How Google Manages Employee Recognition

May 23, 2013

Google’s company mantra is

“Focus on the user and all else will follow,” and is also the guiding principle of their People Operations (HR) group. So when they decided it was time for a new employee recognition program, it was natural for them to start by interviewing the “Googlers” themselves. At the recent Total Rewards 2013 Conference in Philadelphia, Google presented their approach to understanding the best way to recognize their team. As you might expect, the approach they took was data driven, and began with an extensive search of academic literature on the subject. Kathryn Dekas,People Analytics Manager at Google, outlined a number of papers that contributed to their understanding of the subject, including Spending Money on Others Promotes Happiness  (Dunn, Aknin, Norton). This then formed the basis of a series of surveys, focus groups, UX studies and interviews with their internal users, to determine the preferred approach.

A recurring theme during the research was

that much of the perceived value of the reward was tied to the “relationship exchange”, not the actual monetary value. Recognition which was delivered in a personal and genuine way was seen as more valuable than an email and a cash bonus. Peer to peer recognition – particularly amongst engineers – was also highly valued. Kathryn also introduced the audience to “Nudge”, a book by Thaler and Sunstein about choice architecture, and how people make decisions. They applied this principle to provide cues to people during the recognition process, and maximize the impact of the reward. The Google presenters acknowledged that most companies would not have the resources, or time, to undertake such a project (which has taken almost two years to complete), and that their unique culture requires a unique recognition solution. But many of the principles they discussed will still hold true for any organization looking to improve their employee recognition programs.  

About the Author

Want to Learn More?

A 15-minute conversation can help us understand your goals and challenges.
We'll share our ideas and best practices with you.

Let's Talk