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4 ways to drive employee engagement through digital

4 ways to drive employee engagement through digital Autumn Manning

The evolution of social technologies and the role of the HR executive have presented great opportunities for some and fear among others who cannot live up. My colleagues in talent management and HR are tasked with keeping top talent happy and engaged like never before, and the new kids on the social technology block, as well as employee choice, make the decision around approach and effectiveness more important than ever (ahem...1.8 million college graduates will be looking for work soon).

4 ways to drive employee engagement through digital

Taking a cue from the technology industry and digital platforms that are so intuitive they border on addictive, the latest software as a service (SaaS) platforms aimed at the HR market are catching on by focusing on the end user, the end user, the end user -- instead of using HR's traditional criteria and acceptance testing as the barometer for success.

At the same time, some of the best social technologies sold in through HR today are built on the understanding that meeting business needs is a top priority and that putting the data in the hands of the masses is critical for success. While providing real-time value and feedback (i.e. not having to pay super admin super bucks to understand the information) is a ticket to entry these days, it's easier said than done.

While talent management practices and their supporting technologies have started to lean into this practice, we haven't made it all the way over the hump. The way we recognize and engage our employees can, unfortunately, still look like it did 10 or even 20 years ago. This is one area that is in need of some attention.

We know that most companies have a recognition program in place. In fact, about 70 percent of companies that focus on employee recognition and rewards have three to six programs in place. This is a strong indication of a lack of integration, focus, and even more importantly a lack of impact on the employees who are the so-called recipients of this recognition.

How can you ensure that your company's employee recognition program is as engaging as you need it to be? Here, I've compiled a list of four ways you can make sure your program is a success for today's changing workplace:

Go digital with employee recognition

When recognizing your employees for work well done, don't just buy a stack of gift cards and hand out as needed. While the intentions behind this approach are in the right place, the impact it has on your workforce leaves much to be desired. Here's why:

  • When companies buy in bulk and hand out gifts as needed, employees interpret the gesture as generic and easy, lessening the meaning -- the expression of gratitude -- behind the effort.

  • This tactic inevitably leaves well-deserving employees out of the recognition loop. When the power to give recognition to your workforce lies with one or a few people, you may notice that only employees in highly visible roles regularly receive recognition.

That's why many companies are seeking ways to democratize their employee recognition systems by implementing digital systems. We live in an increasingly digital world -- the e-commerce business is expected to top $1.25 trillion (with a "T") this year -- and many of your employees are already well-versed in giving and receiving gifts, messages, and more online. In a workplace recognition program, taking a digital approach allows for personalization, faster turnaround, and streamlined administration for your HR department.

Spread the love…and the power

We place enough pressure and responsibility on our management and leadership teams. Let's lighten the load and spread the joy of giving around to everyone. When you have people across the entire company on the lookout for good deeds, you'll get a better representation of the positive things that are actually happening at all levels of the organization.

Conversely, when you fail to leverage the entire team to help recognize and reward your staff, you run the risk of failing to recognize the employees who are most deserving of a pat on the back. Recognition should be real-time and meaningful, coming from a team member who benefitted from the good deed and not a manager who may (in some case) be removed from the on-the-ground action. Besides, people crave to be included, so you should include them in one, if not the most important business practice: building a strong culture.

Focus on doing one program well -- and stick to it

Many HR teams have multiple recognition and rewards programs in place. These programs might be things that have been carried over from previous years at some unknown point in time to meet a unique business need. Having disparate programs for employee recognition across the business leads to confusion and lackluster results. In a recent study, 86 percent of companies claim to have a recognition program in place, but if you ask the employee base, only 42 percent of them claim to know about it.

In addition to wasting money, disparate programs lead to lots of questions: What behaviors lead to our success as a company? Are people rewarded to stay in place (what some organizations refer to as RIP: resting in place)? Why does the sales team get rewarded in a different way than the marketing team? Don't let these questions arise. Instead, ensure your programs reinforce the behaviors that lead to company and cultural success, and ensure they integrate accordingly.

Remember the importance of branding

A system is a system is a system. But implementing a new process or system for employee recognition without the proper communications, branding, or cultural messaging can greatly hurt its chances for success.

If you take the time to get your company on board with a new, streamlined system for employee recognition, people want to know the process was put in place as an authentic and exciting way to recognize others. Consider supporting your process or system with an integrated communication plan, just as you would think about external messaging for your company's core brand. Think through questions like: What do employees need to know about recognition? What about management? Should clients participate? Is this generating excitement and love for our culture? The focus on these initiatives should aim to engage the team rather than the possibility of them viewing it as just another thing. If you choose the right partner and focus on what employees really need, this will be a simpler call of duty, putting HR and leadership in a better position to meet the needs of today's workforce.

Autumn Manning is executive vice president, general manager for YouEarnedIt.

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"Collage of successful business team" image via Shutterstock.

Autumn Manning is Executive Vice President, General Manager for YouEarnedIt, a web- and mobile-based platform that drives employee recognition and engagement for stronger cultural and bottom-line business results. Autumn led the Austin company's...

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