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The Next Generation of Rewards & Recognition

Social recognition isn’t a fad or trend relative to programs, tools and platforms. It’s a new collective way of working, talking and learning – a cultural transformation grounded in social learning.
By Allan Schweyer and Brad Callahan
Today, people are more social than ever before. The global village has been shrunk down to the size of a smart phone. The online tools that make it easy to connect and work together are starting to disrupt traditional views about workforce practices in ways that organizations are only just beginning to realize. A whole new notion of social learning is beginning to evolve around the distillation and distribution of knowledge and recognition of its individual contributors. There is a growing understanding that, rather than being a distraction or a time drain, social connectivity could actually hold the key to a more productive way of doing business by providing an engaging virtual forum for showcasing achievements, recognizing people, leveraging social currency and identifying pockets of expertise within the organization.
Social media is used these days to disseminate information, encourage knowledge-sharing and connect the workforce for collaborative purposes. Given the fundamental “recognition” elements of popular public social networks, it’s somewhat surprising that recognition is late to the game inside organizations. Nevertheless, the gap has closed quickly, and there are numerous technology providers now offering services that enable online social recognition.
The fundamental advantage that online social recognition brings to organizations – even those with formal recognition programs – is that appreciation and recognition becomes an ongoing daily activity, driven predominantly by employees recognizing other employees (as    opposed to an annual, formal evaluation driven by management). In this way, organizations stand a much better chance of building a culture of recognition and will do so relatively quickly.    
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Enterprise-Wide Application
Beyond employee-to-employee recognition, corporate social recognition can also connect employees to customers, partners, suppliers and other key constituents to give and receive recognition. When employees can reach out to recognize colleagues’ contributions and those of the broader, external community (those critical to the success of the organization), enterprise-wide engagement and increases in productivity are the result.
Experts clearly agree on one thing: The world of social recognition isn’t a trend that will fade away. It’s actually the next-generation evolution of reward and recognition systems that many organizations already have in place. And in the future social recognition platforms will prove to be the first view or window into the knowledge and creative expertise that resides within the organization – supported by the powerful collaborative systems and social-strategy tools of tomorrow.
When we think about successful companies, it all comes down to people and the quality of their conversations and interactions. Hence, social recognition isn’t a fad or trend relative to programs, tools and platforms. It’s a new collective way of working, talking and learning – a cultural transformation grounded in social learning.

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The Network As Competitive Advantage 
For many people who are celebrating successes, the act of sharing stories, perspectives, views and insights online is a daily event. But until recently businesses operated in silos, impairing collaboration and co-action between colleagues and cross-functional practitioners. As a result, corporate knowledge, people, processes and vital information remained hidden in many cases.
In today’s business environment competition is no longer a contest between companies; it’s really a competition between networks – the sum of connectivity, communications, collaboration and reward and recognition systems used to empower a collective value-chain. Giving employees the ability to dynamically celebrate, converse, innovate, and engage in an agile manner will help businesses grow and remain competitive.
Peer-to-peer recognition can be a powerful force in driving a sustainable high-performance culture, yet the majority of organizations – even those with formal recognition programs – don’t incorporate the notion of employees recognizing other employees. According to Bersin & Associate’s State of Employee Recognition 2012 research, the top reason employees don’t recognize each other is simply because there’s no established way to provide recognition in most firms. In other words, there’s no barrier to peer-to-peer recognition from a willingness or attitudinal perspective. Employees want to recognize each other – they just need the tools to do so.  

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Building A Recognition Culture
Organizations can overcome this barrier by providing simple tools that allow employees to recognize colleagues’ work and contributions. Corporate Social Network (CSN) platforms, Social Recognition technologies or add-ons to intranets and CSN are relatively simple tools that enable recognition through short statements, the awarding of points and/or by telling stories about what colleagues did that merits recognition. Over time, these statements, awards and stories grow to become part of the legacy of a “Recognition Culture.”
Social Recognition software can increase the frequency of appreciation and also provide guidelines to employees on when recognition is appropriate. These tools allow for varying levels of sharing so that some recognition can remain private, some can be limited to a team and some shared enterprise-wide – even out to (and in from) customers, partners and other constituents of the extended enterprise. Combined with a cascading or SMART goals program, the software may be equipped to align recognition with performance management. Most software will also include useful analytics and reporting tools to help gauge progress and make adjustments.

