Have We Eliminated Real Recognition?

The blogosphere is full to the brim with studies, research, tea leaves and astrology charts that say employee engagement drives business success and that recognition drives engagement.  It is the siren’s call of 2011 and beyond.  Almost every HR person I talk with has engagement in one form or another on their to-do list.  In many cases it is about finding the “platform” to run their employee rewards program.

And there is no scarcity of platforms.  The ubiquity of technology now means any plaque seller and koozie-monger can be in the business of providing peer-2-peer programs and service anniversary programs.  It’s just not that hard to find someone to run a program any more.

Distinctions Without Differences

Sure the platforms differ.  The color of the bars differ.  Some of the reporting can be pretty darn amazing.  But at the end of the day you have an automated system that allows managers and peers to send notes, cards and wall posts highlighting what Suzy and Frank did yesterday that made a difference in some other employee’s life.

Don’t get me wrong.  This is mission critical stuff.  I believe it is REQUIRED in today’s organization to find a way to let people know they are valued and their work matters.

Where’s the Human?

But the questions that plague me are:

  • When a system removes all the friction – making it drop-dead simple to recognize someone does the recognition lose some of its value (not all of it – just some)?
  • When a login page of a company intranet looks like the “gold star” chart from a first-grade classroom does it simply become wallpaper without any focus?
  • When employees see recognit

    ion events for trivial performance do they start to think exceptional performance gets lost?

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  • Does the platform become the focus instead of the people?

I ask these questions because I see it happen in other places when effort is reduced and the value goes right with it.  When someone can mow your lawn in 20 minutes on a riding mower they end up charging less and we think it is a commodity.  When the internet at 30,000 feet on a plane is the norm – being disconnected while in the bathroom becomes a capital offense.  They become utilities – not unusual.

I wonder if all of this focus on the technology to drive easier, more ubiquitous recognition is creating a void between “commodity recognition” and “real recognition?”

When my boss used to write a letter that went in my personnel file (that would be back in the 1900’s) I was impressed.  So was everyone else.  But is anyone impressed with 162 “Kudo’s” on your intranet wall from Jimmy in the mail room?

Training Is Key

I think about these things because even if you find the platform and don’t communicate how to do recognition right – how to make it HUMAN – you really haven’t helped your company.  Sure you’ve checked the box and you have a program.  But do you have engagement?

Do you have a sustainable system that grows with the expectations of the recipient?  Do your managers and their managers understand that making something easy may actually make it less valuable?

Train your people on recognition and its many forms – from the easy to the hard.

Train them to make it human – make it more than the platform, more than the points and more than the plaque.


FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. Karyn Jensen says:

    As an HR consultant, I focus on one topic each month to share with my clients and social media networks. This month has been employee recognition. This post was timely, and makes a great point about the value of the recognition we are giving. When LinkedIn asks me to endorse someone with the click of a mouse every time I log in, I think there’s a special meaning in an old-fashioned “Thank you” or commendation printed on paper.

  2. Kate says:

    You’ve got me thinking. This week I fatfingered a button when updating my self-evaluation form and it unexpectedly spit out ghost-written kudos with my name inserted at the appropriate spot. The wording was familiar, and I realized my manager had been filling out my annual feedback literally with the click of a button. That feels kind of cold and leaves me wondering if I really know where I stand with him. But feedback is rarely offered except in annual evaluation. What do you do in a culture that would have no recognition or feedback unless managers were badgered into clicking it out with cookie cutter apps? I’m trying to decide myself whether half a loaf isn’t better than none.

  3. Joris Luijke says:

    In this post is outlined how we combined the ‘tech’ with the ‘human’: http://culturehacking.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/lightweight-staff-recognition/

  4. Vivien Mudgett says:

    What a great point. Just today I was discussing with my managers how thank you’s have to mean something in order to be impactful. So a preprinted thank you card is … well you may as well not send it. I would love to know if other leaders have found some ways to make gratitude for a valuable employee and real and meaningful.

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