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Recognition in The Real World
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The Economics of Recognition

Posted By Jason Thomson, Instigator, Jigsaw, Monday, March 7, 2016
Updated: Monday, March 14, 2016

What to consider with your program.

One of the challenges many companies encounter when either launching or refreshing an employee recognition program is justifying the costs to senior management. This can be tricky since many times, programs will not generate tangible ROI. However, when viewing things in a greater perspective, a well-run program has a dramatic impact on a company’s bottom line.

When it comes to an employee recognition programs there are two major objectives to consider. First, a program must drive and/or reinforce the behaviors a company has determined. This is vital to their overall success because it not only gives defined objectives to employees but also contributes to the company’s overall culture. Secondly, it’s crucial to create a culture that employees want to be a part of and share with others. How employees feel is a reflection on you and the company culture you’ve established. So, if we take each matter and view it in terms of ROI, the justification becomes abundantly easier to recognize.

According to the Workplace Research Foundation, highly engaged employees are 38% more likely to have above-average productivity. Additionally, the study noted, increasing employee engagement investments by 10% can increase profits by $2,400 per employee, per year, and that’s just the start of the ROI an engaged workforce can create. Let’s consider the ripple effect an engaged workforce creates a higher level of service, which creates higher customer satisfaction, which increases sales which ultimately leads to higher levels of profits.

Now, let’s consider the effect it has on retention. The number-one reason most Americans leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. According to the Department of Labor, 22% of new hires will leave their job within 45 days of being hired, couple that with the average cost to replace an employee making $50,000/year is just under $10,000 and you can see how retention can have a dramatic influence on a company’s bottom line. Organizations with recognition programs, which are highly effective at enabling employee engagement, had 31% lower voluntary turnover than organizations with ineffective recognition programs.

As you can see in the two examples above, the economics of a recognition program may not be something that fits into the cell of a spreadsheet. But, a well-run program featuring desirable rewards, should not only be self-liquidating but will ultimately have long-term effect on a company’s overall profitability and success.

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Behavioral Economics Leads to Better Ways to Motivate

Posted By Denise Hassenstab, Monday, March 7, 2016

Behavioral Economics Leads to Better Ways to Motivate Have you ever considered how to best motivate employee performance using recognition and reward? Perhaps you want to better engage and inspire employees. Dr. Scott Jeffrey has spent a lot of time researching these questions. He recently spent time with RPI sharing his knowledge and years of research at a webinar called, The Behavioral Economics of Incentives.

Behavioral economics combines economics and psychology into one field of study and tells us that we aren’t very good at predicting future outcomes. When we try to anticipate how people will react, we come to conclusions that are based on people thinking rationally. Predicting human behavior is far more complicated than that because people are not rational decision makers. We tend to use short cuts and other ways of thinking that make predicting behavior outcomes difficult. As humans, we like fairness and being altruistic, however, how we make a decision with those framed in our minds proves trying.

People may prefer one item over another – cash over a trip to Hawaii, for example – but that doesn’t mean that receiving money will motivate them to higher performance. Asking employees which one they prefer isn’t how organizations should make decisions on how to motivate employees to higher performance. If we ask employees which they prefer, money is their top choice. Research has shown that giving employees what they want isn’t necessarily going to motivate them to work harder and strive for better results.

Here are some of Dr. Jeffrey’s findings that he shared:

  • Verbal recognition holds no negative consequences. Keep at it!
  • When giving cash and non-cash awards, performance suffers after the incentive is removed. If we offer a pizza party for a certain result, for example, performance will decrease after the incentive is removed.
  • We can lessen this impact by giving people some, but not too many, choices. If selecting between a pizza party or cupcakes or a longer afternoon break, the outcome and lasting impact improves, but only slightly.
  • While not technically cash, gift cards are simply a convenient way to distribute cash. Recipients treat them like cash because they are used to purchase every day household goods like toilet paper and soap or fill up the gas tank instead of used to purchase luxury items.

Recognition has been shown to motivate and improve employee performance. When it comes to cash and non-cash awards (tangible items), we should consider how we reach our goal of motivating our workforce to greater performance. Given Dr. Jeffrey’s research, asking employees for their preferences may not be the best way to proceed. For greatest success, we must determine what to offer to help employees feel appreciated, but also to motivate them to increase their effort and achieve higher performance.

