How to Build A Strategically Effective Social Recognition

Recognition can and should be planned and executed in a company like any other management practice with the potential to drive bottom-line results, and therein lies the opportunity for competitive advantage. Other practices like compensation, financial discipline and quality control are so well established that your competition manages these in essentially the same way as you.

When you elevate recognition to the level of other strategic practices, you create a fresh competitive advantage, one that is uniquely tailored to your company’s culture, goals and strategy. Social recognition is one of the few practices that still create competitive advantage.

Here is a blueprint for building a strategically effective social recognition practice that seizes that competitive advantage. This blueprint includes plans in five areas: sponsorship, design, reach, adoption and rewards.

Sponsorship: The success of a strategic recognition program depends on sponsorship by organization leaders. When recognition’s relationship to other strategic assets is understood and supported, its power is truly unleashed, and this can only happen with executive attention and approval. Social recognition earns support because it engages executives where they live — in the realms of competitive advantage, high performance and profits.

Social recognition needs commitment from all top executives. Executive participation elevates the program to strategic status. It increases general participation, focuses managers and battles the unfortunate tendency to say yes without real commitment.

Design: Recognition must be designed as carefully as any other strategic initiative, with a clear ambition, metrics and input from stakeholders. Why are you doing this? Without real, detailed goals, the practice of engaging and motivating employees can become “recognition for recognition’s sake,” which typically results in another old-school program lacking accountability and relevance.

Establish a recognition ambition based on your organization’s core values and strategic objectives. What are the hallmarks of your culture? What do you want to accomplish? How does it relate to your most important business drivers? What must be supported — profits, customer service, operational excellence, innovation and/or maximum product quality?

Reach: Social recognition creates a big winner’s circle. In old-school recognition programs, a few people received large awards. Companies have learned they can achieve substantial improvements by adding a lower range of awards with economic value to the program’s portfolio.

Social recognition awards the top 10 percent. It also recognizes the 70 percent of people behind the top performers who carry the organization every day. These are the classic unsung heroes. They are the “Mighty Middle”— the people who dutifully attend to their tasks, are consistently polite on the phone and reliably complete work on time. A broad improvement in company performance requires bringing these people into the winner’s circle. It’s simple logic: Raising the engagement of a majority of employees will result in out-sized performance improvements. To imagine otherwise is to waste that middle 70 percent’s potential.

Adoption: Any new initiative requires a critical mass of adoption by employees to achieve its goals, and that’s doubly true of a social initiative like recognition. Quick adoption by a large number of employees means better ROI for the program over time and faster results in terms of engagement, energy and performance.

You also need to brand your recognition program. Sometimes the name is nothing more than a label:“Acme Corporation Recognition Program.”We advocate a single, unique brand identity for a company’s social recognition program. Creating a unified brand promotes unity across divisions and borders. With one name known by everyone, the company has a one-company voice and a one-company mission around which employees can rally. Branding your social recognition program in this kind of disciplined yet creative way is a chance to reinforce key values that make the company unique.

Rewards: The era of the gold watch is long gone, so consider a few principles when determining the nature and size of rewards in a social recognition program. Offer a great choice of rewards. Employees are individuals — this is a fundamental principle of social recognition.

Each employee makes unique contributions, has unique tastes and desires uniqueness. The best managers, and indeed the best global organizations, learn that rewards are most effective when they honor the individual. Merchandise-only programs were designed before the advent of the multicultural, global organization, and they make little allowance for differences among cultures. A crystal trophy might sit well on a desk in Paris, but does it have the same meaning in Toronto or Miami?

Social recognition magnifies the moment of recognition with the power of choice. In a partnership of goodwill, the giver determines the value of the award, and the recipient determines the final object or experience awarded. In this way, the recipient becomes a participant in his or her own recognition, not a passive-if-gratified spectator 

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