Incentives Staff Love: Discover the Perks That Work

Depending on the company you work for, the concept of staff perks may or may not be foreign to your ears. But incentivising employees to give their best can actually be a cost-effective way to improve motivation and productivity within your workforce. With this in mind, we look at the perks that work, the ones that don’t, and why this is.

“Where bees are, there is honey.”  17th century English proverb

Now we don’t know much about bees here at Agency Central (although we could probably help you to find a Beekeeper, if that’s your thing), but we do understand this proverb. Bees, as we well know, are busy – and the work they’re busy at is the production of honey. 

But what if the queen bee could get her workers to go just a little bit faster – increasing the efficiency of her hive and creating extra honey? 

That’s right – she’d have more honey.

Every employer would like their workers to work a bit harder – it’s just a fact of business. The only thing more certain is that their workers think they deserve a pay rise. 

But let’s be realistic here. There’s only so much money to go around, and while Louise from Accounts might really like that sports car, and Jim from Marketing probably could do with a decent holiday this year, economic times are kind of uncertain, and pay rises might just have to go on hold for the time being.

Even the best recruitment consultant in the world is going to struggle selling your firm to a top candidate if working for you is about as appealing as spending a wet weekend in hell.

Convince employees that they want to work for you

Micro businesses (0-9 employees) made up 95.5% of all private sector businesses in the UK in 2015 according to British government statistics – so for a very average company to give each of its employees a £1,000 a year pay rise, the bill could easily come to £9,000 a year. That’s also £9,000 that’s very difficult to claw back, should your operation find itself in need of a little extra liquidity for whatever reason.
But what if there’s another way around the problem of motivation? How can you convince your employees that they should be doing more to aid their company’s cause if you can’t commit to paying them more? 

Creativity is notoriously difficult to foster in the workplace – with many corporate cultures seemingly geared up to limit, rather than accelerate, this most positive of forces.

Make sure they benefit from their work in other ways is how. Tech firms such as Google and Airbnb have embraced this concept wholeheartedly – giving their employees perks the likes of which have never before been seen. When you’ve got the resources to provide things like office slides and four-figure travel allowances, the results can be truly astounding.

In the best case, staff incentives can work really well, but in others they’re ineffective – or worse, have a negative effect. In order to understand why this might be the case, we first need to define what we actually mean by ‘work well’. What can we measure a staff perk by to see how effective it actually is?

What is an ‘effective staff perk’?

At the end of all this, there’s really one thing that we’re interested in (other than improving our employees’ lives, that is!). This is the same thing that all businesses are interested in, which is of course, how we can become more profitable. 

How you actually achieve an increase in profitability depends on the type of business you are running, as well as the type of people who work for you, but there are a number of measures you could use. We came up with a few different facets of employment that could conceivably be improved in some way by staff incentive schemes:

Recruitment-boosting perks

“You don’t build a business – you build people – and then people build the business.”
Zig Ziglar

One indirect way that profitability can be improved in almost any company is to find good staff and then retain them. While partnering with a good recruitment agency is an intelligent way to achieve this, even the best consultant in the world is going to struggle selling your firm to a top candidate if working for you is about as appealing as spending a wet weekend in hell.

Even if salaries at your organisation are nothing to write home about, there are a number of ways to make the place more appealing to potential employees – and better still – many of them are absolutely free. While strategies like allowing people to bring their dog into work might not work for everyone, even just ensuring that staff get a long enough lunch break, or finish early enough to miss rush hour can make a big difference to people’s quality of life.

Essentially, any of the perks we mention in this article should help to boost your recruitment potential, so keep this at the forefront of your mind when making investments to improve things for your staff. Remember that happy workers are productive workers, and you can at least hope that they’ll respect you more for making it happen for them.

Income-boosting perks

“Money can’t buy happiness, but neither can poverty.”  Leo Rosten

Fairly self-explanatory, this one. Income-boosting perks work not by raising your employees’ salaries, but by making them go further. This could also include schemes which allow workers to make extra money independently of their salary, such as the gifting of company shares as an incentive.

Pay rises: the only thing truer than the fact that people like them is that they always end up wanting more of them.

These perks are always appreciated, because they are an indirect way of allowing your employees to earn more money – often without paying the extra income tax that a pay rise might entail for them. Such incentives might include services such as free housekeeping or dog minding – which can make a big financial difference to the employees that use them.

This can also be a great way to curry favour with the local businesses your firm employs – getting news of your company’s good name into the right mouths to drum up valuable new leads. Perks can be as much of a marketing exercise as they are a retention one.

Health-boosting perks

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”  Mahatma Gandhi

Your health is really the last thing that you want to lose. No other facet of your life is responsible for so much of your happiness – or taken for granted with such abandon while it remains. But Britain’s transition to the Service Industry is destroying workers’ health just as surely as the smog of Industrial Revolution cities did – forcing people into sedentary lifestyles that doctors say could be worse than smoking in terms of shortening life expectancy. Small wonder that we’re facing an obesity epidemic.

So what can employers do to help? Well in addition to classic health-related perks like free gym memberships, yoga classes, or showers at work (to encourage healthy commuting), there are a number of ways that you can minimise the time people spend torturing their bodies sat in a chair. Don’t forget that good physical health promotes good mental health, too – which is another massive issue in Britain today… 

One way to help employees keep fit is to introduce standing desks – ensuring that people spend a good proportion of the day on their feet, even when they’re working. These desks aren’t cheap, but will make a big impact in terms of your employees’ health. They show that you care – in a big way. 

Other less conventional means of helping staff get away from their desks include introducing work from home days (allowing employees the flexibility to work from wherever they see fit), or even shortening daily working hours themselves. While this may sound counter-productive, there is growing evidence to suggest that a shorter or more flexible working day can lead to greater productivity and increased employee loyalty.

Morale-boosting perks

“Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.”  Robert Frost

One thing that most people can agree with is that there just isn’t enough happiness in the world. It’s one of those things that’s universally appreciated by its very definition. So why don’t we do more to make the world a happy place? If you’re still trying to work out whether you’d like to be feared or loved as a boss, then this one probably isn’t for you – but if you already know the answer, then it’s time to incentivise your way to a new era of productivity.

