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Recognition in The Real World
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We Need to Get Inside People's Heads to Fully Appreciate Recognition, Says Author

Posted By Jess Myers, RPI, Friday, April 28, 2017
There’s a little rush of a chemical called dopamine inside the brain when you take a bite of chocolate, or when you hit on a winner at the card table, or when a big fish bites your line. It's the neurobiological mechanism behind why we find something pleasurable. It’s hard science.

Similarly, when you are recognized for good work by your employer or receive an incentive for a job well done, you get that same jolt of pleasure in your brain. That’s part of the message keynote speaker Rodd Wagner will deliver at the RPI Annual Conference in Fort Lauderdale. His presentation, entitled “Inside the Mind of an Employee: The Good, the Bad and the Neurobiology,” explores the science behind employee reciprocity and how good companies use that science to their benefit.

Wagner is the New York Times bestselling author of Widgets: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They're Real People. He’s also a regular columnist in Forbes, and Vice President of Employee Engagement Strategy at BI Worldwide, based in Minnesota.

“You could make the case that we don’t need to know what's going on inside people’s brains,” said Wagner. “I can prove survey research and performance data that there’s every reason to ensure a company recognizes solid performance. I don’t need the brain science.”

Yet for years, Wagner says employee engagement has been considered a “soft science” because it could not be observed in the same way as operations, accounting, or one of the more traditionally concrete aspects of running a business. He believes sharing the evidence of what predictably happens inside employees’ brains has the potential to help skeptical executives understand how the science of motivation is just as reliable as any of the other disciplines.

“Getting recognized at work tickles something in a part of the human brain, and people who are happiest reciprocate that emotion with dedication. Humans are very reciprocal creatures,” he said. “We find that when companies take a genuine interest in keeping people happy, those people will take a genuine interest in making the company succeed.”

Wagner enjoys doing a little myth-busting in his columns and speeches. One he has taken on lately is the widely circulated idea that a minority of people are “engaged” at work. Engagement could be better, he said, but “there is no crisis.”

“Most people at least like their jobs, and some love them,” Wagner said.

He also argues with current assertions in the engagement industry that employee happiness is not the right goal for a business.

“Happiness remains very important to employees,” he said. “It’s still the overriding reason people take a job and stay in a job. Any properly fielded and analyzed research shows the pattern.”

Wagner frequently speaks on similar topics to business and industry groups around the country. While some of his keynote will be taken from his most recent book, he will also be showing first at RPI new analyses from the most recent of BI Worldwide's annual studies on employee’s relationships with their employers.

Among the lines on inquiry in his most recent study is what psychologists call “theory of mind.”

“It’s a uniquely human characteristic to be able to estimate what the other person is thinking or intends, and it’s turning out to be an intriguing area for engagement research,” Wagner said. In his most recent study, Wagner asked people three questions about their companies' intentions, among them the statement, “My employer is seeking to make me happy.”

“Now, of course, people don’t know for certain what their leaders’ intentions are, but it is fascinating to me how predictive these types of core motivation questions are of a person's commitment to the company,” said the author. “Employees are most driven to perform when they believe the company is not investing them just because of the potential return, but because they feel a moral obligation to their people.”

Wagner wrote about the results in a recent Forbes column, where he advised employees to calibrate their commitment to their companies with those core intentions of the firm. “Organizations often deliver similar perks and benefits for different reasons.” he wrote. “A mismatch between your company’s intentions and yours can hurt your career.”

For more information on Wagner’s keynote and a full schedule, please visit the conference web site.

Tags:  recognition  Recognition Research  recognition strategy  Research Studies  Trends 

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Blank to Discuss Applying Biometrics to Employee Rewards at RPI Conference

Posted By Jess Myers, RPI, Monday, April 17, 2017
“Everybody needs money. That’s why they call it money,” said Danny DeVito’s character in the 2001 movie, Heist. Indeed, given a choice between cash and other potential rewards for a job well done, most people explicitly choose the money, but that might not be what they really want.


