Gamification…HR are slow so do they need help?

One area of HR innovation I am becoming increasingly interested in is in the notion of ‘gamification’. Gamification involves ‘the use of game elements and game design techniques in a non-game context’ (Deterdinget al., 2011, p9).

Whilst gamification is proving popular in many arenas, its use is slow to be adopted in HRM/talent management. This is not surprising. A Spring 2013 study and annual survey of 130 HR executives (the Global HR Barometer survey) by CapGemini Consulting revealed that the overall digital maturity level of HR processes is low and that HR is lagging in the use of digital technologies generally. They found that 75% of HR and talent managers believe their companies are behind the curve in the use of internal and external social networking technologies, with only 26 of Fortune 500 companies offering a mobile-optimized job application process and only 26% of talent acquisition leaders reporting that their organization uses workforce analytics well during the hiring process. Very few organizations have established best-in-class digital processes to interact with current and potential employees.

The CapGemini Consulting report takes a positive stance on gamification, reporting that such techniques incorporating the effective use of digital platforms can dramatically improve learning outcomes, and ‘enhancing employees’ ability to learn by as much as 40%’. NTT Data uses gamification to build critical leadership skills among its employees. Their “Ignite Leadership” game ‘enables employees to experience a variety of leadership scenarios and offers them the opportunity to learn more about new management subject areas and the role they aspire to. It allows them to collaborate online with their peers, get instant feedback and be recognized for their game — all the while increasing their visibility as potential leaders’ (2013, p5). Impressive results have been reported, with the “Ignite Leadership” game leading to a 50% increase in the number of employees taking up team leadership roles, compared to traditional training and coaching methods.

Let us look a little closer, though. NTT Data actually offers gamification processes to clients, so it is hardly surprising that they have success. Here is an item from their web pages:

Strong business performance depends on motivated and engaged stakeholders. That’s why adoption of gamification to boost productivity, encourage collaboration, and problem solve is on the rise. In fact, Gamification uses game design principles to modify or drive employee or customer behavior through meaningful incentives, a sense of purpose, and fun. Yet, for gamification to be successful, organizations must have clearly defined business objectives and a roadmap for application deployment and adoption.

NTT DATA can help. Our gamification team, made up of game designers, application developers, and behavioral psychologists, creates highly engaging experiences that can change the game in core areas of your business, including IT, finance, HR, and marketing.
We combine proven experience in enterprise IT strategy and development with innovative and creative insights about how to change behavior using game mechanics, such as leader boards that encourage friendly competition, points and rewards that motivate employees and customers, and avatars that encourage collaboration.

We work with you to plan and execute your gamification strategy, from objective-setting, game design, and proof of concept to the development and hosting of your gamified application, using our Ignite Game Platform.

Ignite is a robust and configurable cloud-based gamification platform that enables us to quickly configure and host a gamification solution that maximizes ROI for your organization.

So, once again, HR/talent managers behind the curve? We know there are reasons: HR is always seen as an on-cost so getting funds for innovation is difficult; current HR systems are not integrated well to other organisational systems; senior management get very nervous about social media and other technologies like gamification impacting on the employer brand and lack of data drive insights as the norm preclude innovative development of technologies for HR/TM (see CapGemini report for more detail, 2013, p6+). As we can also see from NTT Data’s blurb, developing HR innovation systems in areas such as gamification may revolutionise performance management and appraisal and other areas of talent management, but it takes a highly specialised, hybridised disciplinary team to carry out the design, development and implementation work.


CapGemini Consulting (2013) ‘Using digital tools to unlock HR’s digital potential.’
Digital Transformation Research Institute, Accessed 5 February, 2014 at

Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khalled, R. and Nacke, L. (2011) ‘From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining Gamification’, in MindTrek ’11 Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, 28-30 September 2011, Tampere, Finland, pp. 9-15.

NTT data, company web pages on gamification at:

Salcu, A.V. and Acatrinei, C. (2013) Gamification applied in affiliate marketing, Case study of 2Parale. Management & Marketing Challenges for the Knowledge Society 8 (4) pp.767-790.

