With Employee Recognition, Maybe it’s Time to Change the Metric

Recognition is essential for HR professionals -- especially younger ones. (Photo by istockphoto.com)

Artificial hearts have waxed and waned in popularity in the medical community over the decades.

Most artificial heart designs are, essentially, pumps with many moving parts than can break or wear out. A new invention, however, shows the most promise for success with only one moving part – a rotor. This artificial heart (or ventricular assist device as it is appropriately called) does not wear out.

This VAD, however, is facing a major challenge of acceptance in the medical community for one reason. People using these devices have no pulse. That rotor “whirs” instead of pumps with a beat.

What’s the challenge to the medical community? According to one of the inventors, Dr. Cohn: “If you examined her arteries, there’s no pulse. If you hooked her up to an EKG, she’d be flat-lined… By every metric we have to analyze patients, she’s not living.”

Change the metric!

If the technology itself is promising for extending life with less impact on the patient, then it’s time to change the metric!

How is this relevant to HR? As Dr. John Sullivan discussed in a recent TLNT post, HR is often wedded to metrics or program measures that are of no interest to top executives. For example, with recognition and reward programs, common metrics are amount of recognition given, number of years of service milestones achieved, or similar. It’s time for HR to change the metric!

Strategic employee recognition programs track and report in real-time on metrics the CEO cares about – impact on retention, performance, productivity, and engagement.

For CEOs who understand the power of company values and company culture, like Tony Hsieh of Zappos, strategic recognition also measures and reports on the understanding and demonstration of individual company values by employee, team, group, division and organization as a whole. With this level of detailed reporting, leadership can intervene in areas of low recognition to retrain or take other actions as necessary. This lets leaders proactively manage their company culture.

Stop doing things “the way we’ve always done it!”

Dr. Cohn, the co-inventor of the new VAD, explains why their new approach is a breakthrough in the medical community: “Most researchers are too focused on trying to recreate the pulse, because all animals have one. If you remove the pulse from the system, none of the other organs seem to care too much.”

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Dr. Cohn and his colleague may have made heart transplants obsolete all because they decided to stop doing things the way they’ve always been done. (And in this case, that “always” goes back to the very first heartbeat.)

Similarly for HR when evaluating employee recognition programs – to move to truly strategic employee recognition that can move the needle on metrics CEOs care about, HR pros must reevaluate “the way they’ve always done” employee recognition. Traditional years of service or employee of the month programs simply do not do enough to regularly reinforce needed company values and strategic objectives in the daily work of employees. This is what is necessary to impact the bottom line, not a delayed loyalty program or popularity contest experienced by the very few.

I’m reminded of the classic Apple advertising campaign – Think Different – in which the faces of the inspirational flashed across the screen, from Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets, to Albert Einstein.

There is no denying the immediate and long-lasting impact of the creations of these people who dared to try something new. Perhaps it’s time HR stopped trying to “take the pulse” of the organization and instead listen to it “whir.”

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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