Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Why is it so tough for managers to give Recognition?

While working with an organization that is new to broadbased recognition, we realized that giving Recognition is a skill, a huge behavioural change that is required on the part of managers. In the last 6 months that the Recognition program has been active in the company, the budget usage has been less than 20% of what is available to managers.

We undertook an effort to talk to all the managers who could give Recognition and asked them if they had used the program. 70% of the managers responded saying that they didn't know who and what for to recognize. 30% said that they were worried that they were setting an expectation if they recognized their people - i.e anyone they recognized would invariably expect a good annual performance rating. So they wanted to be very conservative with Recognition.

Now this is a classic case of managers not truly understanding what Recognition is and how fundamental a need it is. The Rewards, the gifts that come with Recognition are simply a manifestation of the Recognition experience and you can practice Recognition even without the rewards. So I probed a few of them on why they didn't send the employee even a thank you card - this costs nothing, probably won't set expectations. The response was "If I give anything, I will be setting expectations. So I would rather not do anything".

Now here is a case of a firm which has invested in building a recognition culture, has provided the tools and the money required for managers to practice recognition and is yet, struggling to implement the program. How many companies are riding this boat?

The only solution I can think of to this problem is to educate the managers on what Recognition is and help them practice Real Recognition.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Normal is Boring ? Really?

As people, we crave for something that is not normal, something that is different and this always excites and energizes us.

But when it comes to Recognition, organizations get mixed up between what is normal and what is different/exciting. Recognizing the top performers is "Normal". The same folks who get the recognition are also typically the poster boys / poster girls and are expected to be recognized. While the audience may clap when these folks get recognized, do they really get excited? It's like saying that I reached the office today in 30 minutes, the same time it takes me everyday, and I am excited about this.

So how do we use Recognition to really excite/energize employees? The simple answer - when you recognize employees who are not typically expected to get recognized. Wn you do things that are not normal. Now this does not mean you recognize someone for nothing. If you just look (not even hard), you will find that most people do afew things well once in a while that could merit some recognition (maybe not the big award, but a mention in a team meeting with a voucher thrown in). If the recognition is given genuinely for a specific activity/task the individual has accomplished or a behaviour the employee has demonstrated, it will be very meaningful to the employee who receives it. If it done in a manner that is impromptu (or seemingly impromptu), say at 11:05 AM amidst the cubicles, it will snap everyone out of their desks and excite them (simply because it is not normal) and create a charged up work environment.

Image Credits:
1) http://www.lendio.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/bored-employee.jpg
2) http://g-square.blogspot.in/

Friday, July 13, 2012

Is Employee Engagement in Indian workplaces pathetic?

Over the last several years of interacting with several individuals working at various corporates in India, I have often felt that almost all employees were highly disengaged. They were simply checking in and checking out everyday, doing what was required to not get into trouble and collecting their paychecks at the end of the month. Once in a while they would stretch their hand a little bit and do something that gives them a promotion/a big bonus and/or some significant recognition.

Today, I saw an article in the Corporate Dossier (supplement of the Economic Times), where Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup has given an interview. Jim minces no words in saying that the Indian workplace is so low on energy, that if it were a stock, he would short it.

While I clearly don't like the situation we are in, I would whole-heartedly agree with Jim on his observation about Indian work-places. It's not that every company in other parts of the world has a highly engaged workplace - but this argument cannot be the reason why companies and their leaders don't push the envelope around employee engagement. Frankly if something important needs to be fixed, it doesn't matter if other fix it or not.

Is there a really simple way to find out if employees who work for you are really engaged? Ask yourself if the employees who work for you would relate, respond and interact with you in the same manner if your title was suddenly taken away and you were just an individual. If the answer is "No", then your people are clearly in the check-in/check-out mode and will only do what is necessary to keep them out of trouble. On the other hand, if the answer is "Yes" or "To some extent" or even "Maybe a few of them would", then you are on the right track as a manager & leader. Individuals may work for a company, but for them a large part of the company is their manager, whose every action will impact them positively or negatively.

Corporate India - It's time to make our workplaces a better place for individuals to spend a large part of their time in.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Recognition Education Works

We recently decided to undertake an experiment with one of our clients to measure the direct impact of Recognition education on the usage of the Recognition program we had implemented in the company. The primary driver behind the experiment was to improve the usage of the Recognition components - specifically the Pure Recognition (Thank You Cards), Spot Awards (worth Rs.500) and a nomination based Award (both individual and team based).

We had divided the organization into 10 logical groups (based on Business units, departments), identified the usage of these Recognition components over the previous 4 month period. We then scheduled Recognition Education sessions for people managers in each of these 10 groups over a 4 week period. The session was a short 60 minute high impact presentation "Real Leadership using Real Recognition" and focused on sensitizing managers why Recognition is critical for the employees they manage and what is the RoI they would get for the effort in Recognizing their employees. We then measured the Recognition activities within each group for a period of 8 weeks post the 60 minute Recognition Education session. The % monthly increase range in usage in each of the 10 groups was the following:

1) Nomination Based Awards: 5-25%
2) Spot Awards: 24-44%
3) Thank You Cards: 30-75%

Clearly the % increases were significant (of course some of the numbers are very high because of the really poor usage within the groups earlier). The data point that was most impactful to me was the % increase in Thank You Cards being given. The education had helped people managers understand that giving someone a "Thank You" Card without any monetary value attached or a tangible gift associated, could still be very meaningful if done in the right manner with the right intent. The company is now on its path towards creating a strong Recognition culture - the key would be to sustain the momentum created and ensure that the usage levels stay where they are currently. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What's in a Name? Rajiv Gandhi, Indira Gandhi & Jawaharlal Nehru

There are 450 government funded projects named after 3 individuals from the Congress - Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi & Rajiv Gandhi. Agreed that these 3 folks were Prime Minsters, did a lot for the country and deserve some recognition. But this is a case of recognizing the same small set of people for almost everything that happens in this country - something's wrong here. One recent example is the government tax saving scheme to encourage new investors to invest their money in the stock markets. They named this after Rajiv Gandhi. Wouldn't this have been a great opportunity to recognize someone who founded the Bombay Stock Exchange - even Google does not return the name in a simple search?

