Well Done! Employee Recognition

Humanizing Technology Behind Employee Recognition Programs

Giving people the recognition experiences they really want

How many of you remember the date you first used a computer mouse, or purchased your first laptop? Or perhaps when you felt kind of “Star Trekky” as you accessed an electronic device through onscreen touch?

These technology events blur in our memories because they’ve happened so quickly and blend seamlessly into our lives.

In the past, technology often created boundaries between techy-minded people and those of us who were not. Today, we expect HR technology tools to be easy-to-use and to help make our jobs and lives better. And as Jason Gots says, we want technology to “amplify the best of human nature.”

In my world, the field of employee recognition, I strive to help people get recognition right where they work. The use of technology with recognition programs provides tools for managers to practice giving recognition more efficiently to many people, even when they might only see a few of their staff in any given day or week.

Unfortunately, many recognition and reward programs end up transacting things or “stuff” to people, versus truly celebrating and humanly acknowledging them. Software and hardware diminishes our ability to properly express appreciation unless we humanize the technology in the first place.

Start With the Employee Recognition Experience

Way back in a 1997 Macworld Expo, Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs said,

“One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

Recognition will always be a felt phenomenon – a relational experience between one person and another, or even several people toward a team. It’s a chance to express heartfelt acknowledgment for a person’s contributions.

How can we better humanize technology used with employee recognition programs?

Let’s start with the recognition experience employees want and then work our way back to the technology.

People know when they have been authentically recognized when they experience positive emotions because of the recognition received. Here are a few typical experiences associated with genuine and meaningful recognition:

  1. Face-to-Face: Nothing replicates the most meaningful type of recognition, such as that which is given in-person from one individual to another.
  2. Public vs. Private: A majority of people like public recognition. But remember, there will always be a percentage of folks who cringe from being in the limelight.
  3. Relationship Strength: Recognition is most appreciated from people they already have a positive relationship with, and who they work with most.
  4. Timeliness: Receiving acknowledgment for making a difference needs to be received as soon as possible after the accomplishment.
  5. Clear Wording: Expressing appreciation must honor and respect the individual using positive and specific wording, rather than trite generalities.

Humanizing the Technology

Let’s consider the above recognition experiences and how humanizing the current technology might unfold:

  1. Face-to-Face: Ironically, a majority of recognition platforms use only text-based messaging in the form of streaming newsfeeds on social recognition programs, sending personalized online eCards, or sending printed certificates to people. With the advent of short-form video sharing like Vine, or streaming video apps like Periscope and Blab, technology will emerge to provide personal connection to scale, with a visual and auditory acknowledgement beyond the written word.
  2. Public vs. Private: Many current online recognition and reward programs allow givers and receivers of recognition messages, eCards, awards and rewards, to identify how widespread the recognition is shared. Givers and receivers can choose whether they want the recognition to be visible company-wide, across a department or team, if the recipient wants it just between the giver and themselves, or not shared at all.
  3. Relationship Strength: Most companies identify the need for peer-to-peer recognition programs where there is greatest positive relationship strength. However, a method is needed to integrate employee engagement results to flag managers and supervisors who may not be regarded well by employees. Then they can improve their positive communication skills first, before any recognition will be perceived as valuable, sincere and authentic.
  4. Timeliness: So far, timeliness of recognition is still dependent on human observation skills and reports of achievements, contributions or effort made, before any recognition is given. As HR information systems and systems monitoring key performance indicators are aligned, imagine technology informing a manager of significant goals reached or productivity measures achieved by an employee, without seeing it personally, and those metrics triggering the need to give well-deserved recognition in a timely way.
  5. Clear Wording:  Technology can be designed to give a recognition authenticity measure, a guide if you will, as to whether your recognition message is specific enough, and telling the sender how “human” and real the recognition sounds. This can be like Grammarly and other apps that check your content for proper grammar, punctuation and style, and even enhance your vocabulary. We all need a helping hand with how to say things the right way.

Technology for recognition programs should be some of the most humanly designed systems in order for employees to feel they receive the most meaningful and effective recognition.

Ben Shneiderman, a professor at the University of Maryland Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park, suggests any “user-interface design” should be made to “…encourage trust, empathy and responsibility, while protecting privacy. That’s the next big thing.”

Trust, empathy and responsibility are a few perfect attributes to integrate into humanizing all future employee recognition programs.


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Roy Saunderson has spent most of his career showing people how to give others “real recognition”. He really is the Get Recognition Right® Guy. He is an author, consultant and speaker to organizations around the world from North America, Europe, Middle East and India. He serves as the Chief Learning Officer of Rideau’s Recognition Management Institute and has personally worked with Boeing, Credit Suisse, Disney, Intel, Johnson and Johnson, and the Canadian Federal Government leaders in getting recognition right. And the best recognition for Roy to get right is being a happy family man and being married to his lovely wife, Irene, for over 35 years and enjoying their five children and 11 grandchildren.

  • Guilherme Duarte

    Thank you for sharing your great insights. There are a lot of tools to use when it comes to employee public recognition. Some are very complete (and complex) and add benefits to its core features, others, like Tap My Back are very straightforward and focus only on public recognition and praise.

    Hope you take a look at our solution for employee engagement and staff motivation and start giving recognition in seconds and with 3 simple steps.

    Build stronger teams – http://www.tapmyback.com

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