First off, we should point out that improving any one of the facets listed here is likely to improve morale. It’s simply what happens when people have more disposable income, less aches and pains, or a better team to work with. In order to improve morale specifically then, we’re going to have to be a little bit imaginative. 

Ensuring that employees automatically get their birthday off work (paid of course) is one way to make an extra day’s holiday seem like more than it actually is. Or you could simply give employees more annual leave allowance in order to let them make their own mind up.

On a more sombre note, ensuring that you provide excellent benefits to employees’ dependants in the event of their untimely demise (and ensuring they know you will do this) is actually a great morale-booster. Google are well-known for taking good care of the families of employees if the worst happens, and this seems to be much appreciated by Googlers.

Even if you don’t have the financial resources to do this (and many firms don’t), there are other ways you can help in the event of a death. Don’t forget that employees who have recently been bereaved are likely to have emotional needs that you can really help with – whether that is by providing free counselling, or just ensuring that employees in these cases can get a suitable amount of time off following such an event. Bear in mind that not everyone will want to be off work for an extended period in this case – so having HR Staff who are trained in the legal and psychological issues at play here can really help. Far too many firms nowadays do not provide staff with the support they need in the event of a bereavement.

Creativity-boosting perks

“Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it.” – Dee Hock

Creativity is a divisive subject in many workplaces. While non-creatives might see their more imaginative colleagues as divas – obsessed with work-life balance, aimless conversation, and desktop totem poles made out of fruit – creative members of staff often wonder how others can exist without such vices, and suspect that a secret longing exists deep within their hearts.

Unfortunately, creativity is notoriously difficult to foster in the workplace – with many corporate cultures seemingly geared up to limit, rather than accelerate this most positive of forces. This in turn is fuelling a rise in the outsourcing of creative marketing functions – which of course ignores the fact that creativity can be beneficial for any person in any job role, from an Accountant to an On-Site Janitor

One of the best ways to effectively manage creative employees is to simply ask them what they’re thinking (they’re paid to come up with good ideas after all) – but one perk many will appreciate is to allocate a budget to create a library of good work-related books and to give employees time to read them. You could even give each employee a book budget – much like universities do with postgraduate students.

Work from home days, sabbaticals, and meditation classes also tend to go down well, and will improve your office’s creativity by improving relaxation and bringing in new sources of inspiration for the people who matter most. Ask yourself where you tend to come up with your best ideas, and how many of those you would have missed, had you been stuck sprouting roots behind a desk.

The potential dangers of staff perks

That’s right, even forces for good like employee incentives have a darker side. Staff perks aren’t without their risks – and it’s important to keep these at the forefront of your mind before you design any scheme. So let’s take a look at what you need to be aware of.
Work-life balance is the best perk you can have… 

It’s well-known that Silicon Valley is pretty much the epicentre of a perks-explosion that’s been rocking the world for the past couple of decades. Firms like Google, Facebook, Apple and Twitter have been busy providing employees with free gourmet food, transport arrangements, gyms, spas, laundry services and even dentistry – all lit by the hazy sunlight of Northern California.

Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? And we’re not going to make any bones about it – because it’s probably pretty good. These folks have got it made, and we wouldn’t for a minute suggest that most of them aren’t living life to the full and having great fun doing it.

Hang on a minute though. What is the cost of all this assistance? It’s been suggested that the provision of so many perks and services is further-blurring the line between work and leisure for many employees of tech startups – with smartphones, email, and late nights in the office ensuring that many people are never truly getting time away from their job.

As an employer, it’s easy to see pound signs light up at this point – because those workers sound seriously engaged, don’t they? Surely they must be working pretty hard?

But think back to what we just said about creativity-boosting perks (which often involve spending more time away from the office, rather than less), and consider the devastating effect that stress can have on your workforce.

and the second best perk is doing a job that you actually enjoy

There’s a reason that salaries are referred to as ‘compensation’. They are there to compensate the person doing a job for the considerable proportion of their life that they will spend doing it. 

One of the best perks you can get is therefore when you get ‘compensated’ (and preferably compensated well) for doing a job that you actually love, alongside people you get on with. What this means is that every day is a perk – because life itself becomes much more enjoyable. You simply don’t need to paper over the cracks with foosball tables and at-desk massages, because you’re just having fun to begin with.

Of course not everyone’s that lucky, and there are many job roles that just simply aren’t that much fun. Without wanting to point any fingers, it’s safe to say that not every job is a calling, and that many employees do just live for the weekend.

Our take on this is that while livin’ the dream is indeed the name of the game, there’s no reason that you can’t have some fun along the way. As long as perks are correctly targeted, we’d say that they’re a good idea. 

In order to actually target them correctly, read on…   

How to choose the perks that will work for your business

This is the point where we figure out the staff incentives that will work best for your particular business. It’s important to consider everything here, so that we can figure out exactly what will work for your team, and drive them to new levels of happiness and productivity. 

Employee incentives that don’t work

As we’ve pointed out, the wrong incentive will do no good – or could even be counterproductive for your business.

Whilst a company-wide sales incentive for an all expenses paid clubbing trip to Ibiza might work really well in some instances (namely those where the employees are known for partying it up), in others, you can see how it might not be such a good idea – and it could even end up putting strain on a team member’s family situation.

Another example might be the introduction of a free dog-minding service for employees in a company where only one member of staff (a Senior Manager) owns a dog. While this may open the door to pet-ownership to many employees, others might see it as favouritism or nepotism, and dislike the fact that this expensive perk has been presented to them in lieu of a pay rise. In a team with many current and potential dog-owners, however, this service could go down a treat!

Perks that work without fail

There are some perks that just work, no matter what type of business you’re running. You could be a firm of Accountants, a health spa, or even a recruitment agency – these are the things that will make your organisation a better place to work. 

We’re not just talking about pay rises either – because the only thing truer than the fact that people like them is that they always want more of them. They don’t always end up boosting loyalty and / or staff retention rates…
One thing that does boost retention is looking after staff when they’re feeling at their most vulnerable – like when they’ve just joined your firm as a new recruit, for instance. Welcome kits are a great idea, not only to show new starters that you care about them, but also (if executed correctly), to help them in their day-to-day life as they progress in their career within your firm.