This in some ways reflects what happens in a lot of companies. The same set of employees (the top performers) get the big bonuses, the big salary increases, the promotions, the training opportunities etc. etc. Agreed the top performers play a very significant and pivotal role in the success of a company and need to be rewarded and recognized. But if every recognition the company does involves this small set of employees, it is like saying that they are the only ones contributing and everyone else is biding their time and don't deserve any credit.

The key is to have a broad-based Recognition program that provides recognition opportunities for a large section of employees, at appropriate levels for the specific contributions made towards the overall success of the organization.

Appendix to the Post:
As per a RTI (Right to Information) filed:

  • 12 Central Government programmes and projects are named after Rajiv Gandhi
  • 52 state government programmes
  • 98 universities and educational institutions
  • 6 airports and ports
  • 39 hospitals
  • 74 roads, buildings and places and
  • 15 national parks and sanctuaries
In the dynastic naming spree, even Jawaharlal Nehrulooks like an after-thought. The formidable listing ranges from Indira Gandhi Calf Rearing Scheme and Indira Gandhi Priyadarshini Vivah Shagun Yojana (Haryana) to Rajiv Gandhi Kabaddi Tournament, Rajiv Gandhi Wrestling Gold Cup, Rajiv Gandhi Stadium (three in Kerala alone), Rajiv GandhiIndian Institute of Management, Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Rajiv Gandhi Aviation Academy, Rajiv Gandhi Centre for Aquaculture, Rajiv Gandhi Shiromani Award, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, Rajiv GandhiFellowship for SC/ST, Rajiv Gandhi Wild Life Sanctuary,Rajiv Gandhi Mission on Food Security, Rajiv GandhiBreakfast Scheme (Pondicherry), Rajiv Gandhi Bridges and Roads Programme, Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute. There’s even a peak in the Himalayas named Mount Rajiv.

Monday, April 16, 2012

TCS & Cognizant have consistently outperformed Wipro, Infosys, HCL & Mahindra Satyam! Does it have anything to do with Recognition?

Over the last few years, in the big IT services industry in India, 2 companies have consistently outperformed the rest of the industry pretty much on all key financial parameters. TCS & Cognizant have grown revenues faster, have better profit margins, have better-than-industry attrition rates etc.etc. During the Infosys Q4 results announcement, a CNBC anchor made a statement that stuck with me - "We have seen this play out everytime. Infosys declares the results, the street gets disappointed, the sensex drops. Then TCS announces results, beating estimates and the street gets confidence in the sector once again".

Coincidentally, TCS & Cognizant are the only 2 companies out of the top 6 (the others being Infosys, Wipro, HCL & Mahindra-Satyam), in my assessment, that have had a broad-based Employee Recognition program established and operational for over 10 years now. Can we attribute their financial & business success primarily to their Employee Recognition program? While the answer is clearly "NO", having a broad-based Employee Recognition program in place is an indicator of a number of other softer aspects within the company.

1) The company truly believes that a large number of their employees add value and are responsible for the success of the company. While some employees may contribute significantly more than others, they feel that a very large percentage of their employees contribute and want to acknowledge this fact.
2) They are probably better at "True Delegation", by allowing junior managers and departments to design and run their own Recognition programs within a broad framework.
3) They are better at distinguishing employee performance, growth potential and valuing them for everyday contributions. They are less worried about employees getting upset because they keep getting recognized, but do not get the promotions or the big bonuses.
4) They have moved away from event based Recognition to localized Recognition. At both the companies, Recognition is now a localized event, rather than a big bang event with top management getting involved. At most of the other companies, the focus is still on the big-bang events (essentially a gathering of 1-2% o the top performers).
5) They spend much more money on Recognition than the other firms. Their overall Recognition spend is 4-10 times higher than the others. This means that they are putting the money where their mouth is.

In summary, I think it boils down to whether the management truly believes if all their people are contributing and want to acknowledge them for that, or believe that a lot of their employees are replaceable assets. The financial results are now showing.

PS: In another coincidence, the star of the ITES industry in India - GENPACT, also happens to be the only large ITES firm to have had a broad based Employee Recognition program for over a decade now.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Once upon a time

Last evening I was sitting in a bar sipping a few handcrafted beers at Bangalore's new microbrewery Toit in Indranagar. Right next to my table was a large group of employees from Intuit enjoying a company outing. I happened to see one of my high school buddies (after 15 or so years) and we exchanged hugs and numbers.

As the beers went down, this friend of mine was narrating a Recognition story - I overheard it (was too close to their table).

While in college, this friend of mine was a computer whiz. About 15 individuals who were giving their Chartered Accountancy (CA) exams were baffled by the introduction of a computer science test as part of their CA exams. They approached a professor at the college for help and the professor connected them with this young friend of mine, who was at home on a summer break from college. He helped them with the exams and all the 15 folks cleared the bar. The day after the results were announced, all the 15 individuals came to their young tutor's house with a gift.

This friend of mine, who is now a accomplished software project lead at Intuit today with over 15 years of global corporate work experience in blue chip companies was narrating this story as one of the greatest Recognitions he has received till date. Why?

It is apparent that the genuine, spontaneous nature of the gift giving exercise and the physical involvement of all the 15 individuals is the reason for this. The guy was narrating about the gift he had got, it was all about the Recognition.