Article: How to align employee appreciation with business goals: Expert insights from Ryan Jensen


How to align employee appreciation with business goals: Expert insights from Ryan Jensen

Though India boasts a thriving workplace culture, evolving employee needs necessitate a shift in leadership focus.
How to align employee appreciation with business goals: Expert insights from Ryan Jensen

Ryan Jensen is the Senior Speaker and Workplace Culture Strategist at the O.C. Tanner Institute. In an exclusive interview with People Matters, he explored the key areas of the Global Culture Report 2024, which covers insights from over 40,000 employees across 27 countries.

Ryan highlighted that while India ranks among the top nations for thriving workplaces with essential talent magnets, leaders need to focus on what Indian employees need today. He emphasised that the majority of Indian workers value skill development opportunities in the workplace, along with an empathetic leadership approach and genuine recognition efforts from the organisation.

Key India  findings from the global culture report 

For years, the O.C. Tanner Institute has closely monitored the annual changes in six key elements, also known as "Talent Magnets," that define thriving workplace cultures: purpose, opportunity, success, appreciation, wellbeing, and leadership. The most recent study found that India is among the highest-scoring nations in these "Talent Magnets." 

Especially with the rapid growth of MNCs establishing satellite offices here, increasing importance is placed on the role that leaders must play in building a thriving culture across diverse teams. Here are three key areas of focus for leaders to consider from our research:

#1 Lead with practical empathy: Employees today need more than just listening or feeling. They are yearning for practical empathy – a practice of care, grounded in understanding and backed by action. Taking a practical approach to empathy with proper training, resources, and boundaries will eliminate empathy fatigue and create a culture where both employees and leaders feel supported and connected.

#2 Provide purposeful, meaningful recognition: Ironically, we found that when Indian employees work for companies with integrated recognition in their workplace culture, they are 16 times more likely to perceive their workplace culture as empathetic. Therefore, leaders need to express genuine appreciation by recognising their employees' everyday efforts, exceptional achievements, and long-term contributions.

#3 Develop skill-building opportunities: When considering a new job, 91 per cent of Indian workers value skill-building opportunities. Our research found that when leaders offer flexible, inclusive skill-building opportunities that allow employees to explore their interests, it can transform how team members view career development and growth in their workplace. Additionally, skill-building opportunities improve the odds of employees feeling a sense of belonging, inclusion, and community. We also found that employees are four times more likely to be satisfied with their skill-building experience when leaders recognise them both during and after completing a training programme. 

Significance of recognition within a work culture

Our research shows that employees today want to be acknowledged and recognised more than ever. They need to feel gratitude from their peers, leaders, and the organisation itself to know they are on the right track, valued, and doing great work. Recognition must be frequent, timely, and authentic.

The real power of recognition in transforming culture occurs when an organisation moves it from being transactional to becoming a purposeful and meaningful part of the everyday employee experience.

Our research shows that when recognition is truly integrated into an organisation's culture, employees are 9 times more likely to feel the organisation cares about them and provides the support they need to navigate change. However, only 21 per cent of organisations score high in integrated recognition, indicating significant opportunities for improvement.

We found that the best organisations focus their recognition programmes in three distinct areas by (1) encouraging effort, (2) rewarding results, and (3) celebrating careers. Each of these areas differs in visibility, frequency, and types of awards given; however, each area has distinct benefits. When combined, they help organisations achieve a critical mass where employees are giving, receiving, and observing recognition as a natural part of everyday culture.

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Leaders ensuring employee recognition efforts align with business goals.. 

An important component of recognition is ensuring that employees understand what great work looks like and that their accomplishments are aligned with the company’s core values. This focused recognition helps reinforce the behaviours and results that are most important to the company.

For example, if an R&D company has "agility" as a core value and wants to build a culture that champions innovative results, they can reinforce this by fostering a culture of empathy and nimble resilience. By consistently emphasising agility and regularly rewarding outcomes advanced through idea-sharing, collaboration, and transparency, they can encourage and reinforce these values. Then, leaders and peers should be empowered to recognise innovative efforts and accomplishments, with the option to align those awards with agility as a core value.

Additionally, leaders should find ways to give employees the flexibility to approach work in ways that work best for them. When leaders do this, the odds of their team members seeing them as nimbly resilient increase by 148 per cent. This is important because our research found that when employees perceive their leaders as nimbly resilient, it leads to higher engagement (+582 per cent) and a stronger sense of fulfilment in their work (+233 per cent). In this scenario, employees will be even more determined to continue delivering innovative results that align with the company's success and future growth..

How can leaders ensure recognition is not generic, infrequent, or failing to acknowledge personal impact in a timely manner? Here are a few key recommendations from our research to ensure recognition initiatives are sustainable:

  • Craft recognition experiences around the individual needs – Recognition needs to be personalised to each employee in a way that aligns with their styles, relevance, and preferences. When done right, recognition transitions from a transaction to a meaningful and purposeful experience. For example, publicly recognising an employee in front of their entire department might be greatly appreciated by one, while another might prefer a more private, intimate setting.  
  • Leaders need to frequently recognise employees – The more our people see senior leaders giving meaningful recognition frequently and in ways personalised to the individual's preferences, the more they will feel a cultural shift and understand the importance of expressing appreciation through timely and genuine acts of recognition.
  • Continually improve recognition programs and technology – Organisations need to regularly assess their recognition initiatives to ensure they are fresh, current, and, most importantly, capable of reaching their entire employee population.
  • Recognition consistently seen throughout the organisation – Recognition isn’t just a leader’s job and should be more frequent than quarterly or annual events. Ensure genuine recognition is consistently given at every level of the organisation, encouraging daily efforts, rewarding above-and-beyond achievements, and acknowledging contributions over time.
  • Frequent peer-to-peer recognition – Peers often see more than leaders do, and frequent recognition with personalised notes of appreciation goes a long way in building a culture of collaboration, inclusiveness, and trust across the company.

Lastly, with consistent efforts, recognition starts to spread and becomes contagious. It becomes a way of life and a natural response to great work. It transitions from something we do to a reflection of who we are, becoming more sustainable in the long term.

Leadership efforts in translating employee appreciation into meaningful actions

Appreciation is an emotion, but feelings alone aren't enough. Without expressing approval and gratitude through purposeful and meaningful recognition, employees won't know how you feel about them. The O.C. Tanner Institute's research drives our Culture Cloud suite of products and services, empowering leaders to recognise frequently, specifically, and meaningfully. This approach celebrates everyday victories, above-and-beyond achievements, and career milestones, allowing employees to thrive and do their best work.

Future of employee recognition amidst technological advancements and remote work dynamics

The key to success in the coming 5th industrial revolution is blending the best of human and technological strengths to elevate the experience for employees, organisations, and society at large. Recognition is central to building people-centric cultures, but achieving the necessary scale requires leveraging recognition technologies. These technologies enable individuals to add a human touch to appreciation and recognition, regardless of the job or location of any given employee.

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Topics: Leadership, Employee Relations, Talent Management, #HRCommunity, #HRTech

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