is much broader than courses. Don’t make the mistake of talking “learning” but doing only “training.” Think more about a learning and performance ecosystem than simply a course catalog, and then act accordingly.
  3. Get buy-in from the front line. If you want employees to learn, make sure their supervisors learn first. You can’t expect them to get behind something they don’t understand themselves. Build support for learning into their appraisals and reward managers who put learning near the top of their team’s agenda.
  4. Get the content right. Putting lots of content out there does nothing to encourage learning if the content is confusing, inauthentic, biased, low value, hard to access, incomplete, or just plain wrong. Content curation may be the most important thing you can do.
  5. Get the technology right. It’s not just about making sure the technology works, but making sure it’s the right technology for the right use. Be careful the technology doesn’t get in the way of learning, or that you are not using more tech than you need. Technology is important; learning without technology cannot scale, but technology without learning is just a “shiny object.”
  6. Ensure readiness to learn. One of the biggest factors in fostering a poor learning culture is providing learning programs to people who aren’t ready for them or who don’t need them. This can be terribly demotivating. Make sure your learners have the right prerequisites, have clear learning goals, and have adequate time and resources to learn, and are not wasting their time. Provide them with valued incentives to learn, and be sure you understand why they might be resistant to your efforts.
  7. Communicate for the long term. Launching new learning programs can sometimes be more hype than substance. Of course you need to promote your efforts, but be sure your communications strategies are long-term, valuable in the learners’ eyes (“what’s in it for me”), and truly helps them develop their own positive affinity for the learning process itself—an affinity that can be contagious if enough people buy into it.
  8. Provide for learning transfer. Making sure that what they learn in class they can apply at work is critical. And it’s just not being able to do what you’ve been taught; it’s also recognizing that what you’ve been taught is actually helpful to you in doing your job better and easier. The connection between job performance and learning is a key to building a sustainable learning culture.
  9. Demonstrate success. Better to have a small success than a big failure. Demonstration projects, pilots, and proof-of-concept work are all essential in building support for learning. As was noted in step one, culture begins at the top, but it’s also important for rank-and-file to see how the new learning programs work, and how they might benefit. Showing success is much more powerful than just talking about it
  10. Measure results and provide feedback. You want to measure how much is learned, but perhaps more important from a culture. perspective, you want to measure the value people attach to learning. And, of course, nothing speaks louder than the positive impact learning has on individual and organizational performance. So go beyond measuring course-level learning. Find out the real impact of the program on participants and the organization.

Use these 10 steps as a checklist for your organization, if you like. How well are you doing?

Learning fails when nobody really cares about it. You can always mandate learning programs, or hype them incessantly, but that is not culture change. If you truly want your learning and performance strategy to have a positive and sustainable impact—if you really want people to want to learn and the organization to want to invest in learning—you must create an atmosphere of value, support, and appreciation for what you are offering. Without it, people may just be going through the motions.


AUTHOR:  Marc J. Rosenberg, Ph.D., is a management consultant, writer, educator, and expert in the world of training, organizational learning, eLearning, knowledge management and performance improvement. He is the author of the best-selling books, E-Learning: Strategies for Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill), and Beyond E-Learning: Approaches and Technologies to Enhance Organizational Knowledge, Learning and Performance (Wiley/Pfeiffer).

Reprinted from LEARNING SOLUTIONS magazine


How to Create a Workplace Culture of Wellness

Even the strongest health education and counseling programs will fail to achieve measurable impact if they are undermined by policies or an environment that encourage unhealthy choices. But how to create a workplace culture that supports healthy lifestyles? The answer may be a health culture audit.


The benefits of worksite wellness programs have been widely documented, including increased productivity and improved morale, along with reduced absenteeism, lower healthcare premiums and medical costs plus fewer disability claims. Wellness programs may also boost employee retention and recruitment efforts.

Unfortunately, wellness programs often ignore the contextual forces that influence health. This remains true despite social ecological models that demonstrate that the larger social system has a great bearing on individual health outcomes.

In other words, by weaving health promotion efforts into the workplace environment and company policies, employers can more effectively influence healthy behaviors. Such initiatives also have the potential to reach wider segments of the employee population and are generally less labor intensive.

Yet the responsibility for designing an effective worksite wellness initiative often falls to a benefits adviser or human resources leader. While these professionals possess distinctive strengths in several critical areas related to wellness, such as benefit design and administration, creating a health culture can be a daunting task that more comprehensive organizational support.

Why conduct an audit?

A comprehensive health culture audit can reveal answers to several key questions about an organization’s commitment to wellness. These include:

  • Do company policies support employee health?
  • Is the overall workplace environment conducive to healthy activities?
  • Are there offerings aimed at helping employees remain healthy?
  • Is the employer willing to further invest in employee well-being?

A properly executed audit can identify characteristics of a worksite that have potential to facilitate or impede healthy behaviors among workers. Health culture audits are also useful for measuring progress year-to-year and may predict employee risk profiles and associated healthcare cost trends for employers.

“Unfortunately, wellness programs often ignore the contextual forces that influence health.”

Audits should evaluate the availability of facilities like fitness centers, showers, recreation areas and bike racks, as well as the general “walkability” of the work place, all of which can influence employees’ level of physical activity. They should also review available food service options, including vending machines and cafeterias, and employees’ ability to store and prepare foods brought from home, all of which can either promote or discourage more nutritional eating habits.

In a similar vein, organizational policies, such as designating tobacco-free areas and providing incentives for achieving health-related goals, should also be assessed.

To succeed, worksite wellness initiatives must address all the ways that a workplace culture impacts health-related behaviors. Advisers and HR professionals who develop these programs would be prudent to undertake a health culture audit in order to better understand the challenges they must confront.


AUTHOR:  Victor Tringali is the founder and managing partner of Healthy Human Capital, a consulting firm dedicated to helping employers build healthier, higher performing work places.



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