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Employee recognition and reward – Mainstays in achieving strategic business objectives

Achievement Awards Group, specialising in the design and implementation of end-to-end human engagement solutions, developed a highly successful employee recognition program – achieve – for its 320 employees, nearly half of which work in their customer call centre. A nine-box system that draws extensively on RPI Best Practice Standards®, was developed as a guiding framework to ensure each component of a successful recognition program is properly considered during development. Program results have exceeded industry standards with survey results showing that employees feeling valued in the organisation increased from 53% to 72%.

The “achieve” in-house recognition program won two prestigious, international awards in 2022 – “Best Recognition Program” at the IA22 event in London and the “Pinnacle Award” for demonstrating best practice in all seven program categories, by Recognition Professionals International (RPI) in the USA.

Achievement Awards Group unpacks the case study for its award winning “achieve” recognition program – detailing what goes into the making of a successful recognition and rewards program for employees.  

‘An effective rewards and recognition program helps businesses attain their strategic objectives by attracting and retaining talent, increasing employee engagement and morale, aligning employee behaviour with business objectives and fostering a sense of ownership and accountability. Yet, despite their value and proven efficacy, employee rewards and recognition programs remain one of the most underutilised levers when it comes to achieving business objectives and driving organisational cultural and behaviour change.

‘This underutilisation stems from a number of factors – firstly a lack of appreciation for the significant ROI that effective recognition programs offer, internal program ownership, leadership involvement and role-modelling, dated or inadequate enabling technology and the sustainability aspect of driving the program and keeping it fresh, current and top of mind,’ explains Kevin Skinner, Business Director of Employee Engagement at Achievement Awards Group.

Employee rewards and recognition programs should drive the achievement of business objectives and living of company values:

– Increased motivation and engagement: Employees who feel valued and appreciated for their contributions are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their work.

– Improved retention: Employees who feel appreciated are more likely to stay with their current employer, which means increased employee loyalty and retention of talent.

– Better performance: Motivated and engaged employees perform better. Rewards and recognition programs also provide clear goals and incentives for employees to strive towards, improving productivity.

– Positive workplace culture: A workplace that values and recognises its employees is more likely to have a supportive culture that feeds into better teamwork, communication and collaboration among employees. A culture in which employees live the company values, consistently follow best practices and demonstrate positive behaviours.

– Align employee behaviour with strategic business objectives: Rewards and recognition should be tied into specific strategic business objectives and provide a clear path of how employees can support these objectives.

– Ownership and accountability: A recognition program creates a sense of ownership and accountability where employees feel responsible for achieving specific objectives and are recognised for doing so. When employees take ownership, they perform at a higher level.

Aligning strategy and culture in employee recognition programs

The “achieve” program hinges off bountiXP, AAGroup’s proprietary technology platform that underpins and supports all its recognition programs. The core platform functionality brings together five key features:

– Employee recognition: Peer-to-peer and manager to staff.  Appreciating, thanking and valuing staff for doing the right things.

– Ongoing social engagement: Continuous communication that establishes connections and strengthens the employee community.

– A world of rewards: Complete freedom of reward choice through a reloadable awardscard® linked to Mastercard), virtual cards, digital vouchers, travel and experiential rewards.

– Real-time data: Advanced people and performance data available 24/7 to help manage, benchmark, boost and improve the program – plus the ability to enable advanced analytics delivering deep people insights for executives. 

– Integrated e-learning: An ability to deliver digital content directly to the front line – and to assess understanding.

In developing its employee recognition programs, the bountiXP platform aligns two key fundamentals:

– Strategy: which focuses on performance-based recognition around metrics such as service, sales and quality, relating to strategic aspects of business goals, objectives and tasks.

– Culture: which focuses on values-based recognition and refers to aspects of values, practices and behaviours and is centred around people, passion and performance. 

‘The alignment of culture to business strategy is critical – the best business strategy is unlikely to be achieved if the culture of the business is not right and the workforce not engaged. The bountiXP alignment model recognises this key aspect, and hence the program drives both performance and values-based recognition, with equal measure. It’s about recognising and rewarding people for the right behaviour in terms of culture, values and practices, which ultimately feeds into the strategy side of the model, and rewarding and recognising people for achieving specific business goals, objectives and tasks,’ explains Skinner.

It’s not just about the rewards – recognition is fundamental!

While tangible rewards and compensation benefits are a key part of any employee engagement strategy, recognition is equally important in the total rewards mix, if not foundational. But recognition in organisations is often not done well. When formulating an employee recognition strategy, there are seven key principles that need to be fulfilled in order to optimally drive behavioural change.  

– Inclusivity: Recognition needs to be inclusive, reaching deep into the business and touching staff at every level.  

– Frequency: Recognition needs to be done at the right frequency to ensure it lands and has sufficient impact. Once annually is not going to change behaviour.

– Visibility: People need to see and experience this recognition to be motivated to be part of the process. Frequency and visibility of recognition are key to driving a virtuous circle of recognition and performance. 

– Immediacy: For maximum effect, recognition should be immediate with a clear line of sight between the performance and the recognition. 

– Authenticity: Recognition needs to be genuine, meaningful and heartfelt – authentic recognition is immensely powerful. 

– Autonomy: Give the participants in the program the freedom of choice around how they fulfil their rewards, with flexibility rather than assuming what people might want.  

