Employee Engagement? Recognition? What’s the Difference?

March 10, 2014
Engagement is a broad-reaching concept. It can include all stakeholders, from employees to customers, even investors. It is increasingly understood as a strategic “must-have” for successful businesses. But as the terminology of engagement evolves, there is some confusion about what it really means and how existing employee recognition programs fit in. Engagement requires connecting with stakeholders by participating in a dialogue, whether putting them on the inside track through loyalty programs and communications or by inviting feedback. What's more, it lets them know their opinions and experiences matter.  Social media has turned up the volume on this give and take.  It’s often where the brand’s value and values come to life in an interaction which can develop into a relationship. And when customers or employees have an emotional investment in a company, they are more likely to become brand ambassadors. Employee engagement creates a relationship which is mutually beneficial to the individual and the organization. By building in a conversation about performance, opportunities, product and process development, and organizational values, an interactive – not transactional – exchange develops. This creates personal investment and inspires best efforts. The brand is better understood, adopted, and championed by engaged employees who realize they are part of the big picture and have a stake in success. In his Forbes article, What is Employee Engagement, Kevin Kruse states “This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company. They don’t work just for a paycheck, or just for the next promotion, but work on behalf of the organization’s goals. When employees care—when they are engaged—they use discretionary effort.” But what about recognition? Isn’t it supposed to do that? Well, yes, in part. Recognition is a critical part of the toolbox of engagement. A well-designed recognition program lays out the company values and specifies behaviors and initiatives that align to them. It provides the communication and the tools to identify and celebrate actions by employees that fit the goals defined by the program.  What recognition does not do is provide detailed performance feedback or spark sales with targeted initiatives. Milestone awards, performance reviews, leadership training, and incentives are also tools of engagement. A full engagement program ensures that the strategies and communications across an organization are integrated and cohesive. It combines all kinds of company-wide efforts under a comprehensive umbrella. Recognition, service awards, sales incentives, and human capital management  all come together towards unified goals. A recognition program is an excellent place to start. It can help to define values and its goals, ensuring that all internal stakeholders are working together on the right things. But to super-charge organizational engagement, it is worth assessing the whole environment. Be sure that the strategy is clear and aligned across all initiatives. Then you can fit the pieces and the people together for a truly enterprise-wide engagement strategy.

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