Recognition Separate from Rewards

CLO Roy Saunderson discusses leader-driven recognition strategies, how organizations must embrace training to create change and the biggest benefits of social recognition programs.

Roy Saunderson

A decade ago, Roy Saunderson issued a challenge to himself: to write consistently, because “writing causes you to think differently,” said the CLO of Canada-based Rideau Recognition Solutions.

In his 12 years with the company (Rideau actually acquired the company he started years before, The Recognition Management Institute, in 2006), he’s made it his mission to train managers in the financial, healthcare and technology sectors on how to provide better recognition, not only to improve company’s recognition practices but to raise key performance indicators for those industries. “That for me is phenomenal, to be able to mesh everything together, obtain an organization’s performance data and synchronize that with the use of programs … to produce better performance results,” Saunderson said.

As for that challenge he instituted? Running his own blog and contributing columns to several industry magazines has him writing about recognition several times a week. “I never thought I could slice an onion in so many slices,” he said. We flipped the switch and interviewed Saunderson about his learnings.

Chief Learning Officer: Tell us about the Recognition Strategy Model you created for facilitating a leader-driven recognition strategy. What was it designed to do and how has it evolved since its conception?

RSM is a framework I use to facilitate the creation of a written recognition strategy. Each year, WorldatWork [a global association for HR management professionals and business leaders] does a story on trends in employee recognition. They’ve been following a number of organizations in their membership that have a written recognition strategy, and it is something like 55 percent. Of those that have one, 95 percent of them have that recognition strategy aligned with their business strategy. Recognition Professionals International has a list of best practices, and their No. 1 standard is having a recognition strategy.

So there you have two organizations saying you should have [a recognition strategy], but no one was really showing anyone how to create one. I created [RSM] from the viewpoint of getting leaders in the room and going through this model consistently to create three things: one, a purpose statement for why they have recognition in their organization; two, philosophy statements on what they really believe about recognition; and three, a plan for how they’re going to improve recognition in their organization.

I first developed this around 2006. I think it has stood the test of time because it is grounded in principles. People are articulating their statements that support these frameworks, and it’s like the “aha moment” when they say, “Yeah, that’s why we’re giving recognition.” Before, you might have had a group of people who were divided on recognition or looking at rewards only. RSM focuses on valuing people’s contributions separately from giving them rewards.

CLO: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in recognition over the past decade?

I’ve seen a better understanding of recognition in separating it from rewards. We’re trying to humanize the more transactional approach of programs. From a learning point of view, companies are seeing there’s a greater need for teaching and educating on how to give recognition. In reality, there are very few courses for managers and leaders on effective recognition, and the intricacies for giving recognition are often neglected. We still have managers out there who say, “We pay them well enough, what more do they want?” or “If I give recognition to one person, what will the others think?” It’s amazing, the attitudinal stuff, but we’re getting better.

We also are getting better at humanizing technology. I’m seeing video introduced rather than just text-based recognition. Social recognition programs are also warming up, and in the future, peer-to-peer recognition will be much more important.

CLO: You mentioned social recognition programs. What does that process look like, and how are they different?

I always like to describe them as Facebook behind your firewall. They follow the same process, where someone can make a comment, but it’s branded to your company. Often you can have e-cards branded with the company’s values or the strategic goals they want to achieve. For example: You might be demonstrating positive communication, and that’s one of our values. So I click on the array of communication e-cards, create the graphic, put your name in and send it to you. I can format the message that I want to send and copy it to other people, or I can also choose to make it public. If it does go public, other people can comment and like it.

We don’t want to undermine the recognition practices of face to face, phone calls and emails — those are all very good. But the benefit of social recognition programs is you can collect data. You know what’s being recognized and who’s receiving it, so you can track that information and hold people accountable for giving recognition — even encourage them to do so. You can also do data mining for what people are being recognized for beyond values and strategic goals. It becomes a real wealth of data that is very social, with no monetary attachment.

Kelsey Ogletree is a writer based in Chicago. Comment below or email