The Power of Engagement: Minor Effort for Major Rewards

I just came back from being on the road for 8 days.  During my trip I talked with many  people about the markets and what is going on.  I even spent a lot time with Brad Smart the author of Topgrading about this topic.   You don’t have to watch the media to know that unemployment is on a rise to all time high and also the simple fact of a down economy means more companies will have to do more with less.  So how is that going to happen when we are all ready working more hours than we want or can?

The answer is; engaging your staff and vendors at a level never before so that you can not only get more done but DOUBLE the efforts with LESS people. For the sake of this article I will refer to all staff, vendors, and outsources as “employees”

In current tough times, companies put rewarding and engaging employees on the back burner.  They do not realize the damage it is doing to their company.  Engaged employees dramatically improve a company’s bottom line performance.  On the flip side, studies prove that disengaged employees do more damage than one would think.

One of the most powerful tools for engaged employees are recognition programs.  These programs engage a team by rewarding them – frequently and with meaningful awards – for behaviors, actions and attitudes that reflect an organization’ core goals and values.  On a side note, if you don’t have goals and values for your foundation it is tough to make any decisions in a company.  Effective recognition programs deliver a unified global platform for giving rewards.

These programs should go beyond simple pats-on-the-back to act as major communication channel that bridges boundaries of culture, geography and position to permeate the company’s vision, values and critical messages for success throughout an organization.  I say that because lots of companies in our space like to be virtual and/or need to be virtual. Today’ strategic programs raise recognition far above the old tactical approach, enabling clear measurement and reporting for enhanced company governance.


Untapped Opportunity

Unfortunately, too many companies today do not see the value of employee engagement, at least not from a strategic level.  In those organizations, recognition programs get stuck as a tactical, HR type driven initiative.  They don’t get the necessary support from the owner or entrepreneur to make the effort a truly strategic business initiative that has the potential to move the employee motivation needle, change a company’s culture, and impact an organization’s financial performance.

The reason?  In many cases, management does not understand the potential high impact of the effort and has a shortsighted view of this type of investment.  I just listened to Tony Hsieh, the founder of, a billion dollar company, while on my trip.  It was a slap in the face to me about how successfully he has built his company by constantly engaging his staff and creating a culture that permeates through his customer base.  Not on shoes, not on clothing… really.  All on creating a culture that creates a great customer experience.

The challenge is having the ability to see beyond the next quarterly goals. We must have the philosophy that we are in business for the long term and that, although treating employees right may cost more in the short term, the return is going to be many times over.

The first step in tapping into the enormous potential of recognition is ushering this effort through the company so that it gets the full support and attention at every level.  This means that business owner/entrepreneur will need to open the company’s purse strings for this effort.

However, your program’s success goes far beyond merely dollars and sense.  It requires that you fully endorse and support the effort, making it an integral part of the company’s culture and tying it directly to the company goals and values.  If possible a company scorecard helps. When the program is truly embedded into the day-to-day workings of a company (i.e. when employees are recognized on a frequent basis for behaviors that reflect the company’s goals),  recognition can literally turn a company inside out – for the better.

What’s the roadmap owners must follow to elevate recognition within an organization and realize its full potential?  Follow the rules of Operational Excellence and fairly and equitably recognize all employees, just to name a couple


Operation Excellence Means Measure, Hold Accountable, Realize ROI

Develop a measurement strategy that provides actionable insights.

To achieve measurable results for a strategic recognition initiative, business owners need to treat this as they would other strategic investments and apply the rules of operational excellence.  By following the steps below, you can advance recognition from a distributed, tactical model with no measurable outcomes to a truly strategic initiative with a measurable impact on employee retention, satisfaction and overall company performance.

Establish clear objective and metrics to measure performance.  Success of a recognition program requires a clearly defined methodology to demonstrate how the program will be measured against established company goals, illustrating the bottom-line value and long-term measurable outcomes of the program.  Setting clear goals during program development is central to methodology.  This can be done through employee reviews or in a Management by Objectives (MBO) structure.  By discretion should be last resort and at a minimum have proper measurement tools in place like we discussed above.