Narratives people live by

Today in church the preacher’s approach was one we have come to expect in terms of structure, including prayers, hymns, bible readings, sermon and prayers of intercession. Also included were the usual biographical introduction and several personal narratives as illustrations. After one hour we knew his personal circumstances (married), details about his grandchildren and the stages they were at in school, his personal work history (ex-lecturer in science) and how many aspirin tablets you could get out of a large bag of aspirin (50,000). He also analysed two bible readings and linked them to the narratives as he went along. Impressive.

So what were his talents? In knowledge terms he knew many scientific facts, had a good memory for biblical references, narrative capability and presentational capability (although his slight nervousness reduced any flair or charisma there might have been there).

This Sunday in church the preacher drew upon many personal narratives to link to the biblical meta-narratives we all knew. By the end of the one hour-long service, through his interspersions of personal stories and narratives, we knew his personal details (married, retired science lecturer, grandfather and his sadness not to have seen his one child actually come into tne world) and how many aspirin tablets you could make out of a large bag of aspirin chemical materials (50,000).

For organisational researchers, narrative analysis is well established within studies of organisational life. A church can be taken to be an organisation, and their preachers are their ‘staff’ for whom storytelling is integral to their ‘work’. The work of scholars such as Boje, (2001), Gabriel (2000) and Rhodes and Brown (2005) are useful here. Narrative and storytelling are useful tools for human interaction (Herrmann, 2011), they have been used to examine shared sense making in both classic cases (Orr’, 1996, 2006) and contemporary studies, such as ‘Picture Perfect? Exploring the use of smartphone photography in a distributed work practice Katrina Pritchard and Gillian Symon in Management Learning (published online 20 May 2013 DOI: 10.1177/1350507613486424).

Another aspect of the preacher’s personal narrative was the surprise story about his angst at missing the birth of his child.  Critical life events can involve a reframing of one’s very value system – what is important in our lives.  In organisational life, crucial events call for managers to learn what has been situated in practice, maybe for some time, and taken for granted by the person and their colleagues in the organisation. We need to be aware that these crucial events offer, often triggered by life-changing situations/conditions, offer valuable experiential learning (Kolb, 1984 is an oft-cited scholar here) or, as other put it, situated learning, which emphasises learning within the work context.

Situated learning claims that our understanding of learning can’t be isolated from the social context where organisational practice is enacted but we can also argue that learning can’t be isolated from individual’s life condition where reframing is often required.

Writing deadlines

My fixation today has been about writing deadlines…my own and those of my professional doctoral students. My own because I am a week late returning reviews of other academics’ journal articles and others because missing deadlines on doctoral documents can have a catastrophic impact on the eventual result….even to the extent of missing the final ‘drop dead date’ for doctoral submission of the final document(s).

Here are some comments provided from Richard Nordquist entitled ‘Writers on writing’ (

I know that a deadline can be both life and death to a piece of writing and that death is sometimes preferable. It depresses me utterly to see children being forced to finish a piece of writing when they’re sick of it, lacking in inspiration, and getting negative feedback in writing conferences. No one forces me to finish my writing, and I’m a published writer, so why should any writer be ruled in such a manner by someone who doesn’t own the writing anyway?
(Mem Fox, Radical Reflections: Passionate Opinions on Teaching, Learning, and Living. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993)

I do not know any writers who write without deadlines, or who write at all before there is a self-imposed or external deadline. There must be some, but they are few indeed. Whenever I stop giving myself a deadline–a minimum number of pages by a certain hour on a certain day–then I stop writing. Without deadlines I do not write.
(Donald Murray, A Writer Teaches Writing. Houghton Mifflin, 1985)

Anything with a deadline is automatically more important than something without.
(Rowena Murray, Writing for Academic Journals, 2nd ed. Open University Press, 2009)

If you work alone, you really need to want to write because it calls for self-motivation . . .. I once read that 80 percent of writers need a deadline and only 20 percent don’t. If you are writing on spec, without a deadline, you’d better want it.
(Aline Soules, “Networking and Serendipity in Publishing.” Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook, ed. Carol Smallwood. American Library Association, 2010)

