It was Arnold Glasow, a 20th century American businessman and humorist, who once said, “Praise does wonders for our sense of hearing.” Although a tongue-in-cheek remark, Glasow was on to something when it comes to praise and recognition.

Research by Japanese scientists has revealed that paying people a compliment appears to activate the same reward center in the brain as paying them cash, and also encourages them to perform better. That comes as welcome news for those of us who firmly believe in the value of workplace recognition programs.

You can never underestimate the power of recognizing someone for their contributions, and now there’s scientific evidence to back it up. Other studies have shown that employees who feel appreciated are more inclined to stay with their company, have a greater sense of ownership and belonging, and often go above and beyond what’s expected of them. Research has also found that companies that recognize their people outperform those that don’t by 30 to 40 percent.

Magic words: “Thank you”
Extending a “thank you” can go a long way in showing your appreciation. Experts say it’s important, however, to be as specific as possible when recognizing an individual. As an example, saying “Your input at today’s meeting had a major influence on choosing our vendor” is a lot more impactful than “Thanks for your feedback.”

Timing is important, too, as is being sincere and making it personal. Praise shouldn’t be delayed and it should come from the heart. And recognizing someone in person shows that you’re making a special effort to express your appreciation.

Embracing the value and importance of employee recognition should be part of every workplace culture. Whether it’s informal or formal, a recognition program should be looked on as an investment, not an expense. And it should align with a company’s corporate strategies and values.

Focusing on employee recognition
I’m proud to say that we have a robust recognition program at LSI that reflects all of these standards. Known as Catch the Spark, our program is based on the premise that our employees are our greatest asset.

Quoting from a presentation that describes Catch the Spark, “Our goal is to recognize, acknowledge and celebrate employees who are instrumental in creating business outcomes that positively impact the company while demonstrating behaviors aligned with our Corporate Values – Customer Success, Innovation, Excellence, Integrity and Individual Responsibility.”

Cindy Rice, who oversees Catch the Spark, points out that the program has been an unqualified success since first being introduced in 2011.

“The previous corporate recognition program was good, but it was difficult to administer across different geographies, and we didn’t have an internal system to track globally who and what was being recognized,” she explains. “Since we didn’t have a really good way of tracking participation in the previous program, we estimated that about 28 percent of the employee population received recognition in 2010.  At the end of 2011, after four months of Catch the Spark, a built-in quantitative measuring system showed that approximately 35 percent of the population had been recognized.”

By 2012, nearly 70 percent of LSI’s employees had been recognized with Catch the Spark awards. That number has stayed steady, with 68 percent of employees receiving awards through the first three quarters of this year. Our goal for 2013 is to have 80 percent of our employees receiving recognition.

Rewarding employees for great work
The LSI program has three colored-coded levels of awards, based on the colors of the LSI logo. The Orange Spark is an E-thanks, a non-cash-value award that you can use as a simple thank you when other non-cash or cash awards at other levels are not applicable. We also have the Blue Spark award, which is a gift card that comes in five different non-cash levels, and the Green Award, which is a three-tiered cash award.

To create an environment of appreciation, the system allows for peer-to-peer recognition. And the recognition is delivered to the employee’s e-mail in as little as 48 hours. A dedicated website enables employees to nominate people for recognition, congratulate award winners and track their awards, among other things. 

Since we are a multinational company, we use a “market basket” approach to create equivalently valued awards across our global sites.  To enable this, a Purchase Power Parity Index (PPPI) for each country was established based on the respective standard of living baseline. From this research, a market basket of goods and services was created to achieve approximate award-value parity around the globe.

We also believe it is important to allow for flexibility and customization of awards processes and so we have maintained other popular recognition programs within various departments, but Catch the Spark serves as our universal way of saying thanks to deserving employees.

Fond memories of “smiley face”
On a personal note, I think that regardless of one’s experience level or position in a company, there is no better way to be motivated than to be recognized for a job well done. As a new college graduate more than 30 years ago, I still vividly remember the “smiley face” I received from my department manager on a report I had written, and how thrilled I was to receive it.

To this day, even a simple “atta boy” still energizes me and gives me a true sense of accomplishment. It really does not take much to have a big impact on the culture of a company through the use of awards and recognition processes, and to borrow from the famous American author Mark Twain: “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”

Hayden Thomas is responsible for compensation and benefits, talent management and employee relations. Previously, he led the company’s manufacturing supply chain,... Read more

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