RPI Webinar Series (free with a professional membership)
RPI professional members can join us each month for our free webinar series (limited to the first 95 attendees).

March 17, 2016 | Proving the Value, Impact and ROI of Recognition Programs
April 21, 2016 | Banking on Success: How Mountain America Credit Union Made Implementing Look Easy
May 19, 2016 | The Importance of Making Recognition Part of Your Corporate Meeting Plans

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5 Tax Questions You Should be Asking About Your Recognition Program

Posted By Jason Thomson, Instigator, Jigsaw, Monday, March 7, 2016

Tax time’s coming – is your recognition program ready?

Unless you’re an accountant, you’re not going to love this article.

But you’re definitely going to need it.

We're talking about recognition and taxes – a potential minefield of perspectives, insights and approaches. And while your legal and accounting team should be doing the heavy lifting when it comes to navigating the tax codes of your country, state, province of prefecture, it does help to educate yourself on the basics of the topic.

When you’re tax planning for the year ahead in your organization’s recognition program(s), you want to ask some critical questions:

Are you familiar with 274J?

If you’re in the United States, this section of tax code is an ideal place to start. If you’re in other countries, check your local tax code for more information.

Do you know the difference between taxation for different types of recognition?

Performance rewards, service rewards, health and safety rewards – the taxman may see these a little differently in terms of how you tax, gross up or manage.

Are you (currently) compliant?
This is the single biggest question you’ll ask. Tax codes shift year to year, administration to administration. Perform a compliance review – particularly if your program offers rewards that are branded with your organization’s logo.

Are you managing the experience for your employees?
There’s nothing worse than being presented a shiny new tablet for your great work – then getting socked with a tax bill for nearly half the value of the item. Create a process for the entire transaction that includes grossing up the product, then paying appropriate taxes on the value of the product...

Do your recipients understand what’s going on?
...and then communicating what’s happening to those who are receiving rewards. Grossing up and paying potential taxes appears on pay stubs. Create boilerplate communications to send to employees, so they’re clear about what’s happening. Otherwise, expect a confused phone call during the next pay period.

Want to learn more about taxation and your program? There’s some great information at

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How to Revitalize a Recognition Brand

Posted By Jason Thomson, Instigator, Jigsaw, Wednesday, February 10, 2016

15 years back, I was asked to fix a problem I didn’t know existed.

The agency I was supporting was tasked with pitching on the marketing communications for one of the most storied recognition programs in the country. We did our research. We did our due diligence. The overall approach looked good. Materials looks slick and professional. The messaging was on strategy. The overall experience of interacting with the brand seemed solid. Awareness of the program was an all time high. I kept telling my team "I'm not sure how we improve things here."

And that’s when the box of marketing communications materials arrived at the agency.

They looked great – until we placed all of them on the large boardroom table. It was then we realized that there were significant issues with the visual identit y. No one thing looked like another thing. Colours were all over the place. The logo had been altered. The language wasn’t unified.

We built a solution that focused on that aspect of the brand, and eventually, we won the pitch. Our competitors chose to focus on ways to promote the brand in fresh ways that didn’t address an actual problem.

Today, that unified visual and verbal identity helps set the program apart as one of the best in the world.

All of this is to say that if your recognition program is 3, 7, 15 years old, it may be worth it to look at the brand experience, and start asking questions to see if there’s anything you can do to improve it. Questions like:

What does my brand stand for?
How does our target audience perceive our brand?
How high is our brand’s awareness?
How high is our brand’s usage?
Why is/isn’t our brand succeeding?
Is the brand experience consistent?

The first step I make whenever I undertake a branding exercise is to ask questions that reveal the brand’s problem. Too often, I see organizations try to shake things up with a new logo, or a revised tagline – only to learn that none of those things addressed the real problem.

