The right pat on the right shoulder

Date:   Wednesday , August 01, 2007

Gone are the days when employees were recognized for their outstanding performance with trophies and plaques. The corporates are devising innovative strategies to recognize their employees because recognition today has a broader meaning. Companies are increasingly realizing the fact that the right pat on the right shoulder is the only way to accelerate performance and more importantly the best way to retain bright brains.

Pramod Jajoo, Managing Director of Xora, recalls an interesting way of recognition in the U.S. “When I was looking for a parking slot on M.G. road some time back, one incident which flashed in my mind was my not getting a parking slot when I had gone to visit my wife at a hospital in the U.S. I could not find a single slot to park my car. But there was a vacant slot right in front of the entrance, which, I was told, was reserved for the employee of the month. I was curious about this, and I later learned that it was one of the ways to reward recognition in the U.S.,” says Jajoo.

The human yearning for recognition, love, care and affection unfolds in various ways in companies. Recognizing helps people excel in performance and makes them more loyal to the organization. The relevance of recognition in human beings can be noticed from childhood. For instance, children look for simple appreciation as recognition from their parents rather than expensive gizmos.

Today most of the organizations have realized that appreciation and recognition confirm the employees that their work is valued. So they have introduced the same as a strategy to make their employees really effective in their jobs. Formal, informal, and day-to-day recognition programs, when linked to the organization’s values and goals, can create a culture of recognition that enhances employee engagement, performance and retention, according to Trends in Employee Recognition survey in 2005 by the National Association for Employee Recognition (NAER) in the U.S.

The culture of recognition was not very prevalent earlier. However, today there is a lot of importance for human resources. This is probably due to the fact that we are presently in the information age. Unlike in the industrial age, today the wave has turned in favor of human resource management.

Presently, in the business of human resource management, managers play a vital role. Hence there is a need for managers to recognize employees and understand their weaknesses and strengths. “Managers should try to align the strengths of the employee with the organizations’ goals and objectives,” says Swaminathan Kumaragurubaran, General Manager, Engineering Services, Soliton Technologies.

Facilitating the aspirations of the employees is also a means of recognition. “When I was in Mindtree and Infosys, the managers who motivated and guided my aspirations through different recognition methods egged me to a managerial position from a technical field,” says Srivatsan S, Engineering Manager, Alcatel-Lucent.

Moreover, if organizations take initiatives to motivate the employees, they can reap more loyalty, increased productivity, and also satisfaction scores from customers. Thus, employee recognition has a huge communication component. Recognizing people for their good work sends an extremely powerful message to the recipient, their work team, and the other employees through the grapevine and formal communication channels. “When Xora’s products were pulled off the market, the employees were upset. I motivated them and never let them down. That small gesture was highly encouraging for them,” says Jajoo.

The act of recognition must be genuine and sincere else it will lose its credibility. A small sign of appreciation sometimes works more wonders than monetary benefits. For example, when an athlete is engaged in the game, applause from the audience enhances his performance more than the remuneration.

According to surveys conducted by Sirota Consulting among 2.5 million employees in 237 private, public, and not-for-profit organizations in 89 countries around the world in the ten years to 2003, only 51 percent of workers were satisfied with the recognition they received after a job well done.

Recent research indicates that formal recognition programs have limited impact on employee satisfaction, often reaching only a small minority of employees. According to BC Auditor General’s Report, though formal recognition is still considered important, the quickest, easiest, and least expensive method of recognition lies with increasing the frequency and quality of informal recognition.

Hence the best practice is that organizations not only provide a mix of formal recognition programs, but also stress on the importance of informal recognition practices. This eventually leads to better rates of retention of employees.

There are two ways of recognition - monetary and non-monetary. Monetary recognition could be perks, bonuses and other salary benefits. On the other hand, the non-monetary recognition could be peer group recognition, or assigning one with additional responsibilities that convey the message that the organization trusts him. “For instance, when I was working in Sun Microsystems and was about to leave the company one of my colleagues said that my coding reminded him that of his own, and this motivated me a lot,” says Jajoo.

Other means of recognition could be creating a platform to exhibit the employees’ aspirations through seminars and making them involved in forums to exhibit their technical expertise. Monthly recognition and spot recognition also add value to these forms of recognition.

“Criticize in private and appreciate in public.” is a good mantra to motivate employees. It works very well; it can bring tangible benefits for an organization and increase its productivity.

However, recognition can bring in disadvantages for employees as well. “Since most of the employees want to be in a recognized group, organizations are forced to recognize them even if they are underperforming,” says Kiran Datar, Managing Director, Webex. Sometimes, some employees might be left out by mistake. In order to avoid such situations award recognitions on a continuous basis and mentor those who lag behind to create a balanced environment.

What we need to do is to learn to work within the system; where every one, every team, every platform, every division, and every component is present not for individual competitive profit but for contribution to the system as a whole on a win-win basis. And of course, managers should remember that recognition is just a catalyst to leverage that contribution.