It’s a fascinating topic that Charlotte Blank, executive director of The Maritz Institute, will explore at the 2017 RPI Conference. Blank’s presentation is entitled “Cash, Travel, and Neuroscience: Biometric science reveals new insights in motivation and rewards.” It’s truly a groundbreaking look at how humans react when faced with a choice of cash or non-cash rewards.

In the past, designing rewards and incentives has relied heavily on things like surveys, interviews and focus groups to try to determine which kind of rewards people would prefer. At the same time, the advertising industry has been using more advanced techniques to study reactions in the human body to determine preferences.

For the first time, Blank and her colleagues have employed neuro-scientific and biometric techniques to understand the influence of the subconscious in reward preference. In 2016, The Maritz Institute and the IRF commissioned a study in which more than 40 professionals underwent biometric testing, including facial expression analysis, eye movement and heart rate monitoring, pupil dilation and Galvanic Skin Response (GSR).

Subjects were immersed in realistic scenarios and presented a range of cash and non-cash rewards. Their intuitive reactions and ultimate choice of rewards might alter much of what you thought you knew about reward preference.

“When you give people the option, they deliberately select cash, but we have found that people perform better and work harder for non-cash rewards,” Blank said. “People get more emotionally excited by non-cash rewards.”

How do we know that? Via the use of biometrics, which measure how much a subject’s pupils dilate when they’re show various items; a sign of excitement and interest. Blank covers a full range of findings in her presentation, but among them is the idea that people choose experiences more quickly that they choose cash. The time to make a choice with a cash reward is increased, suggesting that perhaps people spend more time considering what they would do with the money if they were given a cash reward for their efforts.

“There’s much more that we can measure, and more results we can explore,” Blank said. “But this is a fascinating first glimpse at how biometrics can help us better understand the world of effective employee recognition.”

For more information about Blank’s presentation, please visit the 2017 annual conference page.

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Hargrove to explore the Science of Happiness at RPI 2017

Posted By Jess Myers, RPI, Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Imagine living in prehistoric times, and think of two things: 1) a beautiful, sunny day, with enough food and a warm fire in the evening, and 2) trying to make it back to camp, frightened, wary of the encroaching predators that are looking to you to be their next meal.

Since your life literally depends on the proper handling of one of those scenarios, while the other is enjoyable but less vital, it makes sense that negative emotions like fear have a more prominent place in your head than positive emotions. Sadly, millions of years later, the human brain is still wired that way.

“That’s how memories are stored in our brain, going back to the caveman days. We tend to remember the negative more than then positive,” said Vicki Hargrove, author of the book “Make Someone Smile” and one of the featured presenters at the upcoming RPI Annual Conference, April 30 to May 2 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Hargrove’s presentation, entitled “The Science of Happiness” explores what motivates people to do the things that they do, or fail to do. Why do some people perform beyond expectations and others below expectations? All of these actions are coordinated, controlled and regulated by an organ about the size of a small head of cauliflower – the brain. Hargrove strives to help attendees learn how they can help your employees “re-wire” their brains so that they are more positive about their work and their organization.

“It’s nothing Orwellian, we’re trying to make connections and foster engagement,” Hargrove said. “Workers with a positive attitude have a more positive experience at work, and that attitude pays benefits, for the employee and for the employer, when someone believes in what they’re doing and feels they’re part of the bigger picture in the workplace.”

Attitudes come from different places, Hargrove said. About 50 percent of a person’s outlook is genetic, 10 percent is environmental and 40 percent comes from the inside – how we react to what’s around us. She uses the example of asking hypothetically what someone would do with a million dollars. If they answer with dreams of trips and toys, their attitude is generally positive. If they make note that they would have to pay the taxes on that windfall, their attitude is more negative.

