. The Future of Recognition | Northstar Meetings Group

The Future of Recognition

Modern technology is helping to personalize employee recognition

Laurens Zieren congratulates Morand Dare

Laurens Zieren, general manager of the New York Hilton Midtown, has always employed a "management-by-walking" style. It allows him to stay connected to the hotel's many departments, from laundry to F&B, and acknowledge workers when they do a good job. This summer, to celebrate the hotel's 53rd anniversary, he's expanding this recognition strategy -- with the help of technology.

Every day for the next 365 days, Zieren will choose a different hotel employee -- with a particular focus on those who work behind the scenes and aren't traditionally guest-facing -- to honor in an Instagram post, using the hashtag #ChiefRecognitionOfficer.

"This is something that I've done for years on a very informal basis," says Zieren. "The emergence of social media technology has enabled me to make this recognition more meaningful. I embrace this opportunity wholeheartedly."

Technology is changing the face of recognition. We'll take a look at the emergence of recognition tech, plus three more trends playing a role in the next evolution of engaging employees.

The Generational Model
"Many generational award trends have not changed in decades," says Rob Danna, senior vice president of sales and marketing at West Des Moines-based global engagement solutions provider ITA Group. "Younger generations steer toward concert tickets, waterparks, and tuition credits. Generation X loves electronics, cookware, and charitable donations. And the Boomers grab luggage, travel packages, and company store items."

Even so, Danna believes new trends are emerging, such as career advancement and certifications that are motivating younger generations. "At ITA Group, says Danna, "we offer financial counseling, nutrition coaching, and sabbaticals -- awards that transform employees into happier and healthier people. There's nothing more motivating than receiving tools that help improve your life."

According to Peter Hart, CEO at the Montreal-based incentive management solutions provider Rideau Recognition Solutions, "Older workers still value the soft symbolism for 'years of service' more than younger workers who have just joined the company." While these often take the traditional form of certificates and pen sets, he says. "We've seen company shares being issued, depending on years of service, with taxable benefits."

But the experts agree that simply "clocking in" the employee's tenure at previously set intervals (five years, 10 years, etc.) does not really work, and may even cause friction between members of the older generations, who've paid their dues, and younger ones, who want their rewards tied to significant achievements. Or, as Danna puts it, "Leaders should treat their team like they are professional athletes coming off the court at halftime. What would you give your MVP for setting the scoring record?"

In the past, human resource departments have attempted to resolve tenure disparities by loading all recognition and rewards into a points-based program. But, according to Hart, "A lot of the folks with 15-plus years of service started complaining that there was nothing symbolic that represented years or service."

He thinks one answer is to move the goalposts. For the youngest generation, "the average tenure is about three years. We believe that it's important, once you pass that probationary period, that there's an onboarding award," Hart says. "There's an award at one year. There's an award at three years. And then five, 10, 15 . . . ."

It's also important to recognize the behaviors and activities that lead to achievement. "A lot of programs are structured as 'you're the best of the best, and you get this.' But more and more, companies are recognizing the path -- the road -- to achievement. And that road includes the behavior of wanting to learn, and then going out and practicing it."

For this reason, the new trend for incentive programs is to establish "best practice" norms for the company -- a trend that, supports social recognition within an organization and allows employees the freedom and power to recognize one another, anytime, anywhere, according to David Brennan, general manager of the Toronto office of Achievers, an incentive software solutions company. Thus, he adds, "The frequency of recognition and rewards is tied to employee behavior and success -- not their age, or any other demographic factor."

Danna agrees, with one caveat: "Multigenerational workforces have one thing in common: winning. Everyone is motivated when they are respected. They feel safe when the team is winning." Awards should remind them of these cultural attributes (respect, safety, winning).

"Regardless of the generation, recognition is a basic human need. People want to come to work happy and leave happy," says Derek Irvine. In addition to being vice president of client strategy and consulting for Globoforce, an international provider of social recognition solutions working with Fortune 500 companies like The Hershey Company, Cisco Systems, and Symantec, he wrote the book The Power of Thanks: How Social Recognition Empowers Employees and Creates a Best Place to Work with Globoforce CEO Eric Mosley. Especially across generations, Irvine says, "employees should be recognized frequently and in a timely and human manner -- make sure the recognition moment closely follows the act that is being recognized to ensure the act is top-of-mind."