Creative ideas for what to put in a new starter’s welcome kit include:

  • Modelling clay (M&C Saatchi Mobile).
  • An Amazon Kindle with an unlimited account on Amazon books (TH_NK).
  • A bottle of champagne (Spicy Mango Technology).
  • A welcome balloon for your desk (Karmarama).

Many of these items are more useful than you might first imagine – with the Ebook reader especially killing two birds with one stone by: a) giving new starters a really cool gizmo, and b) giving them access to a whole world of published knowledge and creativity. 

The welcome balloon might sound a bit silly at first, but think of it in terms of a crowded open-plan office. Suddenly everyone knows where to find the new starter so they can introduce themselves to them!

“Treat employees like they make a difference and they will.” – Jim Goodnight

Quite simply, the best perks are universally-useful to all employees, fostering a spirit of teamwork and belonging. They improve employees’ lives in a way that goes beyond simply having a few extra quid in their back pocket come payday, and actually manage to turn work into a place that they want to be. Look after your team, and your team will look after you, as well as each other. The corporate family is a cliche, but it does exist – just don’t ever utter those words!

And don’t forget another of the best perks you can have – which is having a boss who’s respectful, friendly, and empathetic to your needs. If you manage to achieve an egalitarian atmosphere in your workplace, then this is almost certainly you – so well done! As a bonus, you shouldn’t need surveys or formal reviews to find out your employees’ needs, because you’ll already know about them from the genuine conversations you have both in and around the workplace.

For this reason, the perks that will work best in your firm or team are specific to those people – those employees – and it’s your job to find out – know – what they are. Be a good boss.

Conclusion: fitter, happier, more productive

If you’re in charge of a group of people – be they employees, team members, or other subordinates – it might be a while since you actually had to work for anyone else directly. Such is the nature of success and promotion. 

But the best bosses never lose sight of what it means to be an employee. They’re there for their people, and they help, rather than hinder them. Fostering this kind of atmosphere in your business creates truly the best perk there is, and can lead you to discover the things that will ice the cake of employment in your company.

We recognise that this is an ongoing process though – and even the best employers have limited time and resources to deal with the demands of a growing team. In the meantime, this guide should illustrate some of the ways in which you can keep your most vital asset – your employees – happy and content. This will inevitably lead to higher levels of loyalty, productivity, and creativity, which form the path to the thing that keeps businesses growing – profitability.

One more thing. If you watch one video today, make it this one. Here, the excellent RSA Animate demonstrate some of Dan Pink’s points about the things that motivate us, and you might be surprised. Rather than money, Pink says that human employees working beyond very basic tasks are motivated primarily by three things: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Check it out and learn something new today. We did.

Written by Matt Atkinson

Preparing Tomorrow’s Talent: It’s Time to Take Action

Insights and Perspectives  

By Leighanne Levensaler, Senior Vice President, Corporate Strategy, Workday & Managing Director and Co-Head, Workday Ventures

There’s a lot of buzz these days about the outlook for tomorrow’s talent. Global businesses and higher education institutions acknowledge that change is happening and they need to adapt, but don’t know where to start.

We talk about the skills gap, and why so many jobs go unfilled even as millions of people can’t find work. We discuss intelligent technologies and how they’re changing jobs. We talk about college graduates with staggering loan debts struggling to enter the workforce.

Yet too much of this talk is occurring at the 50,000-foot level when we need to hit the ground running. People are the heart of our businesses, and talent should be at the forefront of business strategy.

Think of it this way: when an organization faces a new threat, what does it do? It prepares. If a competitor starts to take away market share, it develops an aggressive plan to get it back. If a business models shifts in its industry, it creates a strategy to adapt. We must recognize that lack of insight and preparedness around tomorrow’s talent is a threat to the success of our organizations and the health of our society.

Rather than talking about it at such a high level, let’s get more specific. For example, here are some areas all business leaders need to better understand and communicate:

  • Skills. What future skills do we need to support our business strategies and changes within our organizations, and what are our plans to acquire those skills or reskill workers?
  • Partnerships. Are we pursuing, or do we need to pursue, collaboration opportunities in the wider community with higher education, training, or workforce development organizations?
  • Infrastructure and resources. How will we fund and build the needed programs, and find the people to support them?

Some leaders are very in touch with these areas because their companies have had to reskill significant portions of their workforces to support new business models or adapt to new technologies. But the reality is many of us are still in the early stages of understanding the problem.

Working Together for Tomorrow’s Talent

At Workday, we’re in a unique position. We don’t just care about the future of talent; we’re also building technologies that will meet the needs of the current and future workforce, and help organizations attract and retain that workforce.

We’re also bringing together leaders from our different customer communities—from leading higher ed institutions to emerging disruptors to some of the largest global organizations—for conversations with non-profit organizations and policymakers on how to collaborate.

Here’s how we see a path forward:

  • Establish shared responsibility. Rather than pointing fingers at who should be driving this effort, it’s important we recognize that all of us must take responsibility. To be successful and identify strategies that work across industries and demographics, we need to be transparent about the reality and together, find solutions.
  • Have more productive conversations. By gathering stakeholders in the same room, conversations can start to move from worry to hope as everyone establishes a way to work together. At Workday, we have the ability to facilitate these conversations and recently had some great success at our first workforce development conference, Workday Opportunity Onramps. The event brought together businesses, non-profit workforce development organizations, and consulting firms to share ideas and results around programs they’ve implemented that provide career opportunities to nontraditional candidates. We’ll keep the productive conversations going next month at Bloomberg’s Tomorrow’s Talent: A Forum for Business and Education Leaders, a full-day symposium sponsored by Workday.
  • Build ethically. All of us involved in the creation of new technologies need to continually work on the question of how we build them in an ethical and responsible way. Rather than eliminate opportunities for people through innovation, we need to use technology to create new and better opportunities.
  • Rethink education. Starting early on, we need to create a culture of lifelong learners. To succeed in the evolving world of work—whether it’s the emergence of new technologies or growing importance of soft skills—education needs to be not just a diploma, but something that is provided at every point in the employee lifecycle. The responsibility to make this happen exists not only in traditional higher ed institutions but at the business leadership and policy level as well.