Hargrove is a Certified Recognition Professional who spent much of her career with Cargill, based in Minnesota, and retired in 2011 to start her own business, Hargrove Business Consulting. Based in Florida, she works with business to help them foster positive, productive attitudes among their workers, and always has a receptive audience in her grandchildren, who know grandma’s first question every time they meet will be:

“What did you do today to make someone smile?”

For more information on the 2017 RPI conference and a full schedule, please visit the official event website.

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Recognition, the Southwest Way

Posted By Jess Myers, RPI, Monday, April 3, 2017

Known for innovation in plane boarding and creating a lively, fun atmosphere, Southwest Airlines has earned a reputation as an innovator. While preferred seating and other “normal” tenants of the air travel world are sought by some travelers, Southwest has found that a vast number of their passengers just want to be treated equitably -- and the same is being said for employees.  The airline is taking recognition to a new level by making sure all employees are treated fairly and with equity. 

The goal began inside the company’s Texas headquarters when it comes to recognizing great work among employees – a successful program that Tonda Ferguson has had a vital role in running during her 30-plus years with the airline. Today, she can admit that at one time there was very little equity in the program, which was a problem.

“It varied so much. In one department a top employee would be rewarded with a free car, and in another they’d get a free lunch,” Ferguson recalled. “Employees want equity in the workplace. It all needs to feed into one system.”

Southwest undertook a large-scale revamp of its employee recognition system, and emerged with two programs that have proven to be both popular and successful. “SWAG” is an acronym for Southwest Airlines Gratitude” and it’s a program by which employees can earn points which can be applied for shopping sprees and space available airline seats that can be given to friends. It was an important perk for airline employees who are used to flight privileges. The SWAG system allows points to be accumulated so employees can fly with friends, family and others, and they can even get a confirmed seat.

Ferguson also runs the bigger program, called “Kick Tail” which rewards employees for the company meeting goals, and furthering its legendary culture of customer service.  It’s a rapid reward for things like the company ranking atop airline service surveys or being the top on-time airline.

“It shows how you can take company goals and turn them into an employee recognition effort,” she said. “Employees really love the program.”

Recognizing that getting an award in front of your co-workers is in itself a reward, Southwest also directs the Kick Tail Prize Patrol, which makes a big show of surprising employees with an award, complete with balloons and cheers, that gets noticed by others. They’ve even been known to have the company CEO show up to hand out cash rewards for good work.

“Sometimes companies struggle to make it fun, but now everyone is pulling in the same direction,” said Ferguson, who will offer a presentation on the Southwest way of employee recognition at the upcoming RPI Annual Conference in late April. “Now we can move quickly, and when people are living the Southwest way, we can recognize them at the drop of a hat.”

Tags:  recognition  southwest 

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Non-monetary rewards a staple of Founding Fathers’ success

Posted By By Jess Myers, RPI, Friday, March 17, 2017

The importance of finding non-monetary ways to inspire people isn’t a new concept. If George Washington was here today, even 200-plus years after his death, he could tell you as much.

During a brutal Revolutionary War battle in the wilds of New Jersey, stuck in a valley between Princeton and Trenton, Washington offered his rebel troops a fiscal incentive as he pleaded with them to join him in a dangerous advance against the British. No one took him up on the offer. He tried again, appealing to their love of country and family, asking the men before him to take up arms against their numerically superior foe one more time. The inspiration worked.

“You can’t motivate people. That comes from within,” said Kevin Ames in a recent webinar for RPI members. “But you can inspire them. You can’t drive engagement, you can only inspire it.”

Ames, the director of speaking and training for O.C. Tanner, has more than two decades of experience working with companies on how and why to inspire their employees to do great work. He stresses that relationships are more than the bank account -- the heart and soul are where you make true and lasting connections with people. In his hour-long talk, Ames listed six key influencers that lead to success in employee recognition and rewards.

