Red-Carpet Recognition Programs – 2014 Trends to Watch

ITA Group
ITA Group

As industries go, employee recognition probably isn’t the place to look for ground-breaking innovation. Trends come on slow and require time to gain traction and work out kinks. Widely seen as an HR responsibility, recognition practices are a little unique. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. Companies are less likely to line up behind another’s example in this space, because every company has its own individual culture. Remember, market prevalence does not mean best practice. Organizations absolutely need to experiment and look at approaches that support their mission and vision, and align with their culture. That being said, I think there are some influential factors to consider when looking at the future of employee recognition.

For 2014, developments over the past few years will continue to evolve and become more refined and effective. Let’s look at this in two ways: Technology and Philosophy/Approach.

Leveraging Technology in Recognition

Technology isn’t the answer to all recognition issues. But at the end of the day, it needs to be an enabler, not a barrier to an organization’s recognition. The key to this transition is how organizations leverage integrated technology platforms for administering, communicating and measuring recognition efforts. Simply, an integrated platform puts an organization’s various non-cash incentive and recognition programs in a central location—one platform. The integrated approach provides corporate oversight, yet offers local flexibility. It can also decrease the overall resources needed to execute and measure successful programs.  

Remember when organizations transitioned to a Learning Management System (LMS) in the Learning and Development space? Before having that central LMS system, each department or location may have been providing its own training, with no consistency or ability to track across the organization. Companies face the same set of challenges when it comes to recognition programs. That’s why the idea of an integrated recognition platform is becoming more and more appealing.

Data and Process Integration

I continue to see opportunities for integration between performance/talent management processes and employee R&R programs. Consider this… if a company has recognition programs built on organizational core values or job-critical competencies, activity in those programs can provide valuable data and insights into performance/talent management. Who is actively engaged? Who performs and contributes consistently? They could be upcoming leaders. R&R programs can tell a compelling story when it comes to collaboration, innovation and leadership.


Technology facilitates better measurement. You can quickly and efficiently see program metrics, but more importantly, you can see a program’s impact on your organization as a whole. For example, “the safety program paid out $200k in spot awards last year” is typical of the reporting we’ve seen in the past. What you really want to know is how the safety program decreased accidents, impacted workers compensation claims or increased productivity. Leveraging integrated technology to measure recognition effectiveness will continue to be a priority. And effective measurement will help to further position HR professionals as true business partners. 

Philosophy & Approach

The line will continue to become blurred between recognition programs and incentive programs, and that’s OK! Recognition programs can impact and motivate a larger number of people. And by nature, recognition happens after-the-fact, so it’s difficult to rig the system. When it comes to incentive programs, you have the “expectation” that you are required to manage. Many companies are concluding that the best solution is one that marries concepts from both the incentive and recognition disciplines.

Two additional concepts will continue to have a real impact on organizations’ recognition philosophy and approach. 

Social Recognition

An increasingly multigenerational and geographically dispersed workforce will continue to drive socialization in R&R efforts. Recognition will continue to be talked about, making it more effective overall—giving you a bigger bang for your buck. Public recognition and acknowledgement are proven to motivate far better than cash. 

Another reason socialization is catching on? Social recognition can also capture and articulate behaviors or values that might be difficult to describe without context. One of your organization’s core values may be Innovation or Customer Service, but what that looks and feels like can be dramatically different industry to industry. A social component helps employees see and understand what these values mean and look like.  

Gamification or Game Mechanics

Gamification may be a new term, but the principles have been around for decades. The basic idea is to play to an individual’s internal motivation and drivers. I put Gamification under the Philosophy category because organizations can gamify a program or initiative with absolutely zero technology. Things like leaderboards, badges, levels, statuses, countdowns, lotteries and sweepstakes are all examples of game mechanics. Gamification (with or without technology) will just grow in popularity because the tactics can be cost-effective ways to engage and align your audience. 

Motivation is complex and often requires us to get down to the individual level to really understand. Recognition will continue to get personal in response. Change and innovation might come at a slow pace in the R&R space, but forward motion continues nonetheless, with employees and organizations as the ultimate benefactors.