Now is the time to join forces and take action on behalf of tomorrow’s talent. We’re delighted to be a part of this movement at Workday, and hope you’ll join us in establishing a clear path forward.

Is employee recognition part of your retention strategy?

Deloitte/Bersin estimates that the recognition market is over $45 billion in size and is mostly focused on rewarding tenure. According to that research, 87% of companies have some type of tenure-based reward program, meaning that what employees are really being rewarded for is just “sticking around.”   Yet, we know that people are looking for meaning and recognition at work.  A 2014 survey from the Boston Consulting Group of 200,000 people in 189 countries found that “appreciation for your work” was the top driver of happiness on the job across the globe.

On our most recent podcast, my guest Peter Hart discusses his belief that there is a better and more effective way to provide people with meaningful appreciation for their work. Peter is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Rideau, a Canadian-based company that is pioneering a new, data-driven approach to rewards and recognition.

Since he became President of Rideau in 1978, Peter has shepherded the company through global expansion and a significant transformation from manufacturing awards to helping organizations rethink the way they recognize and reward their employees.  In my conversation with Peter, we talk about how recognition is an underutilized tool in many companies.  Peter has lots of great insights about how employee recognition can and should be used to drive better results.  You can listen in on our conversation about the following topics by clicking the player at the bottom of this post.

  1. What are employers doing wrong when they only tie recognition to tenure – what are they missing?
  2. What role can recognition play in engagement and in driving better results?
  3. What’s the difference between tangible and intangible recognition – and how do you balance the two for optimal results?
  4. How can recognition data help predict future performance?
  5. When people think of formal recognition programs, they envision a large corporation.  How can these same principles can be applied to small employers as well?

Why Your Employees Will Love the ’90-10 Rule’–and So Will You


At organizations like Facebook and, Jennifer Dulski amassed a toolkit of techniques for channeling individual workers into mass movements.

By Leigh BuchananEditor-at-large, Inc. magazine@LeighEBuchanan
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Jennifer Dulski is a veteran troop rally-er. As president and COO of, she energized millions to rise up against the status quo. At Facebook, where last year she became head of Groups, Dulski draws people together around shared interests and concerns.

So it’s not surprising Dulski chose engaging and mobilizing people as the subject of her book, Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Starter? Leaders of movements–entrepreneurial businesses included–incite followers to believe in a vision, in one another, and in themselves. To amass the power of many, they address the needs and dreams of individuals.

At the businesses she’s worked for, which also include Google and Yahoo, Dulski developed and adapted a variety of tools and techniques to maximize employees’ buy-in to the mission and satisfaction with their roles in it. She described several of them in a recent interview.

1. Customize motivation.

While managing a team of marketers at Yahoo, Dulski had a revelation. One woman explained candidly that recognition and rewards didn’t interest her. All she wanted for a job well done was more money. “I would never have guessed that,” Dulski says. “If she hadn’t told me, I would have tried to motivate her based on what motivates me, which would have been the exact wrong thing.”

The only way to know what motivates individuals, Dulski concluded, is to ask them. Hence: the Motivational Pie Chart. Dulski gives employees a drawing of an empty circle and tells them to divvy it up according to their personal priorities. Sixty percent might be personal development, 20 percent recognition, and 20 percent compensation, for example. “Sometimes, people will say something uncommon, like ‘I am really motivated by being in the spotlight,'” Dulski says.

Employees then color-code each slice to indicate current levels of satisfaction. Green if the company does a great job with that motivator. Yellow if the employee wants more. Red if things are bad.

Dulski says compensation assumes a higher profile when people feel they’re not being paid what they’re worth. Once financial needs are met, the three most common motivators become purpose, growth, and connection. “People want to know they are working on something that matters and their role in it,” Dulski says. “They want to work with people they respect, trust, and enjoy. And they want to feel like they are learning, growing, being challenged.”

2. Clarify decision making.

Despite empowerment rhetoric, people often feel helpless to move forward. Dulski suggests a rule of thumb: Employees should be able to make 90 percent of the decisions required by their jobs. To create a common vocabulary for discussing authority levels, she uses the same color-coding deployed in the pie chart: green for decisions made autonomously; red for decisions requiring permission; and yellow for decisions where authority is unclear.

Dulski says that without the 90-10 Rule, things tend to break down in one of two ways. “Either you are asking people to make decisions they should not be making based on their role, or a person is capable of making decisions, and a manager is getting involved when they really don’t need to,” she says. Both instances leave employees feeling stripped of control.

In tandem with the 90-10 Rule, Dulski suggests companies adopt decision logs to track who made which decisions and when, as well as their rationales and the people who were consulted. Such logs reveal whether decision making is being sufficiently distributed. “It also serves transparency,” she says. “When big decisions are made, everyone wants to be involved.” That’s usually not possible, but at least everyone can understand how and why a decision was made.

3. Lay out the long-term plan.

The adage “People don’t leave companies; they leave managers” is a bit of a canard. “My experience has been people leave when they stop growing and learning,” Dulski says. At, she learned a technique called Horizon Mapping to keep people motivated and guide their progress toward personal goals.

Employees begin by identifying their existing skills–relationship-building, for example–on the basis of their experiences. They then set five- or 10-year goals. “These tend to be big ideas,” Dulksi says. “I have had people say, ‘I want to run for elected office.’ ‘I want to be the CEO of my own company.’ ‘I want to invent something.'”

Finally, employees compare their current skill sets with those objectives on the horizon. Together with leaders, they then determine what roles or experiences will close the gap between them. “Sometimes, a project may seem uninteresting,” Dulski says. “But if they understand how it gets them to the next step, it becomes compelling.”

4. Get to know folks.

Strong personal relationships–between leaders and their workforces and among employees–make pulling together feel more natural and enjoyable. Dulski advocates helping workers learn about one another as people, not just as colleagues; and she recommends leaders dedicate at least a portion of events and offsites to that goal.

In one technique she uses, called Lifelines, Dulski will break up employees into small groups and ask each member to describe three to five experiences that made them who they are. “I have seen tremendous bonds coming out of this as people go a level deeper,” she says.