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RPI Board: 6 Fast Fixes for Your Recognition Brand

Posted By Jason Thomson, Instigator, Jigsaw, Wednesday, February 10, 2016

We recently polled RPI’s board on great ways to create, improve or revise your recognition brand. Here’s what they offered:

  • Understand what a brand is (more than your logo) – and what your brand stands for.
  • Ensure your “brand” supports your organization’s mission and/or vision.
  • Unite individual recognition programs with associated brand naming.
  • Connect your culture by holding a contest for recognition brand names or visualizations.
  • Make sure every marketing communication element follows a consistent look and feel.
  • Lock down all channels with branding. A custom URL for the web, specific Twitter handle, vanity 1-800-number are all examples.

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The Steps to Build a Great Recognition Brand

Posted By Jason Thomson, Instigator, Jigsaw, Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room."

– Jeff Bezos, Amazon

When it comes to building a meaningful recognition brand, use this helpful checklist of steps:

  • Ask: why does our recognition brand exist?
  • Define what your brand stands for.
  • Ask others if that’s what your brand stands for.
  • Think about the strategies that help your brand achieve what it stands for.
  • Make a list of every type of interaction your brand might have with partners, stakeholders, leaders and recipients – from the language you use to the people you speak with.
  • Codify your plan in a document that includes:
    • What your brand is (why it exists, what it stands for).
    • What makes your brand different (unique selling proposition).
    • How your brand achieves its difference (value propositions).
    • The tone or character of your brand (with examples).
    • What your brand looks like (visual identity).
    • What your brand says (rules for language, a menu of words to use and not use).

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What a brand is and Why it’s Important.

Posted By Jason Thomson, Instigator, Jigsaw, Friday, February 5, 2016

Here’s the most common misconception about your recognition “brand.”

Your brand is not your logo.

Yes, your logo (and your colours, typefaces, etc.) are components of your brand. But so is how fast you answer an email, what words you use in an award ceremony, or how someone interacts with your points catalogue.

The reason I mention this is to clear up misconceptions about what your recognition brand is and how you work to build it.

The short answer is that your brand is a promise – it’s the experience you promise to deliver to a customer or partner at any given time. Logo, email, meeting, catalogue – anything.

This is a critical distinction. Brand experiences are everything these days – and that extends to your recognition program. For it to stand up, stand out and thrive, you need to think about what you promise. When you understand what your brand is, you begin to see the need for consistency in look in feel, in language, in spirit and in any part of the experience.

The classic example of the successful brand is Apple. There’s a reason authors regularly cite the company. They’re fanatical about the brand. “Simplicity” is a core tenet of the brand. Everything about the brand experience screams “this is easy to use, easy to activate.” You see it in the design of the iPhone, the packaging of the Macbook, the navigation on the Website, the ability to register for a repair – even making an in store purchase or return. Everything is about that simplicity, and because of that, you are drawn to the quality of the Apple brand.

Your recognition program deserves a brand as powerful and well considered as Apple’s corporate promise. How does your brand measure up? How well do you manage your touchpoints – from visual identity to customer experience? Start here. We’ll be talking more about brand in the coming days.

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Recognition Drives Organizations – Here’s How to Know How Much

Posted By Jason Thomson, Instigator, Jigsaw, Thursday, October 15, 2015

Recognition may be the fastest, cheapest and smartest path to elevate performance management.

But how do you know?

While effective measurement is a critical part of any organizational initiative, “recognition” hasn’t traditionally fit a quantitative mold in the way that sales or marketing has.

That’s changing. As the practice of recognition matures, so does the understanding of what it can accomplish – and in turn, the way it’s measured. The concept of recognition has shifted from being a tool for motivation to one that can influence everything from employee engagement to culture.

Leaders in financial services, transportation and education continue to invest in recognition because they see value in recognition. That value can be determined in a number of ways:

Know what to look for.

What makes for a successful recognition program? Organizations view measurement in terms of how well the program is used and delivered, and the outcomes it influences.


Do people recognize one another? Do peers get involved, or is it mostly manager-led? Are those numbers increasing or decreasing? What level of overall awareness does the program enjoy?


Are people recognizing each other frequently? Are they recognizing the right way? Are training or communications messages around delivery effective?


What organizational outcomes does recognition affect? Are engagement, retention or specific behaviours on the increase or decrease? Can you correlate those increases or decreases to recognition?

Tie it to your employee survey.