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A Social Recognition Solution
As traditional job roles are increasingly being reframed around enabling a more modern, collaborative work culture that reflects the way people function in their interconnected, networked world, next-generation solutions need to support a combination of social recognition, media and collaborative tools that allow professionals to:
  • Recognize contributions
  • Inspire performance and drive value-adding activities
  • Reinforce behaviors and organizational culture
  • Showcase achievements and provide public validation
  • Foster collaboration, conversation and recognition
  • Find people, information or expertise more quickly
  • Foster knowledge sharing and Social Learning
  • Widen personal networks, build relationships, and raise visibility of individual profile
  • Identify subject matter experts (SMEs)
  • Build meaningful relationships (across a distributed workforce)
  • Support Communities of Practice (groups of people with domain expertise)
  • Extend corporate knowledge
  • Invite peers into a personalized group

In essence, a Social Recognition solution should function as an enabler and driver of existing core capabilities, values, attributes and strategic plans. As soon as one acknowledges the increasingly important role of social media and social networking in corporate communications, the path forward is clear. Organizations should support and foster the growth of internal social networking to encourage collaboration, idea-sharing, innovation and knowledge transfer. Equally, the tools should include components – like Social Recognition – that are likely to accelerate team-building, employee engagement and productivity. 

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The Flow Of Information
Given the state of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity, and information overload in today’s business environment, organizations must learn to leverage highly-collaborative networks and nodes to competitively sense and respond to the marketplace and remain competitive. Corporate transparency, collaboration, and knowledge-sharing will become the harbingers of success.
A key element of any social platform is the ability for individuals to provide feedback, insights and positive reinforcement. Social recognition will be an integral part of these systems designed to bolster connectivity and the flow of information and creative conversation. Employees who can share and access information with their colleagues – the contextual knowledge which is so valuable to awareness –is increasingly vital to succeed in today’s competitive global business landscape.
Beyond today’s social recognition tools that focus on employees, there are additional competitive advantages for organizations that extend recognition to other critical stakeholders. Customers, partners (including resellers), suppliers and even volunteers are crucial to organizations’ success and should not be overlooked. A social recognition strategy should include a means for recognition to and from the extended enterprise to be captured and shared. In the same way that employee recognition drives employee engagement, recognition (to and from) stakeholders will drive Enterprise Engagement.

Foundational transformation around the culture and people of the organization, including its customers, partners and suppliers, are essential to an its enduring success. As the pace of business change accelerates and the world becomes more interconnected, the quality of agility and responsiveness of the extended enterprise will be its most critical competitive advantage. Social networks and their recognition components are key pieces in the integrity of the connected extended enterprise.

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By internet standards, social media took its time getting to recognition in the workplace, yet a better application of corporate social networking would be difficult to find. The age-old problems of finding and/or developing managers and supervisors talented and aware enough to build and sustain a culture of recognition is, in part, solved through peer-to-peer and extended enterprise social recognition. Moreover, the disadvantage of recognition taking place (if at all) during annual, formal performance reviews can be replaced with ongoing feedback and recognition from peers, managers, subordinates and even to and from the extended enterprise.
It’s a well known fact that a culture of recognition is a prime advantage in driving employee engagement. The hurdle has always been achieving that culture within a broader workforce culture that has long emphasized bottom line results, short term goals and rewards for individual achievement. Managers and supervisors are constantly told about the importance of recognition and engagement, but they’re rarely held accountable or rewarded for it directly. The lessons from successful public social networks are there for all to see – they have succeeded, in part, based on people’s willingness and enthusiasm for recognizing each other.
Inside organizations, the same lessons apply. Today the power of recognition is opening up, driven by employees. The main obstacle to social recognition in most companies is the lack of an official means for employees to recognize each other. Social Recognition software and tools offer a simple, affordable solution.

Brad Callahan is Vice President of Business Solutions for Marketing Innovators ( Allan Schweyer is a Partner at the Center for Human Capital Innovation (

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