For leaders, particularly those who fret about losing touch with their scaling organizations, it’s a chance to attach a story to a face. It’s also an opportunity to model healthy emotional openness. When Dulski kicks off a Lifelines exercise, “I will share one moment from my life,” she says. “Something that is more personal or difficult, to make it appropriate and comfortable for other people to do so.”

In the interest of humanizing herself, Dulski also welcomes employees’ having fun at her expense. She’s let them choose her Halloween costumes. They’ve cast her in company musicals. “Once, I had to play the Wicked Witch in a parody of The Wizard of Oz,” she says. “I did a big cackle onstage that was widely imitated for weeks.”

When to Give the Right Kind of Recognition



Leaders, managers, and peers alike, can all get confused as to when to use their various recognition programs that they might have online.

This will be a quick guide to assist people with when to give the right kind of recognition according to the programs that you have.

There are some guiding principles I want you to keep in mind that should help you think about and narrow down what you should do:

  1. Level of Impact. This refers to the behavior, effort or action demonstrated and whether they would be perceived as being a low, medium or high impact on performance.
  2. Frequency of Occurrence. You can examine the nature of the behavior and consider if this was a one-off action, and isolated in occurrence, or whether this is an oft-repeated or frequent behavior.
  3. Number of People Affected. The employee’s action may only affect one person or may have affected many people by what they did.

Low Impact Action + Isolated Occurrence + Low # of People Affected

Let’s take the scenario where an employee carries out a low impact action that is a first time observation, which only affects one or two people.

This type of action would likely only warrant expressing recognition and appreciation via your program that uses e-Cards or by making a post on the newsfeed of a social recognition program.

Some recognition programs are using thematic social badges such as for demonstrating corporate values or specific business goals.

All of these types of recognition programs can be used without having to attach a gift or award to because you don’t have to give a reward when you recognize people.

High Impact Action + Consistent Occurrence + High # of People Affected

In contrast, an individual employee or team may have made a major achievement or completed a project that had a significant impact on the company.

They likely demonstrated consistent effort and hard work on this project over a period of time. And the number of people affected was significant – considering the improved processes developed that will help internal staff and the profitability projected because of the benefits to current and future customers.

For these kinds of actions, you would likely accompany any form of sincere expression of acknowledgment with a reward through a recognition program that permits giving points, monetary rewards or gifts.

Be mindful that some high impact actions may only be a one-time occurrence so you will have to use your best judgment on those ones.

Whenever you give people a reward don’t treat it as just a transaction. Always add some meaningful words of appreciation when presenting in person along with a written note or electronic message to reinforce the recognition.

Hopefully, this will give some structure when considering when to use the right recognition message for specific kinds of actions.

Optimizing Learning Experiences for Organizational Performance

December 07, 2017

Proper training is the backbone of any successful organization. This is a universal truth in the Learning and Development (L&D) world. Organizations know this but why isn’t every organization successful in implementing proper training? The answer is simple: intention doesn’t necessarily equate to action; Just because an organization tries to produce quality training doesn’t mean that they actually produce impactful learning. Then what is missing? What are the keys to developing a quality training and development program that produces measurable results?

Research supports five ways that produce verifiable changes in organizational performance, revealed in Valamis’ White Paper >Five Best Practices in Optimizing Learning Experiences for Organizations:

1. Make learning faster, more efficient, and consistent
Catering to a rapid pace and short-attention-span is paramount in getting information through to today’s adult learner. Therefore, organizations must get their L&D departments to capitalize on the learning technologies available to us: the benefits of digital learning and microlearning have never been clearer. By breaking down large pieces of information into bite-sized pieces and then making that information available at the learner’s discretion, organizations can cater their employee’s learning process to today’s global society without sacrificing a quality learning experience. The advantages of online learning include an organization’s ability to provide flexibility for those employees in a time crunch, while also providing a continuous learning experience for those who need to check-in multiple times for review or reference of the material.

As society becomes more fast-paced and attention-spans get shorter, it is pivotal to effectively capture the attention of learners by personalizing the learning experience.

2. Personalize the learning experience
The more an organization can make a training process intuitive, enjoyable, and applicable, the more likely it is that their employees will actually engage with the content, learn from it, and use it. In accordance with a widely-accepted adult learning theory, effective training must address both different styles of learning and provide individualized incentive and value for the learner. By leveraging digital learning effectively, organizations can cater to these adult learning principles and create experiential learning activities, personalized learning plans, and even personalized learning experiences. The key consideration here is that in order for this level of personalized learning to be feasible and efficient, organizations must utilize a quality digital learning platform that caters to this approach through features like integration, user profiles, workflow designations, etc.

Another benefit to the personalization of learning is a measurable increase in both the effectiveness of learning and the satisfaction of employees, which translates into long-term retention.

3. Minimize the loss of knowledge through turnover
There is a strong correlation between the employee retention rate and the quality of an organization’s learning experience. So, if the organization has created a robust, personalized learning experience that engages their employees and encourages growth, the turnover rate will drop. Of course, some turnover is inevitable—and it happens despite positive experiences like promotions or transfers. Therefore, a quality training program must also take into consideration how to effectively capture and reproduce a seasoned employees’ knowledge in order to pass that knowledge on quickly without any production loss after turnover.

The ability to provide metrics to track the effect these training features have on an organization’s bottom-line is of the utmost importance. Therefore, it is also pertinent that organizations know how to measure learning impact effectively. But what is learning analytics and how do you know which metrics to track? There are two considerations here: measuring and tracking the impact of learning on employees and job performance, and the impact of learning on the organization.

4. Leverage learning data analytics to verify the impact of effective training and determine the future way of learning
Measuring the learning impact on the learner is important because it is a great way for a company to assess their training efficiency. Individual training metrics can be used to further personalize the learning path and increase the personalization of the learning experience. By tracking an employee’s performance, training history, scores, and interests, you can design a highly personalized, extremely efficient training process for them. On a larger scale, capturing the right metrics can allow an organization to see what the gaps are between what their employees know and what they need to know. When paired with an integrated training platform, this data can be immediately leveraged to close that gap to increase organizational efficiency.

Running learning analytics in the entirety of the organization will also help you evaluate the impact of the learning process on the business outcomes.