To understand usage, delivery and influence, you need a venue for measurement. An obvious approach is to include questions regarding each in an all-employee survey.

But that’s just a starting point.

Look to other initiatives in HR, IT, Operations, Sales or Marketing. Are those initiatives being measured? Can you include data collection within this measurement by relating to the content? An internal marketing initiative, for example, might include a survey. Include few questions on how recognition is being used to coach content delivered that initiative.

Qualitative measurement is also effective because there is a significant human element to recognition itself. Collecting stories that demonstrate the power of recognition in improving performance can be a helpful way to illustrate data or general success.

Draw on technology.

If your program has a technological component – like an e-card element – it becomes easier to measure things like usage and delivery. Employee contests can be another avenue to gain insight into how effective the program is doing overall.

Keep measuring.

Don’t wait for once-a-year occurrences like surveys to advance your measurement. Find ways to understand how well your program is doing on a regular basis. Talk to key influencers and get a snapshot of opportunities and challenges. Collect stories from the frontlines. Enable technology to understand awareness and usage. By drawing on a comprehensive network of measurement tools, you ensure that recognition is understood as the critical business process it deserves to be.

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My Favorite Recognition Resources (that aren’t actually recognition resources)

Posted By Jason Thomson, Instigator, Jigsaw, Thursday, September 17, 2015

Full disclosure – I’m not actually a recognition professional.

I’m a marketer.

What I should say is that when I came to the world of recognition 15 years ago, I arrived as a marketing professional, advertising Creative Director, professional copywriter and content strategist. I still do all of those things today. And that’s been a real benefit to my extensive work in marketing communications for recognition.

When I look at a recognition program, I look at it through the lens of a recognition practitioner, and as a traditional marketer. This allows me to bring tools and resources to this world from outside this world.

In the spirit of our focus for the month – Recognition Resources – I thought I’d share some of my favorite tools. And-surprise, those tools don’t specifically come from the world of recognition.

Of all the news aggregators, Zite has been my favorite – and it’s a great place to find the latest recognition news and stats. You can set up specific categories for things like “recognition” and “engagement,” and it creates a custom magazine. Flipboard bought out Zite last year and is migrating accounts over to its platform.

In the age of social media, it seems that you’re only as valuable as your network. And when it comes to professional networking, LinkedIn is truly (finally) coming into its own. If I have a question about a specific topic, I reach out to a specific content expert here.

Mind Your Future
This crazy recipe card box offers a great overview at specific global trends – trends I can then interpret for the world of recognition. If you’re a “big thinker,” this is an invaluable resource.

Want to be better at recognition? Don’t get stuck thinking only about recognition. Think about your challenge and look for resources that can bring new ideas and conversations to the table.

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Recognition in the real world.

Posted By R. Scott Russell, CRP, Friday, September 4, 2015

So I’m here in Austin, Texas…working on a project and enjoying the “hellish” temperatures. IT’S SO FREAKIN’ HOT HERE. As I travel around I’ve been asking questions about recognition in different industries and coming to the same conclusion. PEOPLE LIKE BEING RECOGNIZED. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But that isn’t always the case.

My good friend Cambria Goldstein, who is currently with Groupon’s Breadcrumb Pro POS System, and I discussed this subject over some oysters and martini’s at Perla’s.

Cambria shared a story with me about her former employer and how she struggled to get recognized no matter what level of great her performance was. She stated that she managed college and career and outperformed her competition but she was working under a manager that simply didn’t know how or was not good at giving recognition. This was so demotivating to Cambria that she eventually began to search for new and improved employment.

Upon joining Breadcrumb, Cambria took to the new product with ease and within weeks was recognized by her current manager for a job well done. It meant so much to Cambria that she almost broke down crying in her manager’s office. This was simple day-to-day recognition but it meant so much when it had not been received before. She didn’t need an award or a trophy…just a “thanks” for giving her all and having her efforts noticed.

Lesson #2 – Don’t forget what we learn as kids. A simple “thank you” can change lives when delivered at the right moment. (Like when you have just finished 2 rounds of oysters in the half shell and 2 cucumber and mint martini’s recommended by the awesome wait staff.)

Tune in next time for my next adventure…WHO KNOWS WHERE I’LL BE

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