Employee Recognition as a Cultural Value
For one of my clients, this past week was Employee Recognition Week. Walking into the company, balloons, banners and other signage thanking employees and celebrating their hard work were highly visible. The week was chock full of treats and activities. For example, on Thursday, there was a morning-time blind taste testing of different coffees, with voting by employees to select their favorite for use in the offices. In the afternoon, movie-style popcorn was made fresh and served outside. Throughout the day, individual programs for specific groups encouraged topics such as “having courageous conversations.” While employees of this client are typically upbeat and engaged, the mood of the people I saw was at a higher level than normal with the recognition programming going full force.
Experiencing this positive atmosphere and supportive culture made me consider a recent B2B assignment for a performance improvement software platform designed for employee engagement and salesforce incentives. The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on the topic, highlighting such providers as HeyTaco, which allows employees to award one another “Super Taco” badges. Other applications include Recognize, Kudos and Workstars.
In our recent work, we talked with decision makers and end users at firms like T-Mobile, Novartis, Honeywell, Lenovo, Sherwin Williams, Mazda, Hyundai and Radisson. We learned about their satisfaction, goals, features and benefits desired, current usage patterns and unmet needs. These employee and sales force end users commonly use program features such as:
- Checking on their points
- Shopping with points
- Exploring training or sales promotions from the company
- Tracking their performance
In these conversations, satisfaction with the programs was generally high. The more engaging programs encourage the users to check in regularly, which may be hourly, daily, weekly or monthly, whereas more basic programs only have semi-annual or annual check-ins from users (because there is no motivation to check in more often).
Gamification Application Enhances Program Content
At some of the firms, we also heard about performance improvement programs that use the principles of Gamification, such as earning badges, reaching levels and having a leaderboard. As one of the interviewees explains, both the gamified engagement and the actual program content (in this case, training) are important.
“Everything is Gamification. Badges, and levels. We have customer interaction training all leveled and a national program, also recognition and an appreciation zone. If you look from the training perspective, the Gamification overlay is the most engaging, but also there is the actual form of the content. It is not just reading a bunch of slides. We have a good video. These are not cheesy, with actual, real people in stores, with high-quality production, to get the point of view angles from the customer and the rep, so the rep can see what the customer sees. They can explore if rep looks confident, and the customer’s non-verbal cues.”
For those who are unfamiliar with gamification and interested in learning more, Professor Kevin Werbach of the Wharton School is offering a free online MOOC (massive open online course) on Coursera that will begin another session on March 27th. After taking this class online, I’ve found its principles useful to a number of B2B applications, including employee recognition and performance improvement programs.
Other interesting applications explored included product design, recovery from brain injury and encouraging exercise, with experts like Amy Jo Kim, who speaks about innovating with power of game thinking.
A very simple, yet powerful example that stuck with me from this class is the LinkedIn Profile Strength Meter. The idea is that building a profile on LinkedIn takes time and persistence, most likely over multiple timeframes. Very few people will want to sit down and complete the whole profile in one setting. By measuring the progress of profile completeness and giving it a level, e.g., Expert, LinkedIn successfully uses gamification to encourage its users to invest time in creating more complete profiles. This is similar to the United Way thermometer about percent of goal achieved, visualized a different way.
Future Improvements to Employee Engagement and Salesforce Incentive Programs
We heard suggestions for program improvement that included making results more immediate and real time, faster recognition and having an app available. Making reporting more visual (think the LinkedIn meter) would also help, particularly for managers. One suggestion that intrigued me is the simple idea of making it easier for employees to find other employees:
“We need a better mobile directory for employees. It’s hard not having a really good, searchable directory. If you don’t know the person’s name, you can’t find them. That’s a problem because often you just know the area or function. Just being able to find the person, I know they work in this area. Search by key words. I don’t work at the headquarters, and it’s very hard to navigate. To that basic information could be added something I saw at my previous job where we had a tool where you could badge a fellow employee. ‘So and so helped me operationally with this deal’ could give her a value for a badge, like Super Work Ethic. This will show up on her profile, and she will get an email, saying You’ve Been Badged.”
In addition to the basic information on their function and title, employees could also list any affiliation groups they belong to internally, and/or any training or certificates completed. To be sure, there may be good reasons why employers don’t want to allow employees full visibility into one another’s profiles, whether for legal or other reasons.
Gamification is Part of an Overall Employee Engagement Strategy
It’s appealing to consider how systematic, gamified software applications that encourage regular involvement may combine with signature points in time or high impact events like Employee Recognition Week. While research shows that there are other factors beyond these that are important to employee engagement and satisfaction, such as the relationship with the immediate manager/superior and also the work commute, leveraging some of these approaches would appear to be a step in the right direction.