Employee Benefits Future Strategy 2006 – Sponsor’s comment: Recognition the kicker

Article in full

With UK Plc seemingly facing a slowdown as we move into 2006, the role of motivation will become more business critical. During my 28 years in the business, it seems that during a downturn, motivation is used more effectively than during boom time. During a recession it is even more crucial that organisations make best use of their resources, and effective staff incentivisation can certainly help.

There seems to be no end to the rise of motivation for employees since the register-ticking role of personnel officers was transformed into the people-centric profession of human resources.

Companies are realising that reward and recognition programmes can do more than simply boost sales. It is the very flexibility of these programmes that is their strength. From encouraging safety, through to improving customer service and cutting absenteeism, there is nothing quite as propulsive as a pat on the back.

The first step in implementing an effective motivation programme is reflecting on what you want to achieve and why you are doing it in the first place. The best schemes are rooted in the culture of an organisation and reflect that culture. There is no point bolting on a programme that does not reflect the issues a business faces.

Take absenteeism, for example. This is increasingly an area that organisations will have to address. According to the Confederation of British Industry, it creates a £11.75 billion black hole in the UK economy. But absenteeism is often a symptom of a much bigger problem. It normally isn’t enough to just put a reward mechanism in place. A review of work practices and company culture might also be appropriate. We have seen how one of the UK’s biggest employers, Royal Mail, has recognised this truth. Its first ever motivational programme has helped it bring down absenteeism, and was so successful it has been extended to other areas. As well as providing tangible incentives to come to work, Royal Mail overhauled its absenteeism management programme, providing more support for those who had genuine problems. I predict that more businesses will take this holistic approach in 2006 and beyond.

One trend that is set to continue is outsourcing. As a result, all organisations are flatter these days, so it is increasingly important that you look after and develop those people who are left. A company’s best allies in creating change are its people. We must try to create a culture where everybody feels they have a responsibility to the whole.

An example of this ‘in it together’ attitude was shown when Projectlink Motivation carried out a safety programme for Shell Expo on the North Sea oil rigs. In that situation, we had to create an environment where everyone involved ‘cares’ for their colleagues, and adopts best practice safety because it is the right thing to do. In that programme a financial reward would not have been appropriate. However, at the end of the initial programme, the award of a Swiss Army knife to everyone involved, was symbolic of what had been achieved. It also served as an ongoing reminder of the principles involved.

Too often, reward and recognition schemes focus too heavily on the reward element. The recognition element is by far the more important part of the equation. A hand-written note of thanks from the managing director will often have a greater motivational effect than anything like a £50 voucher.

Rewards are important of course, but it may be non-material things that motivate most. A company car parking space, for example, or free meals for a week, can be incredibly motivating. Similarly, give somebody Friday afternoon off as a thank you and you can be sure they’ll achieve what they have to in the other four-and-a-half days of the week.

I believe that British management is ten times better than it was, but it still needs to sharpen up its act on people management. Motivated people can be the difference between business success and failure, but saying thank you, it seems, is still the hardest thing to do.