5. Utilize learning analytics to gauge the effectiveness of the learning in the organization
One of the greatest benefits of online learning, when done correctly, is that even at this level of training optimization, there are still savings in the cost of training. When comparing the money spent on training to the money saved by investing proper resources into quality training programs, organizations must comprehensively review the variety of advantages gained in this venture. These benefits of optimized learning experiences include: an increase in customer and employee satisfaction, an increase in productivity, a reduction in time to competency and delivery time, and a faster speed for product and service rollouts. When taking all of this into consideration, the results are clear: the cost of training is worth it. Optimized learning experiences drive organizational performance. Using the right data analytics, organizations can present verifiable support to their key stakeholders. So, taking the time to go above and beyond to run and present these analytics at the macro level are well worth it to prove the value of optimized training. 

If you’re really interested in how to build a truly successful, robust, integrative learning experience at your organization, it’s worth looking at the research and support provided in Valamis’ Five Best Practices in Optimizing Learning Experiences for Organizations. The numbers are there. The research is there. The studies are there. The question is: is your organization there?

There IS a secret to unlocking your company’s potential: and these five best practices are the keys that open the door.

The Opportunities and Challenges of Going Agile In HR


  • Published on June 12, 2018
Enrique Rubio, PMP, CSM

Enrique Rubio, PMP, CSM

Founder of Hacking HR Forum | Co-Founder of Cotopaxi | Speaker | Human Resources & Technology 311 articles 

Organizations across several industries are transforming their hierarchical and stiff structures into self-managed and flexible, agile teams.

The motivation for such transformation relies on several factors:

  • The need to continually increase the organization’s ability to stay up to date with changes and innovations in their own industry and across the board. To do this, agile teams allows information to flow from and in in all directions, and not just upward and downward the corporate hierarchy.
  • The desire to keep teams manageable, working and motivated, without heavy decision-making layers that slow down work progress and make it difficult for individuals to make important on-the-spot decisions. In agile, smaller, self-managed teams, with clear business priorities (the why), but no micromanaged on the “how”, are considerably more capable of achieving their outcomes than highly “supervised” teams.
  • The need to empower teams with enough decision-making authority to make rapid decisions to incorporate customer (employees) feedback. This is important since those employees are also customers of other super user-centric organizations and they are used to having their problems solved in a matter of minutes or hours, not days. Agile teams are empowered teams. And they can make decisions on the spot that can significantly improve the quality of the products and services, without having to go through an entire multi-layered organization to get something done.
  • Agile teams can harness the power of ongoing collaboration. In such teams, individuals heavily rely on each other to deliver the team’s outcomes. Therefore, they have to have multiple touch points during their work journey to know what everybody else is working on, whether they need support or not, etc.

What does going agile mean?

Going agile means evolving from heavy and hierarchical structures where decision-making is concentrated on the top layers of a multi-layered, inefficient hierarchy, with little capacity to spread proper and important information across and with a focus on long-term “strategic thinking”, into a flatter (not totally flat – myth busted!!) organization composed by multiple self-organizing teams.

In such agile organization, teams are empowered to make decisions that very quickly respond to customer feedback and external conditions, innovation and change can be implemented at a smaller, yet impactful scale, and the focus isn’t on long term stiff strategic plans but on quick feedback, validation, iteration and learning loops.

An agile organization is extremely clear about two things:

  • Effectively communicating the “why”: the organization’s leadership provide business priorities. That would be the direction of the business, or the “why” or purpose.
  • Intentionally getting out of the way and letting teams discover the “how”: when leaders clearly communicate the “why”, self-organizing, agile teams will discover the “how” in a process of feedback, experimentation, quick iterations and learning. In a real agile organization, team leaders are not “managers” (as in “I am the one who makes the decisions”), but coaches and mentors (as in “I am here to support you, to guide you and to challenge you to get to the next level”).

Is it possible to have such an organization? You bet it is. And it is also becoming more evident that most corporate functions can go agile as well. One of them is Human Resources (HR).

HR can evolve from its current form, which in most cases is rigid and extremely focused on processes, to one that is more agile, innovative and focused on the “human”.

Such HR transformation can result in increased value-creation for the internal customers. And it doesn’t require heavy investments, but the willingness for a radical shift from where it is today to what agile entails.

Of course, going agile in HR means overcoming some important challenges.

The challenge

An agile transformation initiative will have to battle with the traditional, old-system thinkers who are tightly clung to hierarchical or obsolete approaches. Often, these kind of HR traditional thinkers are in “managerial” positions and therefore they have the power to either stop any agile initiative or simply make it fail by a de facto rejection of resources.

It is extremely ineffective when several teams at the bottom of the corporate echelon go agile, only to find stiffness and rigidity in the top layers that are fighting to keep their power intact and therefore betting for the failure of any agile initiative.

Creating agile teams within HR and then have them clash with the traditional structure can be extremely detrimental to the very core of the agile approach. It can also become disengaging and demotivating and create significant issues that would undermine the transformation initiative.

How to address this challenge: the transformation of HR must come from the C-level, including CHRO.

It can begin by switching smaller initiatives from traditional to agile, and bringing people from various “silos” within the HR structure to form an agile team. When that’s done, it must leverage on the positive results and organizational champions that were part of the initiative to convince the rest of senior leadership to continually evolve from traditional to agile.

If there’s not full or strong partial buy-in support from senior leadership, the agile initiatives are likely to fail when they crash against the big walls built up by those protecting the traditional approach.

