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Social praise, big gains

Fast, easy, frequent: reward and recognition can learn a lot from social media. Yet 82 per cent of organisations aren’t using it yet.

Employees often dread it. So do many managers. The annual performance review may not have always been popular. But, with society today immersed in social media, mobile tools and instant communication at work and play, many are now questioning if annual performance reviews are an effective, or relevant, way of recognising employees’ achievements.

Used to instant ‘Likes’ and real-time comments on Facebook and Twitter, today’s workforce also craves more real-time feedback at work – so they know how they’re doing and have more opportunities to improve and learn new skills. Social media communication is instant, timely, personal, frequent and open – and it’s these principles that are also key to successful reward and recognition schemes.

70% of respondents to a recent survey said they felt employees should be recognised earlier.

“The annual performance review is frozen in time,” says Eric Mosley, author of The Crowdsourced Performance Review: How to Use the Power of Social Recognition to Transform Employee Performance. “It’s a relic of the way business used to work and doesn’t capitalise on the way business works today.”

What’s more, recognising valuable behaviours, actions and decisions in a way that’s public and can be seen by many in a short space of time, encourages other employees to follow suit. “When you amplify winning behaviours, you amplify your results,” says Work.com, an internal social management platform designed specifically for recognition. “When recognition is social, everyone learns what behaviours and tactics lead to success – so everyone can emulate the top performers, also increasing productivity.”

Taking a social approach to your reward and recognition can also help develop a common sense of purpose that’s aligned to your business ambition and shared values. Organisations who’ve done it say that people are more likely to engage voluntarily; email traffic reduces; and comments, thank yous and encouragement from employees in all roles and levels across the organisation give a far more valuable perspective and insight than a traditional two-way review. 

But despite the benefits many early adopters have experienced, a recent study by Accelir found that more than 82 per cent of companies do not currently include social media in their reward and recognition programmes. Some organisations are worried about data in the public sphere; while many employees don’t want to use their personal accounts. But the important thing is the approach, not necessarily the platform – and the good news is, there are a number of options.

Bespoke systems, bespoke benefits

A number of large organisations like Virgin Media (‘Shout’), British Gas (‘Simply Thank You’) and Dixons Retail (‘You’re Electric’) have designed successful internal recognition systems which draw on social media principles. From fun customisable emails employees can design and send to each other to gaming-style badges and points, they all focus around quick, easy ways of saying ‘thank you’ for a job well done, aligned to the organisation’s values and objectives.

‘Off the shelf’

If designing and building your own internal system is beyond your resource and budget, there are plenty of good tools that have been specifically designed for workplace reward and recognition.

As well as publicly recognising employees’ achievements, Work.com enables peers to ask for anonymous feedback about their own performance – a valuable tool for 360 reviews. Managers can also ask workers in a group to anonymously provide observations about how an employee is doing.

Kudos allows for recognition to be given in a points system, which can be redeemed on Amazon. “Timely recognition and meaningful feedback is absolutely crucial for cultivating and maintaining an engaged team,” they say. “Give rewards that you know your team members will love by letting them choose what means the most to them.”

Yammer is an internal social network that provides a Facebook-style forum designed specifically for businesses. Investors in People organisations like Sainsbury’s, The Highways Agency and Gatwick Airport use it. “We’ve had everything from managers using the praise button to recognise a team member, to a front line staff member posting about a difficult situation well handled by a colleague,” says Gatwick’s Nikki Griffiths. “Our Chief Operating Officer also comments on these from time to time.”

Most of these tools also enable users to download information that can feed into more formal face-to-face reviews. This blended approach between instant, informal recognition online and more in-depth, face-to-face reviews is something many organisations find increasingly effective. “Gatwick has a formal recognition scheme managed by our HR team,” explains Griffiths. “But part of this recognition scheme is encouraging people to give a simple thank you. Yammer gives an opportunity to do that publically, whilst letting other people in the organisation know about it.”

Facebook and Twitter

There’s also something to be said for focused, strategic use of free platforms that have huge external audiences. As well as boosting your organisation’s profile and reach, employees sometimes appreciate the public recognition. Investors in People organisation Elmtree Garden Contractors’ Facebook page is full of posts that take care to recognise individual team members for their efforts.

Different channels, same approach

Whatever the system, most of them revolve around both managers and peers being able to instantly recognise and reward one another for doing great work, giving ‘real-time’ feedback rather than waiting for official reviews. To this extent, it’s not just about social media – these principles can work on or offline, using technology or face-to-face interaction, with companies of all shapes and sizes.

IIP Champions Lowell Group in Leeds have screens all across the company offices, which flash up congratulations and recognition messages regularly throughout the day to recognise the effort each member of their 575+ team put into the business on a daily basis.

“I recently heard about individual managers using text messages to supplement face-to-face acknowledgement and thanks, which was generally very much appreciated by recipients,” says Mark Lewis, a Practitioner with Investors in People North of England. “But managers need to make the effort to find out people’s preferences and use those channels as appropriate. Using texts, or any other technology, mustn’t become an easy opt-out for managers to avoid face-to-face or more traditional approaches for those who prefer them.”

Takeaways: what can we learn from the early adopters?

Be inclusive: if you’re devising a system or approach, make sure everyone has equal access. If a large number of your workforce is not desk-based, consider how they might be able to engage via their mobile phones.

Substance over style: don’t obsess over the technology, platform or costs; the most important thing are the principles – keep it easy, instant, personal, frequent and in line with what your people actually want.

Keep it personal: different people will have different preferences, so make the time and effort to find out what works for them.

In good time: whatever system you’re using for your reward and recognition, be quick to give praise. In a recent survey, 70% of respondents said they felt employees should be recognised earlier.