Culture and technology: how to get recognition right

The new world of work is constantly evolving, confusing, and nearly impossible to predict.  But through all the chaos and uncertainty, there are a few principles that we can use to guide us forward. 

Perhaps first among them is the fact that talent shortages, while painful, are a potential source of competitive advantage for organizations. The companies that do the best job of attracting, engaging, developing, and retaining highly talented employees will consistently outperform the market. Now, that’s easy to say, but not so easy for all of us to do. 

How do you become the kind of organization that keeps current employees engaged and productive while attracting new high quality candidates? Culture. Stronger than monetary incentives or lavish benefits packages, your organizational culture is what will make or break your talent strategy. 

How do you build a better culture? Many factors contribute to this outcome, but research is increasingly demonstrating that properly designed and executed recognition programs are one of the most impactful, cost-effective ways to build the culture your organization needs. However, with the growth of the recognition solution market, we should be careful not to assume all recognition tools do essentially the same thing in the same way. This market is evolving quickly and organizations need to take a close look at what they need out of recognition and evaluate who is best positioned to give it to them. 

What do we mean when we say culture?

This article will take a look at how to best leverage recognition technology to build a culture of high performance in your organization. Culture is the collection of values, attitudes, behaviours, and rituals that define your organization and set it apart from others. Culture is organic. It should be tended like a garden. Grow a healthy one, and you will bring in a fruitful harvest. 

Recognition is about more than just points and prizes 

Historically, recognition programs often focused on employees accumulating points to trade in for prizes. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this form of recognition, the temptation to chase points can incentivize your people to game the system and lose sight of the behaviours and values the program is meant to encourage. Think carefully before partnering with a technology vendor whose recognition tools are focused too heavily on points and prizes. Seek out partners that understand recognition primarily as a means to building a high performance culture. 

Values-based cultures need values-based recognition

If you really want to shape and strengthen a culture, recognition must be tied to specifically-defined behaviours that support the values you want to infuse into everyday interactions. For example, “commitment to quality” might be one of your organizational values that you’re trying to embed into your culture. If you really want to get your employees to start living out this value, give them specific, tactical behaviours like “I will actively look for new ways to enhance the quality of my work and the work of others.” Behaviours should take high-level, strategic values and translate them into tactical actions that can be integrated into everyday work.

So many organizations fail to realize that identifying the values they are going to aspire toward is only half the battle. Once leaders define their values and supporting behaviours, they must integrate them into recognition programs. In turn, your recognition tech must be able to support these behaviours. For example, if a manager wants to recognize someone on their team, does your recognition platform allow them to tag the value or specific behaviour that best aligns with that recognition? 

Over time, this kind of functionality encourages desired behaviours with continuous, positive reinforcement. At the same time, this kind of recognition platform can also create robust analytics that give leaders and HR a deeper understanding of what’s going on in their culture. 

How to win at your platform implementation project

Like all technology platforms, recognition solutions depend on widespread employee adoption to have the desired impact on organizational culture. Remember, a cumbersome system or a clunky implementation will hinder how seamlessly your staff adapt to your new recognition technology. As such, when you’re considering a recognition platform, make sure you evaluate the user experience closely. It should feel intuitive and familiar to users so that, when they are posting a recognition, it feels just as natural as posting an update on Facebook or some other consumer-facing social media platform. Additionally, some vendors are finding ways to integrate recognition tools “into the flow of work” so that your people don’t have to switch apps or sign into an account. 

When assessing vendors, it’s important to understand their implementation processes. Specifically, look at your vendor’s  policies for  the level of support your teams will get from them when being onboarded to your new employee recognition platform – and after. Your HR and IT teams should be supported with proactive implementation support, robust ‘train-the-trainer’ education, and in-depth documentation to guide them when user questions arise. Evaluate their customer support for both your HR and IT teams — as well as your staff — the end-users. 

Also, do not underestimate the importance of selecting a vendor who is SOC 2 compliant. Partnering with any software vendor is an act of trust. Developed by the American Institute of CPAs, SOC 2 is a detailed set of criteria for handling customer data. SOC 2 compliant organizations must go through rigorous external audits to ensure they have the infrastructure, tools, and processes to keep your sensitive employee data safe. When working with a third party vendor, information security is paramount. 

It’s important to note that, SOC 2 is a voluntary compliance standard for service organizations and not a regulatory requirement. If a vendor does not issue a SOC 2 report, it can be wise to raise questions regarding the controls they have in place in their platform or tech. A vendor without SOC 2 compliance should have their security and compliance practices researched thoroughly.  

Finally, assess where your organization truly is in terms of their employee recognition practices and journey. Does your HR team feel empowered and supported enough to confidently answer inevitable employee questions about your new technology? Has your IT team been involved enough in the buying process to truly agree with your vendor choice? Have your staff been consistently and clearly communicated with on why you’re implementing your new platform? Through answering these and other questions honestly you can work with your technology vendor, your internal teams, and your deployment team to create an implementation plan that truly works and is aligned with your workplace culture where it is now. 

Democratize recognition with peer-to-peer capabilities

Great recognition is highly dependent on who gives it and how often it is given. Don’t put unnecessary limits on who can recognize whom. While managers have a major role to play in any recognition strategy, your employees are perfectly capable of delivering thoughtful, timely recognition to each other. 

When employees can recognize each other, it takes some of the pressure off managers and leaders to be the only source of recognition. Also, a peer-to-peer approach creates reams of rich user data that can be analyzed to produce deeper insights about your people and how they work. 

Culture is talent strategy

Organizations are in a fierce battle to attract and retain the talent they need to keep operating, growing, and innovating. Money alone isn’t enough to win. In this environment, culture is king. 

Growing the culture you need takes time, but effective recognition supported by the right tech can accelerate the process. Selecting the right technology partner is an important step and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Prioritize the features, capabilities, and mindset that are most important to your organization’s cultural strategy, and look for a partner to match.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Muni Boga
Muni Boga
Muni Boga is the Chief Executive Officer and Founder of Kudos®, the company that unlocks potential with employee recognition. Muni has dedicated his career to creating innovations and models that embrace diversity, foster unity and culture, and enhance human performance.Prior to Kudos®, he led the creation of award-winning technology and design solutions for clients throughout Canada, United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Mexico.

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