– Agility: Good programs are agile, bringing people on board, focusing on the important objectives and keeping pace with these as they shift and evolve. 

A typical recognition and reward framework spans both informal and formal recognition, starting from social recognition that sits at the bottom of the reward pyramid and which drives company values and behaviours, then performance recognition and reward driving company values as well as goals, to recognition celebrations and events that encompasses divisional recognition through to an annual pinnacle event with CEO recognition – with each stage of recognition increasing in its formality. 

The anatomy of a best practice recognition program

Based on best practice standards as defined by RPI, Achievement Awards Group has developed a “nine-box systems framework” – the blueprint that the award-winning achieve program was built on. This framework ensures a proper focus on each of the critical components of a successful program:

1) Program management: Most recognition programs fail by not having senior management resources in place to drive, manage and role model the program, along with C-suite buy-in. The involvement of line managers is fundamental in the structure and success of the program – it’s no surprise that research shows that employees appreciate recognition from their immediate line manager more than anybody else. 

2) Employee recognition and engagement goals: Have a clear strategy for recognition that is aligned to the business and objectives that you want to achieve at the end of it. Remember the two sides of the alignment model that talks to performance-based recognition (strategy) and values-based recognition (culture) and make sure that recognition not only takes into account the performance metrics of sales performance for example, but also the values and behaviours that your people demonstrate in their roles. Remember that what gets recognised and rewarded, gets done, so be clear about your goals and articulate those clearly.

3) Program metrics: A measurement framework is essential to keep track of the program and understand what does and does not work. The framework provides a clear structure for reporting back to the C-suite and demonstrating the program’s tangible impact on the business. It’s about measuring what your people are saying and whether their actual behaviour corroborates that – for example how often do they engage, are they active on the platform, are the rewards perceived as valuable, is there a clear link between your program and staff attrition and absenteeism metrics, operational metrics such as safety, quality, productivity, customers satisfaction levels, NPS scores and so on.

4) Pre-launch, launch and onboarding: What is your plan to prepare your people, launch the program and onboard them? This is the exciting part of getting buy in and take-up. It needs to be launched with impact, fun and energy to build that momentum and lift the program off the ground.

5) Communication and program sustainment: An ongoing and sustainable marketing communications campaign for the recognition program is a must and plays a key role in sustaining it, as well as providing emphasis and impetus for specific initiatives. Your program must be kept top of mind and fresh to ensure that employees continue to engage and participate – think marketing collateral, desk drops, e-mailers, newsletters, road shows and more – define your communications channels and have a plan.

6) Training and equipping: Training on the program should be customised for the needs of employees at different levels. It should cover everything from the functionality of the platform, program objectives, how employees can engage and participate, and most importantly, what’s in it for them. We need to take friction out of the system to make it seamless and accessible for employees to engage and participate. 

7) Rewards: Research conducted in the US showed that when there was a recognition program with points that had a tangible monetary value, the program participation rate was maintained at a constant high level. Where there were no points and no real reward value engagement dropped off markedly over time. In fact, in 18 months there was a 50% lower participation rate when rewards weren’t applied within the recognition program.

The bottom line is that the rewards add important traction and incentive. The next question is how much budget should be allocated to rewards? A good benchmark is to allocate between 0.5%-3.0% of the salary budget into rewards. The achieve program budget, started at 2.7% which will increase to 4% if financial targets are reached.

8) Enabling technology: Technology is an essential component of running a successful program, ensuring that employees can access the program anywhere, at any time, in the cloud, on their desktop or their mobile device. The bountiXP platform provides a single interface to enable best practice recognition and manage every aspect of the program, as well as a seamless and efficient system for getting rewards into the hands of your employees, and importantly deliver on the recognition best practice principles. Uniquely, it enables program owners to run programs within programs – allowing targeted campaigns for specific departments, divisions or geographies.

9) Feedback systems: Feedback and measurement capability are built in, allowing measurement of what has been achieved, what worked or did not, how did the program stack up in terms of engagement and actual business outcomes?

‘The nine-box systems framework starts with getting the right people in place to manage and drive the program, setting the right goals for recognition and engagement, and then framing the measurement framework.  It then moves into the operational aspects of launching and onboarding people, the crucially important communication and ongoing sustainment of the program, and then training and equipping people to engage.

‘In terms of rewards, we have provided the flexibility that our people want, as well as the enabling technology that facilitates the entire program in a transparent, seamless and analytical manner. Finally, we have built in the feedback and measurement loops required to drive continuous improvement – this is the anatomy of a successful recognition program and how we’ve been able to achieve best practice in the programs we implement on behalf of our clients,’ explains Skinner.  

In terms of the achieve recognition program, the following results were achieved:

– 91% of employees approved of the achieve program with 62% rating it as excellent.

– 86% of employees proactively sent recognitions of team members, while 98% of employees received recognitions during the measurement period.

– In terms of feeling valued in the organisation, prior to the launch of the program this figure was at 53%. Some months into the program this had increased to 72%. 

– Staff turnover in the call centre dropped to below 10%, less than one third of the industry norm of around 30% per annum.

– Overall agent quality scores in the contact centre improved by 8% within two months of implementing the program. 

‘In making recognition and rewards a mainstream pillar of your business strategy, make sure your program addresses the aspects of awareness, strategic alignment to business objectives, leadership support, consistent implementation and communication, resources and feedback,’ concludes Skinner.

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