Talent Management
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By Kathleen Powers

For even the best, most engaged workers, there are times throughout a career that motivation can begin to slump.

An organization can curtail a motivational lag by keeping its employees aware that it appreciates their ongoing efforts and values their contribution to the team. Employee recognition and incentive programs can be implemented to show workers that their efforts aren’t going unnoticed. A tangible and public acknowledgement of an employee’s contribution rewards their efforts, engages them in the process, builds their loyalty in the company and motivates their peers to a similar standard.

However, implementing the right kind of employee recognition and incentive program is critical to its success. Too often, employee recognition is seen simply as a purchase – pens, shirts, trips or other company “swag.” You cannot purchase loyalty, however, which is ultimately what a good recognition program will achieve. A program’s success rests not on volume of money, but effectiveness of leadership – specifically, an employer or manager’s ability to forge an emotional bond with their employees. It is that emotional commitment that will encourage employees to invest their talent in your organization and work more productively.

The key to employee engagement is no secret; it requires emotional commitment from its leadership, a supportive workplace culture and constant maintenance. The payoffs are equally intense – happier, more productive employees, happier customers and a better bottom line.A recognition program may not mean building a new program from scratch. Even if your workplace does not have a formal recognition program, there may be ways to tailor or reframe existing events and practices into a custom program that engages and rewards your employees while providing other valuable assets – trackable results and tangible feedback. Consider the processes you currently use to reward performance.

Are they:
• In the moment? We respond to instant gratification. Acknowledgement at the time, even a small gesture, can be more motivating than a ceremony eight months later.
• In context? Are employees recognized by peers where the work took place?
• Appropriate in volume and scale? Examine the benchmarks for productivity in your workplace, and ensure the recognition matches.
• Authentic as opposed to automatic? Unless your workplace is a grade school class, there should be no awards “because everyone else got one” or “we have to give it to somebody this month.”
• Tied to the employee’s perception of value? A golfing trip with the team may seem like your dream reward, but to an employee yearning for more family time, it may seem like another duty to perform.

Informal recognition is also important. Leaders that are connected to employees through daily visits, check-ins and open-door invitations contribute greatly to the social connection vital to today’s employees. Even if informal or off-the-cuff, be specific when giving positive feedback, and encourage peers to do the same. Precise feedback is both genuine and constructive; general or ambiguous praise is easily dismissed. Also ensure everyone in your workplace has a voice when it comes to sharing feedback. Be sure the invitation is shared with everyone, and avenues are in place to enable timely and easy feedback.

Informal engagement also allows leaders to monitor the need for recharging. Vacations, seminars, conferences and retreats are powerful in more ways than one. Offered strategically as part of an overall recognition program, they can provide recognition and team building opportunities, while injecting new ideas and information into the workplace and providing a change of scenery that everyone routinely requires.

Effective leaders align their employee engagement efforts with the overall workplace culture. Above all, these leaders know who their employees are, as well as what they do and how well they do it. This knowledge forges the connection vital to the success of any recognition program. So as a part of employee recognition, examine the management structure as well. Start with managers suited for the job and engagement goals that are clear and realistic. Then coach your managers and hold them accountable for engagement of their employees.

At the end of the day, employees are generally seeking attention from their organization – specifically, positive feedback, peer recognition and praise from their leaders. Whatever your workplace capacity and culture, recognition will lead to successful engagement if delivered in a personal, heartfelt way.

Kathleen Powers is business solutions manager for Fraser & Hoyt Incentives.

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