Employee recognition-making people feel appreciated-is one of the key activators of employee engagement. In fact, in my book Employee Engagement 2.0 I show how recognition is a top three creator of Workplace Superheroes, along with the drivers Growth and Trust.
Many best practices for recognition can be gleaned from a company that many in the west are unfamiliar with, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, which operates 93 luxury hotels across India and 16 other hotels in other parts of the world. Even with so many locations, and over 13,000 employees, the Taj still continues to deliver unprecedented levels of service to its guests.
An interesting article in Harvard Business Review, The Ordinary Heroes of the Taj, links the Taj's employee service training to their heroic performance during more than one terrorist incident. Although linking service and rewards practices to performance during crisis seems a bit specious, the article does give a glimpse of just how Taj Hotels makes their employees feel appreciated.
From the HBR article, there are several keys to the Taj employee recognition system:
1) "...expressions of gratitude, senior executives find, must come from immediate supervisors, who are central in determining how employees feel about the company."
The old saying suggests that people join companies, but leave managers. Indeed, the key to any engagement or employee recognition program is in the hands of front line managers. Management guru, Tom Peters, has long preached the value of this corporate position. He makes a comparison to front-leaders in the US Army, "If the regimental commander lost most of his 2nd lieutenants and 1st lieutenants and captains and majors, it would be a tragedy. If he lost his sergeants it would be a catastrophe. The Army is fully aware that success on the battlefield is dependent to an extraordinary degree on its sergeants. Does industry ‘get it'?"
2) "...the timing of the recognition is usually more important than the reward itself."
As obvious as this seems, too many managers seem to pocket their "thank you's" until a later time. The worst hold all praise and feedback until the annual review. A verbal "thank you" done at the time of exceptional work is better than a financial thank you six months later.
3) "...the Taj Group created a Special Thanks and Recognition System (STARS) that links customer delight to employee rewards."
The important point here is that they have a system. Baked into their processes, their training, their culture is a system for employee recognition. Does your company pursue employee recognition in an ad hoc manner, or is there an actual system?
4) "Employees accumulate points throughout the year in three domains: compliments from guests, compliments from colleagues, and their own suggestions."
Although one's manager is the single most important factor in recognition and engagement, she shouldn't be the only one providing recognition. Indeed, appreciation from one's peers can be more powerful, and should also be considered in a broader performance appraisal system.
5) "Crucially, at the end of each day, a STARS committee...review all the nominations and suggestions."
At the end of each day-wow! Talk about a commitment to service, employee appreciation and innovation. If a team of senior leaders meets daily to review the STARS system you know appreciation is baked into the real-day culture of the organization. How often do your leaders think about appreciation? How often do you thank your direct reports, your peers or even (gasp!) your boss?
Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces wins dozens of best hotel awards each year. This success is earned daily by their extraordinary employees, and the extraordinary leaders who are mindful of appreciation and service on a daily basis.