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Employee Recognition Tech Must Align with Company Culture

A group of business people clapping at a table.

​When Elisa Garn assumed the role of vice president of human resources and talent at Christopherson Business Travel in 2018, one of her assignments was to implement an employee recognition and rewards system that would boost workers' engagement and support the culture and values of the organization.

The corporate travel management company hired 52 new employees the same year Garn started—a 25 percent increase in headcount. This meant she had to find a way to get new employees motivated while steering them into practicing the values of the company—not an easy task when many of them work from home offices and live in different states. 

Although the business is headquartered in Salt Lake City, Christopherson's remote workforce is spread across Alabama, California, Colorado and Michigan and includes employees working at 35 client-dedicated onsite locations. To design an effective employee recognition system, Garn knew she had to select a platform that could convey appreciation for work that might otherwise go unnoticed.

"We have a very segmented workforce across the U.S. with 60 percent operating out of a home office, and that meant we had to help them feel connected to the business through a technology platform because these are employees that we might see only once a year," she said. "Other than phone calls to their managers, they really didn't have a lot of connection to the business."

Garn chose employee recognition and rewards software from Motivosity Inc., based in Provo, Utah. Its platform encourages employees to recognize their peers and offers small monetary bonuses for doing good work.

At Christopherson, employees are given $5 in their recognition account each month. (Motivosity executives say the optimal amount of "giving" money is $5 per month, but companies can set whatever amount they want for employees to use for rewards.)

When employees want to recognize a co-worker's efforts, they write a statement describing what they are commending and use money from their account to reward the person for his or her good deeds. When the statement is posted, users across the company can read the message, but the amount attached to the appreciation is not visible.

The platform reinforces corporate values by reflecting one of the company's guiding principles, such as enabling teamwork or showing respect for candor.

Approximately 230 workers, including the chief executive officer, company managers and workers in Christopherson's operations departments, use the system, which Garn said has made it easier for her to gauge employee satisfaction.

Although the company is still gathering data, she noted that, since implementing the platform 18 months ago, the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) for those using the system rose by 26 points. The eNPS is used to gauge the loyalty of Christopherson's employees to the brand.

Other companies such as 15Five, Kudos, Bonusly, Terryberry and Ultimate Software are presenting HR managers with a variety of employee recognition software platforms that encourage better customer service, excellent team spirit, or improved communications among employees, to name a few.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Developing and Sustaining Employee Engagement]

Recognition Goes Beyond KPIs 

Using employee recognition technology can help companies operationalize the actions they need to take to motivate employees, said Scott Johnson, founder and CEO at Motivosity. 

Johnson said that a decade ago, the playbook for a strong culture was unlimited personal time off, awesome break rooms with lots of free food, company activities like golf tournaments, great company parties and an annual day at the amusement park.

"All of those things together helped people believe their company was going places and what they did mattered. But what was interesting to me was that not everybody felt like that was enough. And some of the top performers even felt like maybe the grass is greener somewhere else," he said.

Employee recognition and rewards software has shifted the paradigm in how companies assess their employees, Johnson said. Typically, managers have measured employees' key performance indicators (KPIs), he said, tying the numbers associated with productivity, sales, quality and timeliness to company earnings.

With today's employee recognition platforms, an employee's efforts at improving communications, boosting morale or bettering the workplace environment are some of the endeavors that can be viewed as worthy of appreciation.

"Peer-to-peer recognition breaks down silos and causes employees to look for ways to help each other. The company can look at the data to better understand engagement patterns," Johnson said.

Things to Consider First 

To make sure implementing employee recognition software is a success, Mike Brennan, president and chief service officer at Leapgen, a Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based HR consulting firm, said HR executives should focus first on three areas before they think about the technology: the mindset, the people and the process.

Brennan said that if companies don't have the mindset to commit to building a new vision and accepting change, or don't have the right people to implement processes that define business outcomes, then implementing employee recognition software initiatives will fail.

"Companies can place too much emphasis on software, but if you don't have people who are ready to leverage the software, whether that is peers who are ready to recognize one another or managers who are ready to recognize their teams, then you will only get a fraction of the value you have envisioned," he said.

When he advises HR executives on employee recognition software, they usually want to amplify the culture they have or they wish to establish a better culture through a transformation.

"For instance, recent employee engagement surveys may have suggested the need to recognize one another for living a company's core values as one component of improving the workforce experience," Brennan said. "Employee recognition software enables them to do that at scale and on an ongoing basis." 

Nicole Lewis is a freelance journalist based in Miami. She covers business, technology and public policy.


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