  • Purpose – Identify and articulate a higher a purpose, then connect people to that purpose.
  • Opportunity – Make sure people have the opportunity to learn, grow, contribute and be recognized for their achievements.
  • Success – This comes in many forms, including financial, environmental and social, but above these, cultural success is the greatest.
  • Appreciation – For their psychological survival, people need to be understood, affirmed, validated and appreciated. Recognition of this is the most important factor in producing great work.
  • Well-Being – More than just a health concept, this encompasses all dimensions of body, mind and spirit.
  • Leadership – A successful leader is one with impact, influence and inspiration as their key strengths.

Ames engaging talk used not only Washington’s battlefield success, but simple examples like the work of shepherds leading their sheep from the front to higher elevation pastures where they are naturally reluctant to go on their own. Straying from the path helped the shepherds find abundant food – one of the key elements to their health and well-being.

The full webinar is available online, free to RPI members.

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Study: Employee Satisfaction Success Comes from Playing the Long Game

Posted By Jess Myers, RPI, Tuesday, March 14, 2017

It’s easy to get a quick burst from a strong cup of coffee or an energy drink. And then there’s the inevitable crash. The better, tougher, way to be a more energetic person is to work on it over time, with nutrition, exercise and rest, which lead to long-term energy and health.

According to a recent piece in the Harvard Business Review, it works the same way with employee engagement. It’s easy, exciting, and mostly useless, to get a short burst in productivity and employee satisfaction through an incentive. But long-term success in employee engagement comes from taking the extended view in the recognition field and investing for the long term as well.

Why the Millions We Spend on Employee Engagement Buy Us So Little” is the provocative title of Jacob Morgan’s study, and he’s played the long game in doing extensive research, interviewing 150 psychologists, economists and business leaders throughout the globe. His hypothesis is that spending countless dollars on employee engagement efforts is not money well spent if you’re focused on the short term. When an employee perk is introduced, he writes, it has the same effect as an adrenaline shot. Employee satisfaction jumps up, briefly, then settles back down just as quickly, as employees subconsciously wait for the next incentive.

Taking a long look at the workplace is well-traveled territory for Morgan, who is the author of three books on organizations, employment and employees. He has an entire website ( dedicated to the topic.

In his data analysis, Morgan finds that companies focused on long-term employee engagement have the most long-term success. One example he cites is Adobe, which employs an executive vice president dedicated to customer and employee experience, and has made a significant investment in programs that facilitate real-time employee feedback. Other examples cited in Morgan’s study include offices with multiple workplace floor plans to accommodate differing work styles and preferences. One company, Airbnb, constantly experiments with differing office layouts and floor plans, and employees are given a budget to design and build their own conference spaces.

Short-term efforts are easy and enjoyable, but the companies with the most success in the employee engagement realm are playing the long game.

Tags:  recognition 

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Member spotlight: Recognition Means the Royal Treatment at RBC

Posted By Jess Myers, RPI, Monday, March 6, 2017

Employee appreciation is a big deal throughout the Royal Bank of Canada’s vast network that employs more than 80,000 people in 35-plus countries, but if you stop by their Toronto headquarters on Employee Appreciation Day, you won’t see any balloons or party favors. That’s by design.

“We do employee recognition every day of the year,” said Steve Richardson, who has led the recognition team at RBC for the past 25 years and is a past president of RPI.

The renowned recognition program at RBC has changed greatly over the past three decades or more. It was solely focused on incentives at one time – sell a set number of credit cards and you would get a new barbeque grill, for example. That changed for a number of reasons, not least of which was that non-sales staff deserved incentives and recognition as well.

“We still have the toasters and barbeques, but it’s evolved into a full recognition vehicle,” Richardson said, adding that informal recognition is as important in their corporate culture as material rewards. “It’s more important to get recognition right than to have someone receive something.”

Richardson’s work includes not only running the recognition program, which utilizes a well-developed peer-to-peer program, but training managers on correct and effective ways to use recognition. RBC has found that such training leads to positive results not only in terms of employee retention and satisfaction, but even in sales numbers.

