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Power of Habits in Building a Culture of Recognition
Mandar Bhagwat | February 20th, 2018, 7:59 am

We all understand the importance of employee recognition in achieving company objectives and creating an energized workplace. Many research findings have linked recognition programs to better business results along with improved people metrics. Culture of recognition in the workplace can build engagement and boosts morale in employees. However Employee recognition programs have traditionally been focused on offering recognition top down based on specific milestones and is traditionally offered at a pre-defined periodicity. Such recognition programs make the process of recognition a bureaucratic one while also taking away the spontaneity in the recognition.

So how do you maintain a balance between the traditional top-down approach while also adopting to the culture of continuous feedback? How you can create culture of recognition in the workplace? We believe one of the ways companies can re-design their employee recognition programs in this changing business environment is to look at how workplace habits are formed and apply those lessons in redesigning their recognition programs.

How Habits are formed

In his book, the power of habits, Charles Duhigg, offers us a framework to understand how habits work. In this book he talks about how researchers at MIT have discovered a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit. This loop consists of 3 parts – a cue, a routine and a reward.

The cue or the trigger tells your brain to shift to automatic processing (something you do without thinking about it). This cue then triggers a predictable behaviour which in turn creates a predictable reward.

So when we are looking at re-designing our recognition programs we need to consider these 3 neurological aspects and how we can build these in the recognition program to help our employees build positive habits that aid in creation of a culture of recognition.

This means you have to identify cues that help employees make recognition part of their routine. One of the cues that organizations can use successfully is making recognition social and visible within your organization. By creating a social platform for people to share recognition received or given, ensures that people engage with the story of recognition and start to ask themselves – hey that’s really cool, what can I do to get that? Or who can I recognize for similar things?

Leaders would play an important role in this process as they start to recognize people in public and social forums and also sharing recognition received by the organization or individuals from professional bodies outside. Every time such positive news is shared with employees they are likely to feel energized and would naturally feel how they could contribute or have contributed to the recognition.

The other critical aspect in redesigning the recognition program is to identify and then systematically remove the red-tape involved in traditional recognition programs. Most traditional recognition programs would typically ask the manager to fill out a form with justification for giving the recognition which is then reviewed by a committee who then chooses the best amongst the nominations received. This process effectively recognizes a small percentage of your workforce and tends to focus on the big wins. In reality we all need the stroke of positive emotions as regularly as possible and this process can do more harm than good. By democratizing the process of recognition, one can focus on even small wins and reward people in small ways. This ensures the behaviour of expressing recognition is an easy process for most people. In the traditional process, the effort to recognize someone is greater sometimes than the rewards one may receive in return.  This easy democratic process of recognition is thus easily adopted as part of the routine.

Your Focus determines the results

Here we advice that you focus on the process and be obsessed by the process, as focusing on the “continuous” in the feedback will ensure that you are focused more on the consistency and quality of the keystone habits that help you create a spiral of other good habits.

Remember in your efforts to form these new “workplace habits” the energy required to get people started and stay focused is going to be high initially while you would have to continue to expend some energy to ensure the habits are staying relevant with changing business needs and environments. By making the whole process of recognizing the cue, doing the behaviour and getting the reward lot easier and social, organizations can fundamentally transform the way they receive and give recognition to employees.

The more time you spend in identifying the keystone habits and creating enabling structures that reward people to follow those habits and keep the process simple the more chances of your success and achieving the intended results. You might also want to read Employee recognition is a catalyst for engagement and alignment

There are many benefits of implementing culture of recognition in the workplace. Multiple research findings have told us; organizations that invest in recognition as a strategic priority experience less turnover, higher customer satisfaction, greater productivity, less absenteeism and a definitive edge over their competition. We are sure that if you are able to form this keystone habit loop you are well on your way to people and business success.

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