Article (December-2016)


Program should have power to impact many aspects of business

Uday Tulapurkar

Designation : -   Joint President - H.R.

Organization : -  Aditya Birla Group - Hindalco, Mumbai


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In today's fast paced VUCA world with ever increasing competition an engaged, aligned and agile workforce is one of the biggest assets an organisation can have. Having had a prior experience of working with various sectors across globe including a long stint with I.T industry and from past and current experience of pursuing my career with core manufacturing companies, I believe that ensuring employee motivation is the single most important challenge being faced by majority of companies across all industries. The problem has been further compounded by the challenges of, engaging and motivating employees to perform to their full potential, managing high aspirations and addressing talent crunch of scare skills / business critical roles with changing workforce dynamics.

Organizations across the world clearly identify the need to improve engagement and keep devising innovative methods to increase employee engagement and encourage employees to bring their full potential on an on-going basis,but there is little consensus on which methods and strategies are most effective.

Looking specifically at Rewards and Recognition,a well-implemented 'Rewards and Recognition program'has the power to impact many aspects of business from engagement, morale, to productivity and even retention.  Employees Recognition is a highly effective and proven strategy for improving employee engagement. Rewarding and recognizing those who work hard to generate value for the organization and keeping these set of employees motivated for doing the same on a continuous basis finds greater relevance today than ever before.

Among the motivation theories that were suggested so far, Maslow's Need Hierarchy, Herzberg's two factor theory and Reinforcement theory, point towards the composition of Reward and Recognition framework, which mainly states that, rewards and recognition can lead to fulfilment of high order needs like Esteem and Self Actualisation; Performance is obtained through rewards in excess to what is required to be given per terms of contract of employment, rewards should be coupled with desired performance objectives and absence of reward can be a way to discourage unwanted behaviour.

However, the practical challenges while implementing the framework goes way beyond the propounded theories. Most of the employee recognition programs typically revolves around service longevity, significant performance, achievements of stretched targets, team work with collaboration etc. For example wrt service awards, no. of years of service put in including at retirement, what's really a right time frame of duration for long service is also debatable. I had seen (and was recipient too) of a service award for 3 years, 5 years, 7 years, 10 years….its endless and is contextual. The long service awards can additionally have the risk of criticism as it has no relevance to recipient's performance, attitude and conduct.

These programs also are designed to reward / recognize some significant achievement of goal/KRA called a kind of significant outstanding performance, star performer, key achiever or types. The associated risk that such awards can have is that they are mostly in line with their job requirements. In other words the way people are being recognized is largely aligned to what people are already expected to deliver anyways.

In almost all these programs, the reward is in terms of cash, gifts and cards, recognized with certificates. Also these programs are event based or are calendared rollouts with less visibility to others, may not be to entire organization. It's observed often that rewards in cash and kind are forgotten after certain short duration and have no recall plus after certain time it becomes expectation and matter of right, a kind of entitlement. While the recipient employees may like it at the time of receiving it, the effort is not going to be incremental or innovative. Hence it is not valued much and eventually the program loses its value, besides organizations having spent a lot of money.  

For a reward like "Best Employee of the Year" types, it becomes pertinent to compare and normalise performances across functions to decide the winner. Same is for rewards which are intra departmental wherein the performance and efforts in terms of contribution, are exactly not comparable and hence relative worth becomes debatable, thus have chances of reducing its motivational power. Therefore, these inter department and across organisation rewards have the challenge of getting into so calledorganizational politics and criticism of favouritism which can again lead to a deserving individual not getting his deserved reward thus leading to demotivation. In terms of workplace collaboration, rewarding individuals can run into having the risk of discouraging teamwork, as individuals seek to outperform each other, rather than work together to achieve targets and have the threat of creating disharmony at workplace.

Lastly, most organisations usually have a cross functional team for selecting the final winner of various awards which aims to have uniformity and normalisation across functions. However, the deliverables of service functions like say HR, Legal or Finance, is different from that of the marketing or operations functions which are not same in terms of quantifiable norms and then opens up the criticism of subjectivity and at times even favouritism if the criterion is not communicated clearly.

Overall, while rewards can certainly provide short-term motivation and drive and it generally does not drive long-term engagement, a loosely designed and poorly implemented employee recognition program can have the effect of decreasing motivation and can have negative impact on employee morale and engagement. The success actually lies in how it is executed with continuous revamp to make it real time & relevant to the context and it must be continually invested into to make it succeed on an on-going basis.