What works and what can be improved in the employee appreciation realm has produced plenty of learn-on-the-job moments. For example, a practical way to deliver material rewards became a win-win for the company. If RBC employees were getting a toaster, for example, the company would have the item delivered to the office, knowing that the recipient would be there to sign for them. This practice came with an added bonus.

“It became a real recognition moment, as co-workers would see and acknowledge the person being recognized, congratulate them and add to the recognition,” Richardson said. From that fortunate circumstance, a company practice was born.

RBC also practices informal “instant thanks,” and has a system in place where managers and peers can acknowledge good works in a matter of seconds. There are up to 15,000 of those sent every month across the company, which leads to positive results.

The fiscal side of things never goes unnoticed, especially among one of Canada’s largest banks. Richardson admitted that a competitive ‎financial compensation program goes hand in hand with an effective employee recognition program to retain top talent.

“But recognition is what can take people higher,” he said.

Tags:  recognition 

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Employee Appreciation Days is This Week, and Every Week

Posted By Jess Myers, RPI, Monday, February 27, 2017
For more than 20 years now, there has been a designated day for making sure workers feel valued. Employee Appreciation Day began in 1995, and generally is celebrated on the first Friday of March. It’s a designated time to say thank you and offer a reward to valued employees.

It’s a relatively young holiday, and as such there are no real rules or accepted traditions for how to celebrate employee recognition. You don’t need to cook a turkey like on Thanksgiving. You don’t need to light off fireworks like Independence Day. You don’t need to wear green like St. Patrick’s Day.

This is designed as an open-ended opportunity for companies and organizations to recognize the people that make them great, and to get creative in doing so. One of the great things about Employee Appreciation Day is hearing the stories of inventive and fun things done in the name of employee recognition.

The ideas run the gamut from simple efforts like cookies, root beer floats or on-site massages, to more elaborate events like travel, time off and even an awards ceremony.

The overall idea, in times like these when unemployment is low and good workers are harder than ever to find, is to make sure your people know they’re valued. Studies show that a lack of feeling appreciated is the number one reason people seek a new employer. New people take time and money to train. Keeping the good people you have via employee recognition efforts is a much wiser use of your time and resources.

The secondary idea behind designating one day per year to recognize employees is to make it a much more than once-a-year event. Just as your relationship with your significant other may get rocky if Valentine’s Day is the only time of year you express your affection, your employee relationship is sure to suffer if recognition happens on just one out of 365 days. Creating a year-round culture of appreciation and recognition pays huge dividends in terms of retention and overall satisfaction.

So celebrate on Friday, be creative, and tell us your stories of the unique and special ways in which you recognized your employees on this day and how to make them feel appreciated every day. Email us with your best ideas and we will feature some of them in future editions of the RPI Blog.

Happy Employee Appreciation Day, on this day and on every day.

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Gallup poll shows employee engagement important in changing workplace

Posted By Jess Myers, RPI, Friday, February 17, 2017
To say that the American workplace is changing means little to most. Just in the past quarter-century, we have seen the workplace change dramatically, with the Internet moving in, and the truly global economy advancing.

But the recently-released Gallup poll on the “State of the American Workplace” shows just how quickly and dramatically those changes are happening, as a new generation of employees makes its mark. And the results of the 200-plus page report underscores the importance, in many cases, of employee engagement and recognition.

Among the findings in the report, available at the Gallup website, is: “an evolving employee attitude about what a job should and should not be. Most workers, many of whom are millennials, approach a role and a company with a highly defined set of expectations. They want their work to have meaning and purpose. They want to use their talents and strengths to do what they do best every day. They want to learn and develop. They want their job to fit their life.”

