In it for the Long Haul: Recognition and Incentive Programs

July 14, 2014
Back in 2010, when things were improving but the recession was still a constant and nagging concern, I heard an alarming statistic at an industry conference: Because of the widespread layoffs, the speaker claimed, most employees were carrying a workload 30% greater than they had before. By 2012, according to Towers Watson’s "Global Workforce Study, 51% of employees reported that there were not enough employees in their workgroup to get the job done. Only 54% said that the amount of work they were expected to do was reasonable. Roughly half of the workforce was feeling unreasonably overloaded. Randstad, a recruiting company, reported that in 2013, the average worker in the UK is now doing the job of 1.4 people.  They make the point that this is equivalent to a seven day work week, in terms of hours. Things don’t seem to be that much different here in the US. In many organizations, workers are critically strained and every day is filled with one urgent demand after another. The result? Employees are having trouble “ramping up” for key initiatives, when they are already running at high speed. It’s difficult to tell the difference between today’s emergency and yesterday’s urgent call for action in this environment. Priorities aren’t clear and everything seems to be needed right this minute. As organizations recover financially, many will need to expand their employee base to staff more appropriately and to protect talent. In the meanwhile, though, it is critically important to help employees make the right choices when there are competing priorities, and to be sure to bring everyone along with new successes. Recognition and incentive programs are a good place to start. A recognition program based on core values not only helps with the general atmosphere in the workplace, but also lays out guiding principles. It is a strategy with a long-term view to creating an organizational culture that can sustain difficult times, including greater workloads. When an employee knows what is fundamentally important to an organization as a core value, they can make choices in their day-to-day work to support this. When they are recognized and rewarded for making the right choices, they serve as an example for others and they share in the success of the effort. As an example, here at Dittman, our primary company value is “Customers First.” When there is any doubt of what needs attention first, the organization has already provided guidance. It makes it easier for the team to make the right choices and to integrate into our company culture. But shorter range goals, such as sales initiatives, require a different approach. Incentive goals require “above and beyond” efforts and participating employees should be rewarded in direct proportion to that effort.  Incentive programs focus immediate and extraordinary effort on one organizational goal. This helps high performing employees put their energy into the right activities. We can think of it this way… Recognition programs are the marathon run of a high performing culture with competing demands. Incentive programs are the sprint to attain a singular goal. These days, most organizations need both kinds of programs to succeed and to retain talent.

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