Deadlines and money. If I didn’t have a deadline and never received payment, I wouldn’t write at all.
(Fay Weldon, interviewed by Alan Stevens. MediaMasters: Insider Secrets from the Big Names of Broadcast, Print and Social Media, ed. by Alan Stevens and Jeremy Nicholas. Bookshaker, 2009)

One huge aid to the writing-rewriting dynamic is the deadline. It forces savage action. Like form or design, the deadline is not a prison to creation. It offers a promised release from the self-created prison of indolence, of not writing.
(David Morley, The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing. Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Thank God for deadlines. . . . You need a deadline and a beastly editor who insists that you keep it.
(Ann Haymond Zwinger, “Field Notes and the Literary Process.” Writing Natural History: Dialogues with Authors, ed. by Edward G. Lueders. University of Utah Press, 1989)

Carole Tansley

Lessons from an ad man

I have Steve Boese’s blog post delivered every week and he makes some great comments about talent management, and here he talks about that well-known leader of the North American advertising agency, David Ogilvy, and what fourteen years of running his ad agency taught Ogilvy about what ….the ‘top man’ in the organization should consider his primary responsibility:
[Ogilvy said] ‘After fourteen years of it, I have come to the conclusion that the top man has one principle responsibility: to provide an atmosphere where creative mavericks can do useful work.’

Steve comments:

‘Like much of the insights in ‘Confessions’, Ogilvy doesn’t really knock you out with how incredibly profound or ground-breaking his thinking on management was. But if you pause to consider that he was postulating about this idea of management as an enabler of creative accomplishment back in the early 60s then the observation seems a bit more meaningful.

Face it, 50 years later it is pretty easy to find any number of management and leadership gurus and though leaders advising the very same thing. Find the best, most creative and talented minds. Carefully construct an atmosphere where they can and will be motivated to work on what drives them. And finally, be brave and smart enough to stay (enough) out of their way.

A simple recipe for success, no?

Ogilvy had it figured out in 1960. How long do you think it will take the rest of us to catch on?’
..obviously, creatives are the main talent pool in the advertising industry but it’s a good point to reflect on for other industries.


Why your identity will soon be a total construction..


I read this on TLNT Daily’s email today in their article called ‘9 ways HR and recruiting technology will evolve over the next 4 years’ and it was pretty chilling:

Social capabilities integrated into the platforms

When a candidate applies for a position, a HR manager or hiring manager will see the application and their social profiles as an integrated aspect of their application. For example, it will show what company the candidate worked at, the recommendations they received while at that position from his or her LinkedIn profile, recent tweets, and Facebook wall posts. (by Sudy Bharadwaj, Jackalope Jobs).

Go and visit your Facebook pages… have a Spring clean!


Framing theory

In my latest research I aim to further theoretical and empirical understanding of organisational ambidexterity at functional level by using frame analysis as a way of examining exploration and exploitation activities in the implementation of electronic HRM systems for mobilising strategic HRM. That’s a lot of concepts…in this post I will attempt to make sense of frame analysis.

2013-01-03 08.51.01



Frames can be defined as value-laden rhetorical resources (Hamilton and Bean, 2005) consisting of ‘a quality of communication that causes others to accept one meaning over another’ (Fairhurst and Sarr 1996: xi).


Erving Goffman was an early proponent of framing.  He undertook empirical examination of the structures of human experience in everyday life as he tried to make sense of their lived, meaningful experiences. He agreed with W.I. Thomas’ famous dictum, that “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” and so he studied people’s attempts to construct `the definition of the situation’. More specifically, Goffman argued that most who exist within a particular `definition of the situation’ usually do not create the `definition’.

Goffman’s seminal work, a book called ‘Frame Analysis’ has been called both interesting and a very long, dense and at times a rather trying and difficult read. Goffman defines a `frame’ as a collectivity of `definitions of situations’ that together govern social events and our subjective involvement in them. He employs a myriad of concepts embedded within a multitude of frames from which the reader can view a complicated and complex social world. In his book ‘Frame Analysis’ he presents a number of concepts which may be used by the researcher, including: the `frame,’ `primary framework,’ `keying,’ and `fabrications.’