Also revealed, partially as a result of the strong economy and the low unemployment rate, is an American workforce that has high expectations. As noted the report’s executive summary:

“The modern workforce knows what’s important to them and isn’t going to settle. Employees are willing to look and keep looking for a company that’s mission and culture reflect and reinforce their values. They have seemingly unlimited resources to help them conduct their job searches — far beyond classified ads and their immediate professional networks. And as the job market has been opening up, employees have been feeling increasingly optimistic about what they’re finding.”

These findings, and many others in the report, reflect the importance of employee engagement and recognition as keys to success in this changing world of work. Ensuring those employees, who have many options out there when it comes to where and how they work, feel valued and recognized is an increasingly important tactic to company and organization growth.

These findings come at a time when the race to find the best employees, and to reward and retain those employees, is increasing quickly. While plenty of the traditional “8-to-5, Monday-through-Friday” jobs are still out there, the new generation of workers is changing that dynamic quickly as well.

From the report: “employees are hyperconnected and can access information on any company just as quickly. Through the web and social media, they can see what an organization offers and what past and current employees are saying about it. They can read articles and headlines, see Facebook and LinkedIn posts and develop a clear idea about what makes an employer not just ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ but ‘exceptional.’ And, if employees can’t find an exceptional job that complements other aspects of their life or, at a minimum, pays enough to make the 8-to-5 grind worthwhile, they can create their own job category. They might work 20 hours a week at a contracted office gig, 20 as a ride-hailing service driver and 10 as a freelancer.”

With Employee Appreciation Day coming on March 3, there are many great ideas for ensuring your workforce is valued and knows it available, including a recent webinar featuring experts in the field. All of RPI’s CRP courses are now available online, and there is a new recognition fundamentals online course available as well.

For more information on the State of the American Workplace, visit the Gallup website for access to the full report.

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RPI Certified Recognition Professional® Courses Now Available Online

Posted By Jess Myers, RPI, Friday, February 10, 2017

You don’t think of February as back to school time. But in the world of employee recognition, it’s that time to sharpen your pencils and meet your new teacher.

That’s our excited way of announcing that all of the Recognition Professionals International Certified Recognition Professional® (CRP) courses are now available online. The news went out via a world-wide press release.

“This is an exciting time for RPI and for the many world-wide employee recognition professionals seeking to become certified in the trade, with all of our valuable courses now available in both online formats as well as in-person at RPI’s annual conference,” said Rita Maehling, CRP, RPI board member and chair of RPI’s Learning Action Team. “We know all effective recognition programs involve assessment, strategy, implementation and review. The CRP program is designed to be a guide through this process, for the benefit of organizations and also business providers everywhere.”

The goals of the CRP program are straightforward, and include:

  • To raise the professional standards of those engaged in employee recognition.
  • To encourage continuing education for professional development.
  • To encourage self-development by offering guidelines for achievement in the employee recognition profession.
  • To identify and award special recognition to those persons who have demonstrated a comprehensive knowledge of those principles and practices of employee recognition and also laws governing and affecting employee recognition.

It’s an extensive educational experience. CRP designation consists of four courses and exams that can either all be taken online, at the 2017 RPI Annual Conference (April 30-May 2 in Fort Lauderdale, FL), or a combination of both. All CRP candidates receive the comprehensive learning guide which includes valuable templates, worksheets and case studies that can be utilized to implement a recognition program based on RPI’s Seven Best Practices. Each course is $595 for practitioner premium/business partner members; $750 for basic RPI members and $795 for non-members.

The driving idea behind CRP designation is to demonstrate to leaders, peers and clients a commitment to continuing education and excellence in the discipline of workforce recognition. RPI’s program is renowned as the most comprehensive, authoritative resource for individuals seeking to develop and test their skills and knowledge within this field.

RPI offers a webinar featuring testimonials from several CRP graduates with plenty more information. And of course, details are available on the RPI web site.

So listen closely – the school bell is ringing in the world of employee recognition.

Tags:  CRP  recognition 

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