by Anne Marie D. Lee | May 05, 2008
This month, Incentive features the first column in an ongoing series called [email protected], by Christi L. Gibson. Currently the executive director of Recognition Professionals International (RPI), formerly NAER, Gibson has focused her attention on successful business management since 1975. To welcome her to our magazine and provide an in-depth look at the value of the information readers can look forward to finding in her column, we've also chosen her as the subject for this month's Incentive Interview. Here is a Q & A with Christi Gibson:

Q. How did you become involved in employee recognition?

One of my favorite quotes is "Opportunity is missed by most people because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work," by Thomas Edison. I became involved in employee recognition by working. Everyone that has a job is involved in employee recognition, either through giving recognition to their employees or by receiving recognition from their employer. The sad fact is most of us have been on the non-receiving end.

Having worked in the corporate world and owning three businesses, I've seen the effects firsthand of what happens when employees are recognized for accomplishments that promote the company's goals. Employees are engaged, customer satisfaction increases and profits rise. In addition, employees don't leave, they enjoy coming to work and productivity increases.

Q. Is employee recognition a tactic or philosophy?

The short answer is yes; it's both. In order to achieve a culture of recognition, an organization must first align its recognition program to its vision and mission.

When a manager steps into an employee's office, the employee should not inwardly cringe. Many employees do not see upper management except to be reprimanded. On the contrary, employees should be able to look to their employers as mentors, guiding them to be the best employee possible.

Q. What is RPI?

Recognition Professionals International (RPI), formerly NAER, is an international not-for-profit association of employers, existing to study, develop and promote systems that enhance employee engagement and performance through employee recognition. Eighty percent of our members are human resources, compensation and management professionals. Twenty percent are providers of recognition-related services and products.

Q. How does one create a "culture of recognition"?

A culture of recognition is achieved in an organization that establishes and maintains a strategy that promotes employee recognition at all organizational levels and is fully documented. Each element of the program should be focused on identifying employee behaviors that advance the organization's goals and values, and recognizing and reinforcing these behaviors.

A comprehensive recognition strategy includes a three-dimensional approach that promotes day-to-day, informal and formal acknowledgment of good performance.

Q. What role do incentives play in recognition?

Incentives can be a solid component to a successful recognition program. An effective program includes Intangible Recognition (verbal and/or written praise in acknowledgment of individual or team achievement), Awards (cash or tangible items for individual or team achievement) and Celebrations (planned or spontaneous events in recognition of individual or team achievement)—categories that are not mutually exclusive. Intangible Recognition may involve a certificate or other token of appreciation. Celebrations may consist of an informal team lunch or an organization-wide event. Successful recognition programs use a variety of motivational tools and communication methods to maximize every opportunity to positively reinforce behavior that is consistent with the organization's goals and values.

Q. Do you think cash is an effective incentive? Why or why not?

Actually I do not think cash is the best incentive. Cash many times is seen by the employee as part of their paycheck or compensation; however, the presentation method may change this perception. For example, if the cash is given in a formal ceremony by the CEO for a specific employee need.

Q. In creating a successful incentive program, what are some basic points, or "best practices" that a company should keep in mind?

They must set their recognition policies and methods in place in six categories. These are the RPI Best Practice Standards:

• Recognition Strategy
• Management Responsibility
• Recognition Program Measurement
• Communication Plan
• Recognition Training
• Recognition Events and Celebrations
• Program Change and Flexibility

Q. What do you think are the top three most effective motivators for employees, and why?

I believe the top three motivators from the Gallup Organization's core elements are important:

• In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
• My supervisor seems to care about me as a person.
• The mission/purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.

Life is short. We should all feel fulfilled in what we do and where we work.

Q. What's the best form of recognition you've ever given and received?

Without question, I would say the best form of recognition I've given is day-to-day respect and courtesy. They may say it's the spa treatments at the end of a long conference.

The best I've ever received is the same, the day-to-day respect and courtesy. But I must mention, I once was given a check for my son's college tuition. It wasn't a large amount of money, but it was one of the most touching forms of recognition I've ever received. It was timely, specifically targeting my needs, and given for behavior tied to the organization's mission.

Q. If offered any trip or merchandise of your choice, what destination and product would you choose?

I live in a house built in 1930 and love the charm of older homes. Along with the charm is the upkeep, so right now I would love a new furnace. That is a bit of a tall order, so along that same line, a home improvement gift card would be appreciated.

As far as destination for a trip, I'll take Paris. That would be Paris, France. Not Paris, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, Kentucky, Missouri or Mississippi. Who knew there were so many?

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