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Engaging challenge

Ensuring employees have positive approach a key job

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While the last few years have found baby-boomer retirement issues holding top priority, the latest human resource surveys are showing that employee engagement is now taking over the primary lead. In fact, one survey reports that 94 per cent of survey participants indicated that employee engagement was the most important workforce challenge they were currently facing.

Yet, what is employee engagement and why are HR managers so concerned? Employee engagement refers to whether or not employees have a positive or negative approach to their work and to whether or not employees are willing and/or not willing to perform at their best in ways that further benefit their employer.

The reason HR managers are concerned about employee engagement is that engaged employees are known to make a strong impact on business success from a profitability point of view and also contribute to a positive work culture.

At the same time, human resource professionals know that a focus on employee engagement has a spillover effect in that other human resource functions such as performance management, employee recognition and employee retention seem to improve. As well, those organizations that track employee engagement scores are also discovering that their managers are much more effective in developing, providing feedback, recognizing and rewarding their employees.

This is good news from two points of view. First, it confirms that leadership styles have transitioned from an autocratic authoritarian style to one of collaboration, coaching and mentoring of employees. Secondly, it is finally giving credence to the fact that employee reward and recognition programs are not simply that annual warm and fuzzy "must have" event but do indeed have real return on investment for a business.

If you really think about it, a fully engaged workforce that outperforms other work groups will essentially become your competitive advantage. And, if employee reward and recognition programs have proven to be a big part of successful employee engagement, then it makes sense to strategically implement a reward and recognition program. This program will become a set of guiding principles that will ensure all forms of your rewards and recognition are in alignment with your business strategy. The following steps to implementation will ensure an effective contribution to your employee engagement.

Secure leadership commitment -- a reward and recognition program must be supported not only by a CEO/president but also by all the executives and managers in a company. Appoint a program champion to oversee the design, development and implementation.

Link rewards to business strategy -- your program must be connected to both the needs and expectations of your workforce as well as to the organizational goals and objectives. Incorporate your company values and goals into the program so that your messages are consistent and employees understand what behaviours are important.

Make the program fair and inclusive -- a reward and recognition program must be able to impact and motivate all of your employees, not just a set of top performers. This now includes consideration for the interests and needs of the various generations of workers in your organization. Establish your selection criteria so that "justice for all" is perceived by your employees which in turn will help to develop trust in your program.

Design for meaning -- consider conducting an employee survey to identify personal interests and suggestions for what would be appreciated in a reward or recognition program. Employees value meaningful rewards that they can get excited about and that motivates them to excel. Work with your employees to help create a personal mission that links with the corporate mission. Form an employee committee to assist management in designing the program. Value all suggestions.

Design for choice -- with so many different interests and needs in today's workforce, the best strategy is to allow for choice in the selection of a reward gift. Rewards typically range from an item with the company logo to making a charitable donation in the name of your employees. This will enable you to meet the needs of an intergenerational workforce and one with significant cultural diversity.

Simplify the nomination process -- ensure the nomination process is not too complicated or time intensive so that people will be encouraged rather than discouraged from participating. Keep your forms simple, and be sure to be consistent and make the overall selection process transparent.

Link reward with action -- it's well known that when recognition quickly follows action, you'll get a lot more "bang for the buck" in terms of employee motivation. Timeliness helps the employee to know why he or she is being acknowledged and why their contribution or behaviour was valuable. As well, your timely recognition will be better remembered and the employee behaviour reinforced.

Train your managers -- managers are typically the people handling the reward and recognition program as well as leading employees toward greater engagement. Train your managers to understand the goals and objectives of your program as well as how to effectively implement the program on an ongoing basis.

Promote your program -- help employees understand the "what, where, why and how" of your rewards and recognition program. Use multiple communication strategies and media. Be sure that employees understand the "what's in it for me." Plan to promote employee success and recognition through your company newsletter or email/twitter messages. Make them a star.

Make it a celebration -- in addition to making daily acknowledgements, annual performance reviews or sporadic special events, celebrate employee achievements by holding an annual event. Incorporate all kinds of rewards and recognition ranging from retirement to special achievements. Make it a celebration.

Measure your results -- measuring success through tracking employee satisfaction and employee engagement against your program objectives will give you an indication of success. When management is aware of this annual measurement, you'll see an increase in accountability and leadership behaviours as well as increase in the application of other human resource functions.

Meaningful employee reward and recognition programs are a powerful tool for engaging your employees and increasing retention. However, a program must be well thought out, fair, transparent and based on corporate goals and objectives that are linked to the recognition and rewards that an employee values.

Source: Employee Recognition Survey, Winter 2012 Report, SHRM/Globoforce; Creating an Effective Reward and Recognition Program, Leadership council, March 2006

Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 9, 2013 H1

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