The opportunity

The potential and positive opportunities of going agile in HR are innumerable. Some of them include:

  • Real collaboration: agile teams are tightly united by the common goal of the team, which is also part of the “why” of the organization. While each member in an agile team will have clear responsibilities, it is the collective effort put together that delivers the expected team outcomes. It is well known that HR is a fragmented function with sub-functions doing their work without much regard for the larger HR picture. By going agile it is totally possible to break the silos and promote real collaboration.
  • Continues feedback: most processes in HR are heavy and obsolete. Just think about performance management, leadership development and talent acquisition. Some of the current approaches in those areas have been in place for at least fifty years! By going agile, HR can leverage on the power of the collective intelligence of the organization. Agile teams critically depend on customer feedback to innovate and solve problems in creative ways. Why not unleash the potential of the untapped internal network of customers by constantly getting their feedback on HR processes and updating such processes as necessary?
  • Frequent delivery: agile teams are successful because they deliver workable products at a very fast rate. Traditional HR doesn’t. Improving processes within a traditional HR function can take months and even years. But the pace of innovation and disruption, and the cycles of change today are so extremely fast that HR doesn’t have much time to operate within the traditional approach anymore. The science behind frequent deliveries is this: instead of trying to solve complex problems by delivering end-to-end solutions, agile teams break those problems down in their core elements and then design products that solve individual pieces of the problem. By doing so, they can deliver those smaller pieces at a fast rate and innovate individually on each of them.
  • Real metrics: Eric Ries put it beautifully in his book The Lean Startup. There are real metrics and vanity metrics. When HR comes to senior leadership and says “we’ve delivered XX amount of training programs that reached out XX% of all employees”, that’s a vanity metric. Training people doesn’t create an impact. It is an output, not an outcome. Agile teams measure outcomes, which are real metrics. How much better the trained leaders are doing in their work? By how much have harassment and discrimination cases decreased? Agile teams measure real metrics, not vanity metrics.


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About the author:

Enrique Rubio is a Tech and HR Evangelist. He’s passionate about Human Resources, People Operations, Technology and Innovation. Enrique is an Electronic Engineer, Fulbright Scholar and Executive Master in Public Administration with a focus on HR. Over the past 18 years Enrique has worked in the HR and tech world. A lot of his research and work revolves around the digitization of the workplace and Human Resources. Enrique currently works as an advisor of the CHRO at the Inter-American Development Bank. He’s also the founder of Hacking HR Forum, an event to discuss the future of work, and Co-Founder of Cotopaxi, an artificial intelligence-based recruitment platform for emerging markets.

Why a More Productive Workforce is Still Possible: Start by Listening to Your Employees


Author: Tracey Fritcher, Global Director HR Transformation, ServiceNow

The gains in workforce productivity in the last 15 years are numerous. But there are still many organizations today that are filled with a great deal of administrative work to get a task done – much of this work falls into the unstructured category and is a huge time waster.


What if there was a way to look at work and build some structure and automation into processes to drive more productivity? Many organizations are looking at work and finding ways to add some guided insight so people can accomplish more in each day of work.


Searching the phrase “increase workforce productivity” will return approximately 84 million results…in .57 seconds – an overwhelming amount of information about recent improvements and many predictions about future gains.


Many of the articles revolve around management practices and what leaders can do to get to that holy grail of incremental effort – the kind of commitment that fills an employee with the drive to stay up late and take care of a customer problem or come in early when two nurses have called in sick on their floor. This is great when it happens, but people have lives outside of work and circumstances prevent doing any more than what is required for the job.


Smart organizations are seeking productivity gains by identifying the biggest time wasters — the work that often falls through the cracks, is highly administrative, repeatable and many times done via phone, e-mail or still on paper. Some great examples of this type of work are tuition reimbursement, charity gift matching, or following up on a paycheck error.


Employees spend significant time just trying to figure out where to go to resolve these types of issues. Once they think they have the right place to go, the next step is usually an e-mail or a phone call which sometimes lead to an out of office or voice mail. So the next step is another e-mail or phone call and soon more than 30 minutes has evaporated and the employee is still without an answer or resolution.


Automation, intelligent workflow, and guided choices for employees to complete tasks are the keys to future productivity gains within workforces. For many workers, having immediate and direct access to answers is far more high-touch than having to call a service center to speak with a representative. Employees want the power of information and technology at their fingertips – besides, a cloud-enabled portal doesn’t have hours of operations – it’s always open and answers are instantaneous.


Recently, a flight crew from a discount airline was waiting for a hotel shuttle bus and talking about where to go for a paycheck dispute. There were six people in the conversation and each person had a different answer of who to contact. Since the high-touch, phone-answering 1-800 number was only open 12 hours a day, there were lots of work around as far as how to circumvent the often 20 or 30-minute hold time for a representative to look into the situation.


If this even happened 50 times a day, for a global 24/7 operation, the cost implications are beyond significant. In this situation, one employee had a similar issue and was on the phone for over an hour resolving a problem…and on the clock the entire time. A paycheck question is one of the easiest things to solve through automated workflow – there is one place to go and technology helps the employee find the right person for that unique question.



Smart companies start by listening to their employees and finding out what tasks or procedures are causing the greatest frustration. Once you have a short list of “pain points” of high frustration tasks for employees, the work to automate can begin. The great news is that sizable gains can be made just by making information readily available and easy to find. Most companies are looking at overall search capability to serve up answers to an employee without that person having to know exactly where to go.


A search of tuition reimbursement should bring up the policy, a list of FAQs, the link to submit grades and transcripts, a selection of where the reimbursement should go and someone to contact in case of a unique situation (e.g., think of all the recent for-profit college closings in recent years – the right person should be reachable and available to assist in that situation).


When employees are frustrated and administrative items are ridiculously difficult to resolve, the greater productivity impact is around the stories being shared about the awful experience. When an employee’s life event is particularly sudden and there are delayed responses or confusing communications from multiple parties, the result is a worker who is frustrated AND upset.


Terrible experiences with HR cannot be ignored. People share them. It’s too good not to share…and vent…and complain about – and then others hop on the bandwagon of THEIR awful work situation that was confusing and took forever to resolve.


This is all solvable by getting employees used to going one place –one platform instead of multiple systems — to have their issues resolved. When there is a strong service delivery strategy and solution in place within an organization, it really doesn’t matter what the request is – the answer is easy to find, the employee gets a quick resolution and there’s no drama over a ridiculous process.


It is easy to start small and keep building out answers that keep people focused on their actual jobs. Employees should not have to spend a great deal of time and energy to be an employee. At least some of this time and energy can then be expended on real work — like completing projects, making deadlines and serving customers.

How an employee-as-customer mindset in HR can empower agile teams


How an employee-as-customer mindset in HR can empower agile teams


HR leaders can best support the empowerment of agile teams by thinking of employees as customers and expanding their focus on employees to include teams, writes Jeff Mike

In Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends survey, an overwhelming 90 percent of the respondents – 10,400 business and HR leaders across 140 countries – told us that creating organisations of the future was “important” or “very important” to them. In fact, they identified building new organisations as their most important challenge. Agility and agile teams play a central role in the organisation of the future, and as companies race to replace structural hierarchies with networks of teams, they are looking to HR for capacity and support.

