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Inside HR Tech Column

Recognition Power of Technology

Traditionally, workplace technologies have been about record-keeping, managing defined processes, automating transactions, and keeping the lights on and the people paid. But there are some newer HR technologies that strive to break with that tradition and help organizations impact and improve engagement levels.

Friday, March 15, 2013
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Technology that can move the needle on engagement=win.

I want to start off by laying out two simple assumptions, or "givens," that should set up the rest of that argument.

Assumption No. 1 -- Employee engagement is good.

Assumption No. 2 -- HR technology; specifically, application of the right HR technology is also important.

I probably don't have to convince you that the first assumption is right. Countless studies, surveys, and observational and anecdotal evidence and experience generally support this basic business truism. We have pretty much bought into the fact that highly engaged employees provide more discretionary effort and higher productivity than neutral or disengaged employees. I think we can agree on this one: Engagement=Good.

As for the second assumption, while it's perhaps a bit more difficult to "prove," our experience generally tells us that staffing, organizing, directing, compensating and otherwise efficiently administering to just about any workforce requires a pretty sizeable dose of technology. We also generally know that the wrong, old, clunky or "no fun to use" kinds of technology that we've all had to deal with at one point or another in our careers can be a pretty significant impediment to productivity. You've heard the complaints from your staff, or from the employees you support: "Why doesn't the system give me the reports I need?" or "Why can't I do my team's performance reviews on my iPad?" So, just ride with me on this one if you must: Technology=Important.

We're together on this so far, right?

So, if "Engagement=Good" and "Technology=Important," then it must naturally follow that a technology solution that can impact or influence, or move the needle on engagement, must be both "good" and "important." I'd also add "unusual." Traditionally, workplace technologies have been about record-keeping, managing defined processes, automating transactions, and keeping the lights on and the people paid.

But there are some newer HR technologies that strive to break with that tradition and help organizations impact and improve engagement levels, influence and strengthen the connection employees have to the organization (and each other), and -- in the right circumstance -- actually change the culture of a workplace.

I had a chance to visit with a provider of this kind of a technology solution recently. Achievers (formerly known as I Love Rewards), had developed a solution for employee recognition and rewards that organizations are leveraging to increase engagement levels and impact workplace culture in ways that most other HR technologies, such as human-resource-information and learning-management systems, never could. The company had invited me to a special presentation featuring some of its clients.

Viewed really simply, Achievers (and the competing solutions in this space such as Globoforce and O.C. Tanner) are just snappy-looking tools to allocate, track and facilitate the distribution of company awards -- you know, the typical employment-anniversary gifts and occasional Starbucks gift cards handed out for jobs well done -- and to provide a front end to some kind of merchandise catalog and fulfillment process.

But, though the design and goals of organizations' recognition and rewards programs have not been altered much over time, the available technologies to support them have changed dramatically. These changes -- such as deployment as an online subscription-based service, a design geared toward the encouragement of employee adoption, a much more modern user experience than traditional workplace tools and, perhaps most importantly, an experience augmented with elements of popular external social networks ("liking," "sharing," "voting," etc.) -- significantly enhance the ability to transform recognition programs into powerful drivers of employee engagement and fundamental elements of organizational culture.

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It's pretty easy to downplay the role software has in driving employee engagement, particularly when there's an army of management consultants out there who all seemed to learn the mantra, "It's not about the technology," from their first day on the job. But, in talking to a few organizations that have deployed these modern rewards-and-recognition platforms throughout their organizations, you start to think just a little bit differently -- that the software did much more that automate an existing program; it actually played a role in creating culture.

By making the process of peer or colleague recognition simple and fluid, to have these kinds of "recognition moments" be public and visible, and to consider recognition and rewards as part of daily work rather than just something to think about once in a while, one sees these tools as having a kind of unique potential among workforce technologies -- they can really change the way an organization works, and how people feel about working there.

One Achievers customer from a small division of a large global enterprise talked about its division's culture of recognition in an almost charming way, saying recognition technology had "changed how people feel about working here" and that she "couldn't remember a time when we didn't have the recognition platform in place." If I had not been there to actually hear her, I might dismiss such a quote as "marketing-speak," or the comments of a carefully selected customer who would be a safe choice to put in front of prospects and analysts.

But, in listening to her story, and the stories of other converts to the cause of technology-powered recognition, I have to admit I left Achievers feeling pretty convinced myself. We know employee engagement matters. We know it is sorely lacking in most organizations. And we know, or at least the organizations I heard speak know, that technology can play a role in making a difference, in driving engagement, creating and strengthening connections, and actually changing the culture of a workplace.

I know one more thing as well: There are not many other workplace technologies that can have a similar effect.

Steve Boese is a co-chair of HRE's HR Technology® Conference and a technology editor for LRP Publications. He also writes an HR blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast. He can be emailed at sboese@lrp.com.

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