Jean-François Boudreault
Partner | Management consulting

In recent years, businesses have been trying every which way to reinvent themselves to become more competitive. Some have optimized their processes to reduce operating costs, while others have improved their management processes. However, as the pool of competent resources grows smaller, effective and optimal human resource management has become a common goal.

Businesses have been dealing with this issue for many years, and it will only worsen as time goes on. Managers will need to invent a whole array of strategies to attract and retain the best human resources. A research report by human resource specialist, Mercer, has revealed that half of Canadian workers are indifferent about their employer. This trend is a serious issue that does not bode well for business productivity. As such, how can you, as an employer, make sure that your employees are giving their all? There is one simple, easy-to-apply tactic that can optimize employee productivity: recognition.

A growing practice

A 2011 Conference Board of Canada study of employee rewards and recognition programs in Canadian organizations indicated that 97% of these organizations have such a program in place. The average annual amount spent on recognition is $123 per employee in the public sector and $208 per employee in the private sector.

If you recently conducted an organizational climate or satisfaction survey in your organization, the results may have shown that recognition is a strong motivator, perhaps even more so than salary. Human resource specialists and experienced managers all agree that recognition is a very powerful management and mobilization tool. In fact, an international survey by another human resources specialist, Aon Hewitt, revealed that employee recognition is a strong engagement driver that ranks far ahead of compensation.

In light of these findings, how can employers use recognition efficiently and consistently so that employees feel involved, accountable, motivated and valued and actively contribute to the organization’s success?

Recognition program: a few questions

Before an organization introduces a recognition program, it must consider three points. It needs to:

  1. Define the initiative’s objectives: does it want to recognize behaviour, competencies, effort or results?
  2. Determine how employees will be recognized: individually or as a group; with a monetary or a non-monetary reward?
  3. Determine the type of recognition, based on the context:
  • Informal: If employees have done their work very well, if client meetings have gone well or if employees have done a very good job of representing the company at an event, management or supervisor recognition would be informal (pat on the back, word of thanks, forwarding of an acknowledgement email from a client. etc.),
  • Formal: the employer sets up a structure – ideally with some employee participation – to recognize special employee work or initiatives. This could be done with a breakfast meeting, a “happy hour” event, the presentation of an award in an informal setting, provided it’s been organized by management. Such events provide an opportunity to recognize individuals or groups before their peers or even clients or business partners.

There are many small ways to recognize employees and promote their commitment, for example:

  • Personalized thank you notes;
  • Acknowledging significant life events (birth, marriage, etc.);
  • Authorizing some time off after a particularly intense work period;
  • Inviting employees for dinner;
  • Forwarding praise about employees from clients or business partners.

To improve success

Once these methods have been clarified, it’s important that all managers be informed of the guidelines so that the various initiatives selected by managers are standardized and fair. Additionally, recognition and reward programs implemented by employers should be consistent with employee wishes.

However, a number of prerequisites are key to ensuring that these initiatives actually achieve their intended objective. Here are a few that will bolster the effect:

  • The recognition must be sincere. A stock greeting or thank you card, as nice as it may be, could have the opposite effect. The employee will feel that he or she is not even worth the effort of a few personal words of praise;
  • Act immediately. Recognizing someone days (or weeks) after the fact has much less impact;
  • Be positive and do it in person. Managers should talk to employees directly rather than sending an email.

Positive results

Recognition is a simple concept that is sometimes trivialized by senior management and some human resource specialists. Yet, it has a proven track record with employees. Additionally, it can easily be adopted by all managers in an organization. It’s everyone’s responsibility to adopt simple but telling ways of showing recognition on a daily basis. The best way is to instil recognition practices in the corporate culture. With such an approach, managers will see higher staff retention levels and, perhaps even improved organizational competitiveness.

09 May 2012  |  Written by :

Mr. Boudreault is a partner at RCGT. He is your expert in human resources for the Québec office....

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