An important step in the evolution of any organization is creating a vision of its future, determining where it is today, and then mapping out the path to get from here to there. Most organizations will come out of this process with a well thought out set of projects and activities it must execute to make the journey. However, the really successful organizations will also determine what the roadmap for behavioral change looks like.
For some organizations, this will involve putting a greater emphasis on existing behaviors by making them more pervasive across the organization. For others though, making the transition to the desired future state will require the organization to adopt an entirely new set of behaviors. No matter what the answer is for any particular organization, a successful journey from here to there requires a careful determination of how the organization must behave in the future.
Many factors go into encouraging and enabling employee behavior change in an organization. For example, having leaders model the desired behaviors plays an important role in this process. In my experience, clearly linking employee goal plans and performance evaluation to the desired behavioral elements is also critically important.
However, I have found that the element that is the most effective in supporting successful organizational behavioral change is a well designed employee reward and recognition program. While informally rewarding and recognizing employees for exhibiting desired behaviors is important, the key to real success is a formal employee reward and recognition program. Why? Because, when they are designed correctly, these formal programs ensure that (1) all employees gain an understanding of what the desired behaviors are and what they look like in action; (2) employees can engage in a meaningful way in enabling and modeling desired behaviors; and (3) employees’ efforts to demonstrate the behaviors that will move your organization in the right direction are regularly and consistently rewarded and publically recognized.
The good news is that the best formal employee reward and recognition programs aren’t administration heavy. In fact, by removing the bureaucracy from the design of the program, you create a vehicle that is more powerful in enabling real and sustainable organizational behavior change.
Here are four features that I have found to be essential when designing a truly effective employee reward and recognition program.
Clearly Define and Communicate the Behavioral Focus of Your Program
What behaviors do you want employees to exhibit? The answer depends on the results of the “here to there” roadmapping for your organization. In my experience, most organizations choose to focus their reward and recognition program on encouraging employees to put the organization’s core values into action, however, as I mentioned earlier, your organization may need to build other/additional behaviors into employees’ repertoire. Either way, it is important that your reward and recognition program spells out exactly what the desired behaviors are including what they look like in action. This part is particularly important because knowing how to translate the desired behaviors into relevant, day to day actions is necessary for employees (1) to display those desired behaviors themselves; and (2) to recognize them when they see others displaying them.
Here’s an example of a program we implemented when I worked at a Canadian insurance company:
Known as “That’s Just Like Me”, our program was designed to allow any employee to reward and recognize anyone for displaying specific behaviors. While the program was designed to recognize behaviors associated with our core values, it was also focused on recognizing employees for delivering great customer service experiences. Every employee was provided with a small coupon book with four sections – each with different purposes. Here is a picture of the first section of the coupon book that reminds employees about the behaviors the program was focused on:
Give All Employees the Ability to Reward and Recognize Others
While giving all employees the ability to identify and bestow rewards and recognition significantly reduces the administrative burden of an organization-wide program, there are
more important reasons for building this design feature into your reward and recognition program.
First of all, to give out rewards, employees must internalize the behaviors and understand what they look like in action so that they can reward others (and receive rewards themselves). While you can tell employees what behaviors are desired by your organization, just hearing about them is a passive activity. However, building employee action into the design of your program makes executing the desired behaviors (that will actually make a difference in moving your organization closer to your vision state) the outcome of your program.
Allowing employees to bestow rewards for behavior has the added benefit of immediately recognizing the completion of desired behaviors with no administrative delay. Rewarding behaviors as they happen creates greater awareness and reinforcement for employees.
Most important, however, is the fact that giving employees the ability to reward and recognize others empowers them, making them active players in shaping their organization into the organization of the future. The outcome of this empowerment is greater employee investment in their organization.
In the “That’s Just Like Me” program, all employees at all levels of our organization received a bundle of coupon books. After a briefing on the desired organizational behaviors and how the program worked, employees were free to reward and recognize others as they saw fit. No questions – it was always up to our employees to decide who to give rewards to and why.
Provide Tangible Personal Rewards to Individuals
A key part of a successful reward program involves providing employees with individual recognition for the behaviors they have personally displayed. Providing individual employees with a physical token as part of their reward serves at least two purposes: (1) it reminds the employee that they have successfully displayed the desired behaviors (and someone noticed); and (2) multiple tokens reinforces for the employee that they are displaying desired behaviors consistently and frequently. In addition, when the token is publically displayed, it lets others know that the employee is a model of the desired behaviors.
Physical tokens that work can include certificates that can be displayed in an employee’s workstation or on a public online profile, and articles like hats, ID tag lanyards, and buttons – all of which can be worn by the employee. The item(s) you choose to use as your employees’ personal token of recognition should make sense in relation to the nature of your program and is only limited by your creativity and budget.
In the “That’s Just Like Me” program, our physical tokens included an award certificate and a zipper pull – see photo below.
When every employee received their coupon book they also received an allotment of zipper pulls that were provided to the people they wished to recognize. The number of zipper pulls an employee could be awarded was unlimited and it wasn’t unusual for employees to have multiple certificates and zipper pulls.
Share and Recognize Rewarded Employee Behavior Publically
The final critical design element for an effective reward and recognition program is sharing employee recognition publically. More specifically, it is important to ensure that others know what employees are doing (and be rewarded for) to put the desired behavior into action. Making desired behavior public in this way allows others to see examples of real-life employee activities that successfully display the desired behaviors, inspiring them to believe that they can do the same themselves. In the end, sharing successful employee actions publically provides other employees with peer models to follow, accelerating the speed at which the desired behaviors are adopted across your organization.
Ways to publically share employees’ behaviors and actions can vary but it’s key to ensure that a “behavioral footprint” is left behind for others to continuously look back on and reference. Be sure to capture a record of the behavior in a sustainable format (e.g. in writing, via a podcast or video, etc) and ensure that these footprints are easily accessed by employees on demand in a way that suits them.
With the “That’s Just Like Me” program, a segment of the coupon book provided a place to document what an employee had done to receive their award – see photo below.
Once the coupon was filled out, it was displayed on a public board on the employee's floor – making the information accessible to everyone who visited the floor. In addition, at quarterly all employee town halls, examples of specific employee actions were mentioned and employees were publically congratulated for making a real difference for our customers and in living our organization's values.
A formal employee reward and recognition program plays an important role in helping your organization make its journey to your desired future state. In fact, a well designed reward and recognition program can accelerate the pace at which your organization adopts the behaviors required to achieve that future vision.
The good news is that the less administrative your program is, the better and more effective it will be. However, it is important to realize that your formal program does need support to be successful. In addition to the funding required to provide the physical tokens that are included in your program, it is important that executive and business leaders encourage and empower every employee to participate in the program and play an active role in shaping the type of organization your company becomes, and the kind of culture it creates, on its journey from today to tomorrow.