Measurable process goals are critical to a successful recognition program.   With the appropriate goals and a program to measure the outcome, you can begin to spot the frequency appropriateness and timeliness of recognition and the levels of success against those goals. Even as small companies you will see this even if you don’t document it.  It will stand out and become commonplace.

When measured appropriately, company leadership can begin to map patterns. With greater insight into how employees regard recognition and the company values, owners can begin to manipulate the social architecture of the company to better achieve goals and the company mission.


Fairly and Equitably Recognize All Employees across Cultures and Borders

A culture of appreciation reinforces the company’s stated values to better achieve the company’s mission.  For all the virtual companies that are prominent in the internet marketing arena, it allows for individualism in approach to accomplishing tasks, but unites employees across cultural and geographical boundaries through a common attitude of recognition for tasks well done and goals achieved.   It creates opportunities and a desire to say “thank you” frequently.

One of my favorite books is called “Winning”. Jack Welch and GE blazed a trail with differentiation by mapping its workforce effectiveness into a bell curve of performance.  The performance bell curve as merely a tool to separate employees into three categories based on performance.  As Welch outlined in Winning, keeping the middle group (where the vast majority of employees fall) engaged and motivated is the real challenge.

Therefore, developing a culture where recognition happens organically and naturally in the middle 80 percent returns the highest levels of engagement – exactly where the majority of work happens.  When recognition principles are made available to all employees, companies can change their very culture one that motivational, encouraging and engaging, resulting in improved performance across the organization.

Non-cash, gift card rewards to local, high-value venues also take rewards beyond compensation to a trophy award status, giving the recipient guilt-free enjoyment of a high-end luxury item or entertainment event.  These tangible symbols of achievement are lasting reminders of that achievement and are socially acceptable to show off, again reinforcing the value of the recognition program across the company. We use to let employees take the company plane for a weekend trip to the keys or Bahamas.  That always worked well and they would talk about it to other employees for months.

We are in the online and social media world now.  Old-school incentives programs encouraged managers to hold small recognition ceremonies on a quarterly basis throughout the company where managers presented a staff member with an award.

While a public ceremony does have value, constraining all recognition moments to such a formal exercise is a practice no longer valued by the online generation and requires too much time, which limits the volume of recognition moments.

Speed is the key component of today’s recognition efforts as I have just been recently reminded of this with a new team member Todd Brown.  The recognition moment should happen quickly to ensure the recipient’s rewarded behavior is still “top of mind.”  Frequency of recognition is also important, especially with Generation Y or Millennials.  With more awards given, the program gains more visibility, thus creating more recognition moments.  Ultimately, frequent and ongoing recognition serves to reinforce core values in the minds of employees.  I told Todd who is head of Marketing to always keep a few one hundred dollar bills on hand so that he is ready to recognize someone fast and publicly.

Additionally, this kind of highly public recognition from the desk of the owner resonates through all employees, helping to unite them behind a common mission with a consistency of purpose.  And committed employees will help to drive program ROI.

Employee recognition done right – consistently and frequently – is the tipping point between “willing” employees who will do what is required to get the job done and “engaged” employees who put discretionary effort into their work to improve efficiency, effectiveness and results.

Like Tony Hsieh said on stage last week, it is all about trying to create excitement in the culture.  It’s part of trying to build momentum and keep that momentum going.  You want to let people know they are doing a good job and at the same time reinforce the same messages about where the business is going, and what’s important.

In today’s challenging economy, companies are looking for new and creative ways to enhance performance within their business.  Realizing employee engagement through recognition efforts holds the potential to be the next significant ROI opportunity.  These programs empower companies to create a unified, Internet marketing global workforce, aligning employees from multiple generations and multiple cultures around the very essence of the company, its core goals and values.  What was once relegated to a tactical task that usually sat at the bottom of a priority list now sits squarely on the desk of the owner.  Are you ready to heed the call?

~Brian Johnson

No Comments Yet.

Leave a Reply