by Mike Ryan | May 13, 2011
The current narrative surrounding employee recognition continues to focus squarely on driving better business results, and rightly so. Recognition fuels engagement, which, in turn, ignites improved outcomes. But with the discussion now geared toward the upside of recognition, what may be getting short shrift is any talk aimed at the technical options that shape and support programs and ultimately determine the impact they have on the balance sheet.

Progressive HR leaders know that a properly designed recognition program can promote cooperation and communication, and change adoption, innovation, and customer care across the enterprise. But the right delivery platform can lower administration costs, align recognition events with strategic goals, enhance motivational impact for participants, and offer stronger diagnostic and control mechanisms for program administrators. The question becomes, “Which solution is right for my needs?” Let’s compare and contrast the three options: in-house built, pre-packaged software and customized solutions, and explore the common misperceptions that surround each.

Myth #1: Internally Built Solutions Are Viable Options

While it is rare to find excess slack within the lean business models of today, some organizations consider using their own technical resources to build their employee recognition or sales incentives applications. The objectives are sound: maximize internal resources and save on costs.

However, most companies reconsider using their own resources when examining some of the following questions in more detail: Would this initiative be taking key resources away from supporting other mission-critical applications? Would any internally developed system contain the advanced technical processes being used by the leading companies of today, and, if not, what are the opportunity costs associated with an inferior tool?

What about ongoing support and future enhancements? Companies usually eliminate the idea of a homegrown system early in the evaluation process, and those that don’t find the answers to these questions difficult to live with.

Myth #2: Off-the-Shelf Technology Applications Are Good Options for Everyone

Plug-and-play recognition applications are marketed as inexpensive yet reliable solutions. On face value, that’s not necessarily inaccurate. They typically cost less to implement and perform consistently along “predefined” specifications. But for today’s complex enterprises, those prebuilt parameters, often touted as a user benefit, usually prove to be too constrictive.

Recognition programs can vary in any number of ways. Start with employee eligibility criteria communicated through multiple human resource information system (HRIS) feeds and factor in authorization or approval processes that can vary across work groups and you begin to get a taste for how the complexities can multiply. These scenarios are commonplace across decentralized workforces.

Highly restrictive, off-the-shelf solutions force sponsors to concede critical design options in order to fit the application’s limitations, and once they go live, those concessions can have serious downstream ramifications. Companies that have watched managers struggle and even avoid the clumsy workarounds required by some canned recognition solutions know how detrimental system bypasses can be to user acceptance.

Myth #3: Customized Solutions Are Not Good Values

As businesses look to “do more with less,” too often the focus is on the “with less” part of the equation. The good news for recognition and incentive planners is that today’s customized platforms offer a higher level of flexibility without the lofty price tags one might expect.

Combining a software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery blueprint with adaptable architecture, today’s advanced applications use proven, standards-based technology at their core but are highly adaptable to accommodate unique organizational nuances. That duality gives organizations the benefit of both worlds: proven technology at an affordable price along with the ability to customize the application to fit their business requirements, administrative work sequences, and workforce hierarchy—even branding parameters.

Organizations that have chosen customized solutions, those built to emulate their organizational structures, have gained advantages that go well beyond economics. These tailored software tools are designed to work seamlessly with the way companies do business, and that translates to the biggest benefit of all—ease of use.

With eligibility and approval processes fully mechanized, sponsoring companies not only see higher rates of utilization across their employee constituency, they report higher levels of accuracy in managing award transitions, which, in turn, strengthens compliance against all policies and rules governing award approvals, issuance, and budgetary tracking. In other words, the “convenience of use” enjoyed by frontline managers results in newfound levels of “insight” for the company.

Processing recognition activity with pinpoint precision (along the organization’s specified rules and parameters) yields data that is highly actionable. Sponsors have deeper views into what’s happening, where it’s happening, and why it’s occurring. This allows planners to more intelligently understand the consequences of their strategies and make adjustments if necessary—a flexibility that’s essential for any organization looking to optimize the impact of recognition in a complex business environment.

As senior vice president of marketing and client strategy for Madison Performance Group, Mike Ryan has worked in the workforce engagement industry for over 20 years and has counseled executives of leading brands such as Citigroup, Mercedes-Benz, and Verizon. Mike has defined program strategies that minimize costs, deliver motivation impact to participants, and increase planning flexibility to stakeholders. He is president of the Performance Improvement Council, a board member of the Incentive Marketing Association, and a trustee of the Incentive Research Foundation.