by Andrea Doyle | March 18, 2013
It's no secret that companies that recognize their employees are more successful than those that do not. According to a Globoforce study, companies that tie recognition back to company values, make it peer-to-peer, and invest approximately 1 percent of payroll into recognition, see increases in retention, enablement, engagement, and even financial results. Peer-to-peer recognition is powerful and invaluable, and programs that are "social" and make it easy for an employee to recognize another employee are on the rise.

More Mobile Programs
Mobile apps, social media, and 24-hour instant access, seven days a week, are now must-haves in today's incentive and recognition programs, many of which are cloud-based. "Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have helped the incentive industry evolve by adding a whole new tier for how people can be recognized," explains David Pellissier, vice president of information technology at Hinda Incentives, a leading reward and recognition company. "Recognition is no longer just one-on-one. Social media has helped extend the relationship beyond that. Being able to share a recognition experience with friends, family, and co-workers via social media adds even more value to the experience, further driving the behavior you're trying to shape. Other employees see this as positive reinforcement, and are inspired to pay it forward within the company by repeating the recognition process. This is especially beneficial in building better work relationships and improving company culture."

Pellissier says that Hinda's recognition programs have been in the cloud for years. Its online system, called infinitE, is an all-in-one platform that can be customized and often includes a peer-to-peer component.

Instant Feedback
Gen Y, also known as the Millennials generation, is adding to the popularity of peer recognition programs. This group is used to getting immediate feedback on what they do. "There's an inherent desire to be validated and recognized," explains Sarah-Beth Anders, product marketing manager for Achievers, and a member of Gen Y. "I went on a sales call with a colleague today and we openly gave each other feedback when we were finished. Our online points-based employee success platform helps facilitate such communication."

San Francisco-based Achievers offers online services that enable employees to use social software to recognize performance and results, and reward each other with points that are then redeemable for meaningful items. "Achievers combines all of the popular mechanics of social media to create software that employees love to use," says Anders.

Achievers was established in 2002 while Founder and Chairman Razor Suleman was in college and initially started selling branded apparel. The company evolved when Suleman graduated into corporate branded goods. Eventually, he came to the realization that no one works harder for a coffee mug. Instead, employees wanted iPods - thus, Achievers was born. "We customize programs for our clients to have happy, loyal, engaged employees who drive happy, loyal, engaged customers which, in turn, drives shareholder return," explains Anders.

That approach is working. In 2011, Achievers facilitated 813,740 peer-to-peer recognitions. In 2012, that number grew to 2.06 million. Similarly, in 2011, Achievers gave 44,685 recognitions from managers. In 2012, there were 432,761.

Remote Workforces
Not only has a younger workforce contributed to the increase in demand for employee incentive programs, but so have changing work environments. Many people no longer work in corporate headquarters, and with these programs, managers can see how those working from remote locations are doing. "We are now in a knowledge- and service-based economy. It's not about being a cog in a wheel, yet so many companies still operate as if they are in the industrial age," says Anders. "People want immediate feedback, yet more than 80 percent of companies offer service awards that do not recognize immediate performance; instead, they provide standard awards that every employee receives at different intervals of time. Recognition needs to be specific, timely, and meaningful. Social software allows for people to recognize one another from any device at any time ensuring that positive behaviors are repeated."

Crowdsourced Momentum
Unlike incentive programs that are very objective and numbers based, employee recognition programs are fluid. They are open ended and subjective, explains Derek Irvine, vice president of client strategy and consulting for Globoforce, and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. "[With a peer recognition program] any member of the workforce can spot something they want to call out and celebrate," he says.

As employees are asked to do more with less, employee recognition programs take on added importance. "They are one of the most valuable and quick return-on-investment tools that a human resources practitioner has in his tool kit," says Irvine. "Our clients often see a double-digit improvement in employee engagement scores in six to 12 months."

Employee recognition is no different than a traveler logging onto TripAdvisor to access the wisdom of the crowd before a vacation. "Social recognition has the same potential," says Irvine. "Crowdsourced momentum amplifies the recognition going on in the company." A typical Globoforce employee recognition program includes a "news wall" of recognition moments where employees can add their congratulations to the wall, and choose whom they want to recognize publicly.

Appreciation Goes a Long Way
Salt Lake City-based O.C. Tanner, another employee recognition solutions company, recently introduced "iappreciate," a mobile app that enables a user to nominate employees for awards. The free iappreciate app enables managers to create thoughtful recognition presentations, set dates for recognition events, invite people to speak, and even draft talking points and create certificates that are ready to save and print. Users can also send quick e-notes to team members for a job well done, as well as set reminders for important dates, such as birthdays and anniversaries. The future for employee recognition programs is promising, as companies are finding the data they generate to be invaluable. "Senior management sees how the company's culture is being lived out on a day-to-day basis," adds Globoforce's Irvine.