A `primary framework’ provides meaning to events that would otherwise be meaningless and consists of two classes, “natural and social.” The “natural” class concerns frames that are “purely physical” (e.g. Goffman provides “the state of weather as given in a report” as an example). “Social frameworks” on the other hand provide a basis for understanding events that include agency, aim, will, and controlling effort of human intelligence.

`Keying’ consists of an “openly admitted” transformation of untransformed activity and concerns a systematic reworking of something that is already meaningful within the primary framework, therefore enabling social actors to determine what it is that they think is really going on (e.g., Goffman lists the following as basic keys employed in our society, `make-believe,’ `contests,’ `ceremonials,’ `technical redoings,’ and `regroupings’). For instance, style (an example of a keying): consists of features of particular social actors who then through “the maintenance of expressive identifiably” systematically transform or modify a strip of activity. `Fabrications,’ like keying, consists of a reworking of something that is already meaningful within the primary framework but unlike keying concerns the intentional effort of one or more persons to manage activity so that one or more individuals will garner a false belief about the definition of the situation. A “strip of activity” then is perceived by social actors in terms of the rules of a primary framework (social or natural) and that the perception of such activity provides a model for two basic transformations (keying and/or fabrication). These organizational premises then sustained in both activity and the mind of the actor, collectively comprising what Goffman calls the “frame of the activity.”

The “frame of activity” contains the subjective aspects of social life whereby human actors constantly adjust their behavior based on the actions (and subsequent interpretations) given off by other actors. An empirical examination of meaningful activities taking place within the frame of activity as outlined by Goffman in his nearly six hundred page masterpiece allows us to then develop a very basic understanding of the social production of reality. This book is not recommended for the novice sociologist but is geared for the more serious student (e.g. those considering graduate school or those in already in graduate school). A more suitable `beginners’ Goffman book might be The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) which provides a less systematic (and theoretical) approach toward the mundane interaction in everyday life.


Blumer, Herbert. 1969. Symbolic Interactionism. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Brissett, Dennis and Charles Edgle (eds). 1990. Life as Theater: A Dramaturgical Source Book. New York, NY: Aldine de Gruyter.

Fairhurst, G. and Sarr, R. (1996) The Art of Framing: Managing the Language of Leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hamilton, F.and Bean, V. (2005). ‘The importance of context, beliefs, and values in leadership development’. Business ethics: A European Review. 14 (4).

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York, NY:Doubleday Press.

Lofland, John (ed). 1978. Interaction in Everyday Life. Beverly Hills, CA: University of California Press.

Digital notebooks

Over the years I’ve tried a number of different types of notebooks for research and found the paper kind to be less than satisfactory. These days the iPad has revolutionised my notetaking and I have a variety of apps which all work to a greater of lesser degree. I began with Evernote and found their functionality to be wonderful, from having my own email to send research emails to my ‘electronic filing cabinet’ to the capability to clip web pages straight into the app. Great stuff.

Evernote logo



I don’t know if it is because I have been on holiday for Christmas and New Year but this week my reflective mood seems to have sent me to read up on all things from a personal perspective. For example, a book I particularly like is Carolyn Ellis’s methodological novel ‘The Ethnographic I’…This is a fictional account of a year in the life of a university course she teaches where she combines both methodological advice and her own personal stories into a learning vehicle. She presents her students’ narratives as they try to focus and craft their research projects and thus begin to understand what constitutes the auto-ethnographical research method. ‘Through Ellis’s interactions with her students, you are given useful strategies for conducting a study, including the need for introspection, the struggles of the budding ethnographic writer, the practical problems in explaining results of this method to outsiders, and the moral and ethical issues that get raised in this intimate form of research. Anyone who has taken or taught a course on ethnography will recognize these issues and appreciate Ellis’s humanistic, personal, and literary approach toward incorporating them into her work’ (Amazon review).


