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Why Recognition Matters: An Interview with the Author of “Winning with a Culture of Recognition”

“Engaged employees are the competitive advantage of today,” Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine argue in their new book, Winning with a Culture of Recognition.  If they’re to be believed, that means bad news for employers: Employee engagement is at its lowest level in 15 years, according to a recent Hewitt survey.  From that standpoint, it’s no wonder the number employers are struggling to hold on to top employees, despite a still-slim job market.

If anyone can speak to the important role engagement has in an organization’s success, it’s Mosley and Irvine. Through their work at Globoforce®, they have helped companies of all sizes – including such recognized corporations as Dow Chemical, Intuit and Fairmont Hotels – develop strategic recognition programs to increase employee engagement levels and ultimately drive bottom line results. Winning with a Culture of Recognition is their effort to bring those same strategies and solutions to a broader audience.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Irvine, who heads Globoforce’s strategy and marketing team, via e-mail to discuss how the book addresses today’s key employer challenges, including what is causing the drop in engagement levels, the impact it is having on U.S. businesses, and what leaders can do to not only stop – but reverse – these effects.  Below is the edited version of our conversation.

What sets “Winning with a Culture of Recognition” apart from other management books? Winning with a Culture of Recognition gives practical step-by-step guidance, proven stories of success, and the research behind the power of recognition to create a culture of appreciation that increases employee engagement for dramatic bottom line results. This isn’t a soft-skills “1,000 ways to thank your employees” book. This is a hard management practice with proven results. We bust the myths around old-school recognition and incentives, making strategic recognition attainable for companies of any size.

In your book, you talk about “strategic recognition.” What do you mean by that? Strategic recognition means integrating recognition with a company’s core values and strategic goals.  It helps employees understand the behavioral norms you have identified to achieve the desired business outcome. What matters in the recognition moment is not showmanship but sincerity. Let the managers express appreciation in their own way; if it’s personal, tied to company values, and genuine, it will be effective.

What does “winning with a culture of recognition” mean?  “Winning” with a culture of recognition refers to winning in the marketplace. It’s proven that companies with more engaged employees are more successful. Recent Gallup research found that for companies in the top 25 percent for employee engagement, earnings per share (EPS) exceeds competition by 28 percent. That number increases to 72 percent for companies in the top 10 percent. What did the level of employee engagement mean to companies during the recession? Those in the top 25 percent that were trailing competition before the recession surpassed the competition in 2008. Those in the top 10 percent were already ahead of their competition in 2007, but widened the gap further in 2008.

What sets the companies that successfully foster a culture of recognition apart from others? Three things set them apart: 1) Executive sponsorship with defined goals. Support from senior management is critical to success in any ini­tiative, and this is especially true in managing corporate culture.  2) A single, global strategy. A global strategy creates a single recognition brand and vocabulary. It creates clear visibility into budgets and can be audited. Executives in different divisions, locations, and markets can view uniform metrics that provide insight into program adoption, operation, and results. 3) Alignment with company values and objectives. When individual-recognition moments are consciously linked to company values and goals, employees understand how their actions directly affect the culture.

What is the biggest roadblock to creating a culture of recognition? Possibly the biggest roadblock is overcoming the assumption that a company culture cannot be proactively created and managed. It absolutely can be, but the first step is determining what your company culture is today. After spending so much time and effort developing a strategy, mission and values, company leaders hope those values become the basis for the company culture, but that is not always the case. Unless the values are visibly and quantifiably reinforced on a daily basis, they become nothing more than an engraved plaque hanging on the wall.

Why is recognition so important? Why do you find that it is so frequently overlooked as a business strategy? Too often, recognition is believed to be a “soft-skill” – a nice-to-have component if managers are willing to do it, but certainly nothing to push for. Recognition, when done strategically, is much more. It’s a data-driven business initiative that can have quite significant impact on a company’s bottom line.

There is a great deal of data to support this from various research organizations including Gallup, Towers Watson, the Human Capital Institute, Deloitte Consulting, and many others. For example, Gallup has shown managers who focus on employee strengths have 61 percent engaged employees versus 1 percent actively disengaged. But managers who focus on employee weaknesses have 45 percent engaged employees and 22 percent actively disengaged. Managers who ignore their employees are the worst with only 2 percent engaged employees and 40 percent actively disengaged. Employees need feedback – they need to know how they’re doing and if their efforts are valued and appreciated by others.

But what’s the impact on the bottom line? Employees who are engaged drive financial results. And those results are not insignificant. In their 2007-2008 Global Workforce Study, Towers Perrin (now Towers Watson) found that companies with high employee engagement vastly outperform low-employee engagement firms in terms of operating income, income growth rate, and earnings per share.

What advice do you have for employers who say, “We can’t afford to give our employees pricey bonuses or raises, or throw extravagant parties, so we might as well give up”? Companies should make recognition a priority. If they do not, they are at risk of losing employees even in a down economy and having a disengaged workforce. Strategic recognition does not have to be costly, though it does require investment. Our customers have found that, simply by consolidating multiple tactical programs, they can fund a strategic recognition investment. Giving up just isn’t an option.

Mary Lorenz

About Mary Lorenz

Mary is a copywriter for CareerBuilder, specializing in B2B marketing and corporate recruiting best practices and social media. In addition to creating copy for corporate advertising and marketing campaigns, she researches and writes about employee attraction, engagement and retention. Whenever possible, she makes references to pop culture. Sometimes, those references are even relevant. A New Orleans native, Mary now lives in Chicago, right down the street from the best sushi place in the city. It's awesome.
Willaim PreScott Manns
Willaim PreScott Manns

I really like your piece above. But i am one of those disengaged employees stuck in a dead in job, tired of the social bickering and employer let downs. But here soon i will be on the market again moving to South Carolina in search of a new job. A career, something that i will enjoy. Theres almost no one i cant get along with, but yes i have met a couple that just cant be turned. Looking forward to meeting new people, exploreing and accomplishing new tasks. I'am a good follower but i believe i would be even a better leader in any business venture!!!!!!!!!!


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