Agile teams – nimble, entrepreneurial, cross-functional groups of employees that are already becoming ubiquitous at every level of organisations – are an essential component of tomorrow’s workplace. Fast-acting and purposeful, agile teams can not only navigate the vagaries of the marketplace, including volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), but also mine them for opportunity.

Inside the makings of agile teams
What do agile teams need to achieve the empowerment necessary to operate at their maximum potential? They require a supportive culture and high levels of trust, inclusion, and accountability. When teams are imbued with trust, their members are better able to identify and act on opportunities for improvement, development, and innovation. Employee inclusion, both in teams and in the company as a whole, engenders an overall sense of belonging that helps enable employees to better connect with one another and to share their best ideas. And, high levels of accountability are necessary to help advance organisational strategies, with each successful encounter encouraging team members to seek out and accept more responsibility for their work.

“As companies race to replace structural hierarchies with networks of teams, they are looking to HR for capacity and support”

What can HR do to create agile teams
HR leaders can best support the empowerment of agile teams by thinking of employees as customers and expanding their focus on employees to include teams. This approach to enhancing the employee experience in agile teams can be accomplished by adopting a design-thinking mindset, creating personas, and mapping the employee journey.

  • Design thinking helps HR leaders to more intently focus on improving the experiences of team members – a fundamental break from the function’s traditional emphasis on compliance and processesDesign thinking studies the behavior and working scenarios of employee segments and then designs solutions that enhance their work lives. Design thinking is powered by empathy. By walking the proverbial mile in employees’ shoes, HR professionals can better understand, engineer, and deliver positive experiences.
  • Personas are constructed narratives that portray a typical employee’s experience on any given workday. Originally conceived by consumer marketers, personas give HR professionals a better understanding of what team members do by bringing their work to life through story. HR can use personas to identify and improve key attributes of effective teamwork that are embedded in employee attitudes, expectations, work habits, and goals.
  • Journey maps provide a step-by-step graphical depiction of the different aspects of a team member’s journey. They can be used to identify key moments in the work processes in agile teams. In turn, HR can use the insights derived from mapping those key moments to create experiences that maximise the engagement of team workers.

As companies strive to transform themselves into organisations of the future, HR is uniquely positioned to help.  Through the adoption of a employee-as-customer mentality and the tools of design thinking, HR leaders can better design the programs and solutions that agile teams need to become more engaged, more empowered, more challenged, and ultimately, more successful.

Image source: iStock

Solve Recognition Program Problems With Positive Action



If there is one thing I know from over 20+ years in the field of employee recognition, and that is that recognition programs always come equipped with their own set of problems.

You can guarantee whenever you introduce and implement an online recognition program that some challenges and issues will arise.

Hopefully, you will have others helping you administer your programs. However, even if you are the maverick, “Indiana Jones” of recognition programs, working solo on solving your challenges, the following suggestions should still help you.

1. Define your recognition program problem.

Make sure you clearly define the problem with your recognition program as clearly as possible. Write down the problem so that even a person unfamiliar with recognition programs in any way could easily understand the situation.

Take these typical examples into consideration:

  1. How to increase the participation levels and usage of our social recognition program
  2. A number of recipients of service awards have been notified where to order their award gifts online, but still have not gone online to select and order their gift.
  3. According to the latest engagement survey, our employees still don’t feel valued and appreciated even after we developed an incredible formal, President’s Excellence award program.

Make sure you clearly define the problem with your recognition program as clearly as possible.

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2. Generate alternative solutions for the problem.

For each problem statement above request alternative solutions and ideas from different people from a variety of departments, diverse backgrounds, and experiences. Brainstorm with the right people as many ideas and suggestions as is possible.

Increase participation levels

  • Start a communication campaign to better inform people of the program, its benefits, and set expectations of people to use it
  • Provide better measurement reports so managers know who is using the program and who isn’t to improve accountability
  • Need leaders to set a better example of consistently using the program in an effective way.

Not selecting award gifts

  • Accessibility of intranet website for all employees from different work groups to be able to order gifts online
  • Poor attitude of management in not presenting the awards in a meaningful way when the gift arrives
  • Selection of the gift awards is reportedly getting stale with poor options to choose from

Unappreciated employees on engagement survey

  • Evaluate what we’re currently doing across the three types of recognition (everyday, informal, and formal) and how they’re each perceived by our employees
  • What training do our managers and supervisors receive, on how to give meaningful and effective recognition?
  • Hold focus groups to determine exactly what our employees mean when they say they’re not feeling valued and appreciated

3. Evaluate and select an alternative solution.

Consider the different alternatives presented and determine what information and facts might be needed to validate the suggestion. Evaluate which solution is the least disruptive and most acceptable to the majority of people. Think about which alternative fits with our organizational culture and overall business strategy.

  • Conduct surveys of your employees to ask specific questions regarding the selected solution, that obtain quantitative, measurable responses as well as open-ended, qualitative input for improvement
  • Present proposed ideas to a sample number of employees in focus groups and ask for their pros and cons of the suggestions
  • Have leaders and managers rank order the different solutions against a pre-determined set of criteria

4. Implement and follow up on the selected solution

Involve as many people as possible in implementing the agreed upon solution to gain support with the needed changes. Provide monitoring, measurement of new steps and procedures, and ongoing feedback mechanisms for ensuring a successful implementation and ongoing quality improvement.

  • Assign a project manager, where possible, to the implementation plan for the selected solution or else create some realistic timelines
  • Create a 90-day action plan with 30-day follow up email reporting and a 90-day review meeting who you report to with a written summary report
  • Report back to executive, or manager, sponsor on the success of the solution in resolving the recognition program problem

Don’t let a problem become a sore thumb that ruins the success of your recognition program.

Don’t let a problem become a sore thumb that ruins the success of your recognition program.

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Get input from fellow Human Resource professionals or operational managers to help you solve the recognition program problems you’ve observed.

The sooner you address the identified problems the sooner you will benefit from the positive outcomes that recognition programs can bring.