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Rob Catalano



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Employee adoption and participation define successful recognition strategies


Rob Catalano is leads global engagement and expansion at cloud recognition and engagement company Achievers. Rob is a Certified Recognition Professional (CRP) and a popular speaker on the HR circuit, having presented on best practices and trends in over 30 cities. His writings include a ‘wisdom of crowds’ approach leveraging his work with hundreds of organisations globally.

1. What are the most common errors companies make with their recognition strategies?

Typically, the most common error companies make is deciding who should be involved in executing the recognition strategy. Companies usually structure the recognition process as a top-down approach where only management can recognise employees that are levels ‘below’ them. If you want to create a culture of recognition, it’s imperative that every employee has the ability to participate – anywhere and at any time.  Culture is inclusive – it isn’t hammered down by management, but it’s created from the bottom up. You build a connection with employees when you trust them with your recognition approach.

2. How should companies go about creating an effective recognition strategy?

The most important step is setting the foundation that the recognition strategy is to be built upon. What are your company values? What is your company mission statement? The right approach starts with identifying these integral company behaviours that will drive the culture and desired results in the business. In other words: identify what your company is actually trying to accomplish and what employees should be recognising each other for. It’s the only way to get a consistent employee experience that will provide the right messages to help enact company strategies.

3. What new capability or benefits is technology bringing to recognition in the workplace?

Technology is adding exciting capabilities to allow in-the-moment recognition that is easy to use and gathers key insights to make better people decisions. It’s real and it’s impactful. In fact, this concept of Social Employee Recognition sits on Gartner’s Hype Cycle of HCM Technologies which are poised to hit mainstream adoption in the next few years.  There are endless benefits and capabilities, but a few highlights include:

  • Social – technology takes what was traditionally a one-to-one act of appreciation to a one-to-many approach, breaking barriers of traditional recognition programmes and helping amplify the desired behaviours through social interactions within the company (think newsfeeds, linking, tagging and sharing).
  • Integrations – Achievers has integrated our platform to other HR systems to make information available in the flow of work. Examples include learning management systems to recognise for personal and professional growth, wellness platforms, HRIS systems to collect important employee data, and other social platforms to amplify recognition.
  • Analytics and Insight – A 40,000 employee organisaiton I recently worked with hit their millionth recognition after only nine months of enacting the above trends. The amount of data companies are collecting is staggering and exciting. Not only who is giving and receiving recognition, but also what specific skills and company values or competencies they’re being recognised for.

The power is in using the data to garner insight and make better people decisions. Insight into who are top performers and high-potentials, or potential future leaders that are recognising colleagues often (that is a good leadership trait, after all). I’ve seen examples of using this data to build teams based on associated skillsets that they’ve been recognised for, or find people who work and are recognised across multiple departments and locations versus their own department when creating cross-functional teams.

4. How should companies connect recognition with reward?

The one thing to keep in mind is that rewards and recognition are not the same thing. Recognition impacts intrinsic motivation, which is much more powerful than extrinsic motivation in the form of rewards. We’ve all experienced that situation where we’ve received a meaningless reward that’s left a bad taste in our mouth and ruined what was originally a positive gesture of recognition. 

There can exist a connection between recognition and rewards, but a successful strategy always starts with recognition. When the goal of the strategy is to amplify and encourage positive company behaviours to enact company strategies, budgets will limit this if you only recognise through tangible rewards. Through the Achievers platform, we’ve seen over a million recognition moments in the last two years, and 75% of those were social (had no monetary value attached to them).

5. Do Generation Y employees want to be recognised differently from baby boomers?

Generationally, it’s a matter of recognition expectations versus the inherent need to be recognised. Younger generations grew up with expectations of being recognised for every accomplishment (my young nieces receive participating sports trophies even if they end up in last place!), whereas baby boomers haven’t built that expectation in the workforce. At the end of the day, people like to be recognised.  Humans are humans. The one difference between generations is how public the recognition becomes to other colleagues. Newer generations ten to crave that social status

6. Why do employees not take part in new recognition strategies and what can companies do to ensure high user uptake?

Employee adoption and participation is what defines a successful recognition strategy, but companies can add unnecessary barriers that make it difficult for employees to participate. Perhaps employees have to send requests to HR, or wait for approval of a recognition. Recognition strategies need to be simple, easy to use, and frictionless.

When it comes to technology to enable a recognition strategy, if you’re having to train employees on how to use a new HR platform, then it’s too complicated. The millions of Facebook users across the globe were never trained on how to use that platform – they intuitively figured it out. Companies should be spending more time training managers on WHY recognition impacts employee engagement and intrinsic motivation, not on HOW to send a recognition. 

Communication and change management should also be considered. Often, these recognition strategies are enterprise-wide implementations and it must be clear to employees what the goals of the strategy are.

7. Its 2020. What’s exciting you most about the recognition industry?

Technology has enabled what I call ‘recognition to the n-th degree’ – allowing recognition to be seamlessly integrated into the workplace beyond the proverbial ‘four-walls.’ Recognition from customers, partners, prospects, and the community will be able to be collected and used in a streamlined fashion to make better people decisions. 

There’s already video recognition that our platform offers to help support real and meaningful recognition.  Perhaps the next step is holographic recognition? 😉

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Rob Catalano


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