Although it was a cold day in winter, I had a warm and fuzzy feeling. The CEO of the company where I worked pulled me aside during his annual Christmas meet and greet employee meeting, looked me straight in the face and said, “Thank you so much for all the great work you do for us, Camille. We really value and appreciate your contribution.” And for a few seconds after he said this, I felt as if I could have given the company back the bonus cheque I received a week earlier. Personal recognition from the CEO was priceless.
So several years later, with most of them spent leading cross-functional teams and direct reports, I finally nailed down the real reasons why I entertained the absurd thought of refunding a hard-earned bonus cheque.
- Essential alignment of personal values and corporate values
After a particularly unpleasant experience with a previous employer, I vowed never to work anywhere where management did not walk the talk of their corporate values. More importantly, there should be no conflict between my core values of truth, integrity and respect and those of my employer.
Respect was listed among the company’s values.
Pulling me aside to say how much my contribution was valued was in my view, a genuine act of respect coming from the CEO, not just for my work, but for my personal and professional commitment to the success of the company. I didn’t feel that he was being politically correct or doing his duty to be polite.
In later years when I did have to manage a department, I learned a very hard lesson. If the personal values of a highly competent employee are not aligned with corporate values, the best designed bonus compensation plan is ineffective.
- Personal recognition of a job well done is more impactful than a formal recognition program
The company had a formal recognition program, governed by a process of nomination and specific selection criteria. Exceptional actions and contributions to special projects were recognized in the formal program. The consistent delivery of good work was not.
Very often, the employee doing the most critical work is several steps away from the front line. In my case, I was the one preparing the quotation and response to the request for proposal, and the data required for the finalist presentation. This was my job. My work was reviewed and approved through a long chain of command. I felt honoured that the CEO had taken the time to find out who were the behind the scenes contributors. His personal statement of appreciation meant more to me than seeing my name among the crowded list on the Recognition Program roster in the quarterly employee bulletin.
- Fitting in & contributing to something larger than oneself
People need to feel that they are contributing to something larger than themselves, and that their contribution really makes a difference. The CEO clearly made me feel that the company needed and valued my contribution.
Employee recognition and the employer brand
And this last point leads me, as a marketer, to make the connection between employee recognition and the employer brand. The employer brand defines for employees, why the organization is a great place to work and sets expectations for employees’ experience throughout their career there.
Employee buy-in to the employer brand creates engagement, encourages discretionary effort and results in committed and outstanding performance, which is the basis for employee recognition programmes. To be meaningful, the employer brand has to be brought to life, and if not, it remains an empty set of words.
Bringing the employer brand to life is all about equipping employees to do their jobs with enthusiasm and building commitment to the company’s values. To do this, I have three suggestions:
- Human Resources and Marketing should work together in the on-going management of the employer brand. When there are changes to business strategies, the employer brand must also be adjusted and communicated to employees.
- Business leaders and managers should commit to an on-going programme of internal, bi-directional communication activities so that employees understand the importance of the role they play in the success of the company.
- A mix of formal recognition programs and opportunities for leaders to give employees personal recognition goes a long way to motivate employees.
See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important