Increase Recognition Inclusivity & Equity Using a Data-Driven Approach

Tanya Fish
Tanya Fish

employee receiving recognition certificate

It’s the most wonderful time of the year when many organizations take time to celebrate company success and standout examples of top performance.

But these celebrations come with an inherent challenge:

How do you celebrate the right achievements and right people in meaningful and impactful ways that spotlight behaviors your organization values?

The Flaws in Top Performer Recognition

In many organizations, top performer recognition primarily focuses on celebrating the top 5–15% of sales employees for hitting their sales goals with a bonus or an incentive trip. This makes sense—these are the people that lead your company in achieving your financial goals. That said, these are the same people who are often self-motivated, so if you stop here, how are you inspiring your sales team to continue to stretch, improve and grow?

But that’s not the only challenge organizations should be looking to resolve. Additionally you should ask yourself how many deserving employees aren’t recognized for going above and beyond to support your strategic priorities and goals. While sellers are easy to rank based on financial performance, how can you be sure you’re recognizing the other employees who have contributed to company success?

Many companies try to recognize employees outside of sales, often through a nomination-based submission-and-review process. While nomination-based processes can surface additional individuals to consider, it’s not a perfect science either. Too often, deserving individuals never hit the voting committee’s radar because nobody took the time to nominate them. What’s more, nomination-based processes can be plagued by subjectivity and favoritism that create a considerable barrier to equity.

To overcome these tough issues at our annual employee recognition event, we decided to recognize our team members in a totally different way that promoted fairness, equity and inclusion.

How ITA Group Used Data to Reimagine Our Recognition Process

Organizations, including ITA Group, are collecting more workforce data than at any other time in history. And, just like we advise our clients, we decided it was time to use that data in a way that could help us mitigate the bias of traditional top performer recognition to uncover the most deserving individuals across our entire organization.

To this end, we analyzed 14 datasets from three different sources:

  1. Our human resource management system (HRM)
  2. Our manager and peer-based recognition system
  3. Our customer relationship management system (CRM)

From there, we used that data, combined it with AI and created a composite scoring model that enabled us to deliver what we call “evidence-based recognition.” The categories we evaluated included:

  • Desired behavior keywords
  • Engagement consistency
  • Recognition quality
  • Client account performance

Using these criteria, we publicly recognized outstanding team members from a diverse set of roles, functions, tenure and levels within the organization.

Why Evidence-Based Recognition Is the Future of Recognizing Employees

By reinventing how we sourced our top performers, we reignited the passion and belief of our employees in our recognition efforts. And nothing shows the impact more clearly than hearing it in the words of employees who helped plan the experience and those who received recognition. 

1. Reveals the Rock Stars of Your Organization

“As the person who leads our annual top performer recognition efforts, I knew it was time for change. I wanted to find the ultimate well-rounded rock stars of our organization, and I knew that data was the way we’d get there. After experiencing it, evidence-based recognition is a no-brainer—it’s fact-based vs. feelings or opinions, and I think we finally gave those rock stars the recognition they were due.”

Trudy Eaton, Sales Effectiveness

2. Celebrates Deeper Levels of Engagement

“By taking a data-driven approach to recognition we celebrated new names in a more objective way. This wasn’t a simple count of recognitions; it was a window into deeper levels of consistent engagement that included metrics that don’t always appear on the scoresheet but are just as—if not more—important.”

Mitch Stearns, Analytics Advisor

3. Removes Bias to Uplift All Engaged Employees

“I’ve been giving recognition for 30 years and always felt awkward about soliciting nominations. Many times, the nomination was based on one moment in time or how the person performed that week. But data-driven recognition took the entire year into account. It removed bias, and it clearly surfaced winners that deserved to be recognized and would have probably been left off the list in a nomination process.

It was amazing going through the process. As our analysts rendered the composite scores, our highest performers jumped off the page. Figuratively, it was like panning for gold and, as the data washed away, our top performers were left shimmering in the pan.”

Rob Danna, VP Sales & Marketing

4. Showcases the Depth of Talent at an Organization

“It was inspiring to witness the surprise and excitement from all winners, especially because data-driven recognition removed any subjectivity from the award process, making it that much more meaningful. So many business units and roles were represented, which showcased the deep talent we have at ITA Group.”

Becca Mataloni, Brand Communications Manager

5. Identifies Under-the-Radar Brand Champions

“To positively change culture, engagement can’t be singularly focused, and that’s what we saw here. Taking a data-driven approach to recognition helped us thoughtfully consider the multiple components contributing to well-rounded engagement. It also helped us create a powerful, unbiased method for identifying champions within our organization—many of whom tend to fly under the radar.”

Bridget Downey, Data Analyst

6. Takes the Perception of Favoritism Out of Play

“It meant so much to receive the recognition in front of my peers, and meant even more that the metrics were fact-based, outcome-driven and objective. The “softness” of traditional recognition programs can (and should) still be a component in day-to-day recognition, but using data to drive larger recognition awards gives all eligible team members a clear goal to march toward and takes any previous perception of favoritism out of play!”

Sarah Kidawa, Senior Strategist

Ready to Learn More About Data-Driven Recognition?

Gartner shared at their ReimagineHR event earlier this month that fewer than 1 in 4 employees feel acknowledged for their contributions. If you’d like to learn more about how data-driven recognition could work for your organization, connect directly with ITA Group's employee engagement expert, Christina Zurek.

Ask the Expert, Christina Zurek

Tanya Fish

Tanya Fish

Tanya’s focus is on creating innovative solutions across industries that engage the hearts and minds of employees to drive better results. She loves inspiring passion in people, something she believes impacts the individual, the organization and the community. Tanya’s past work and studies on organizational leadership in business, employee health and well-being, culture and health insurance guides her unique perspective on driving organizational health and success. Tanya is driven through achievement, learning and empowerment and balanced by time with family and friends, a good margarita and time outdoors.