The Culture of Recognition

May 29, 2013

Recently, I read Susan Dominus’ article in the New York Times Magazine, “Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?” with interest. Dominus profiles Adam Grant, a Wharton professor who has discovered that, “The greatest untapped source of motivation… is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.”

From call centers to hospitals, Grant has shown that employees make greater discretionary effort, if they clearly see the benefit their effort has for others.

In our recent work on the Recognition Council, we’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of finding meaning in work and how that can tie to an organization’s brand value and customer service. When employees have faith that their organization serves their customers, they can find meaning in living the brand values and doing the right thing through service to customers. In the 2003 Harvard Business Review article “Do the Right Thing,” Dawn Gould Lepore, then vice chairman at Charles Schwab and now advisor at GoodRx, is cited as saying, “Ultimately… ethics stick when they originate at the top of a company and are effectively diffused throughout the organization.”

Recognition and employee engagement programs provide a powerful means of communicating organizational values and ethics, providing clear direction, and deepening meaning for employees. The results are better service to customers, greater effort on the part of employees, and greater satisfaction for both groups. What’s more, a Harry Jansen Kraemer, Jr., then CEO of Baxter International and now clinical professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and executive partner at Madison Dearborn, said in “Do the Right Thing,” “ If we live the values we profess, we’ll add shareholder value.”

So, when we’re asked what exactly it is that we do in the field of recognition, we can honestly say that we help employees find meaning in their work, we help organizations fulfill on their brand promises and satisfy consumers, and we build towards the long-term health of an organization.  Sounds like a tall order, but really, it all starts with living our values in the workplace.

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