I also like’Autoethnography as Method’ by Heewon V. Chang. She presents a guide ‘on the process of conducting and producing an autoethnographic study through the understanding of self, other, and culture’. Advice is given on’steps in data collection, analysis, and interpretation with self-reflective prewriting exercises and self-narrative writing exercises to produce their own autoethnographic work. Chang offers a variety of techniques for gathering data on the self, from diaries to culture grams to interviews with others, and shows how to transform this information into a study that looks for the connection with others present in a diverse world.’


Following on from this I clicked on a feed to my Twitter account (@HR_innovation) and read about auto-analytics – a term new to me but quite an interesting concept. The blog post was called ‘MANAGING YOURSELF. To Stand or To Sit at Work: An Auto-Analytics Experiment’
by Suzy Jackson at .. An interesting article on measurement of self-analytics..she ‘wondered if I could use the burgeoning field of auto-analytics — collecting and analyzing data about myself — to make my life more active without having to join a gym.’
All of this collection and analysis of research material about experiences of living from your own perspective can only illuminate our understanding of our world to good effect (but it isn’t an easy way of doing research, so beware).


Six tips for improving thesis documents

Today I read a draft of a document that a student on our professional doctoral programme sent to me and thought how often certain themes are continuous flaws in the ‘production’ of a thesis.  Here are six tips for helping those drafts along:

1. Always have a ‘working’ title

The document draft had no title at all so it was difficult for me as a reader to orient myself to the topic the student was covering and I wondered if the student could actually say what the topic was, if asked.  this was a wasted opportunity to consider what the focus of this research. Those who do not relay this in writing in theses will not ‘feel’ the focus as researchers.

2. Produce an abstract in every draft. It helps the researcher and the reader to orient the research.

The same points apply with regard to producing a large paragraph of what the research is about conceptually, what the aims and objectives of the doctorate overall are, what the research questions are being considered in this document, what methods were used and what the empirical focus is, what was found and what the contributions are to current knowledge generally on the topic and the doctorate as a whole in particular. Look at this blog for advice on writing an abstract..

3. Introduction: Begin with the conceptual.

In this document the student did this and it was really great to be oriented as a reader straight away in the introduction.  Unfortunately the introduction then swung between different concepts. Keep the conceptual/theoretical focus clear. Then tell the reader what is known and what is to be covered in the document.

4. Introduction: say what the research questions are and explain how the document is structured to show how the research was conducted, what was found and what the elements mean to the overall study.

5. ‘Chapter’ headings. In this document we needed headings and sub headings to be used as signposts to the reader of what is to come next.  We did not have ‘Research methodology and methods’ as a heading at all so it was rather a shock to come across an extensive description of the case study organisation. Headings and sub-headings are great signposts to the flow of the argument. Use them thoughtfully and also think of them as drafts…. sometimes we put them in then forget to change them when we have changed the text underneath the heading to have different meanings.

6. Diagrams. Always label diagrams. In this document there was nothing to say what the diagrams meant and there was no explanation underneath.  Never ever put in a diagram and leave it up to the reader to make the connection between your study and the content of the diagram.

This was a very early draft of a document and there were no findings, discussion or conclusions. That is not a problem.  Well done to this student for beginning to write and having the courage to send it to me for comments.

That’s it for now. Keep writing and crafting. you don’t always need your supervisors’ feedback to continue. Read the text aloud to yourself to see if it makes sense.


PS one professor with an impressive writing record said that he ‘touches’ his research piece five times a day.  This might be excessive but some doctoral students do the touching so infrequently.  The document won’t write itself!

What incentivises you to get out of bed to go to work in the morning?

Why we work and our motivation to work relates to satisfaction of both intrinsic and extrinsic elements to satisfy ours needs at work and these are different according to personal circumstances. Clearly, financial reward is paramount if we have no other sources of income and there have been some stunning examples lately of financial rewards. For example, Facebook’s financial rewards to its employees! The company granted about $796 million in restricted stock units to employees.


But people want more from work than money and it is argued that incentive plans should play to the intrinsic need of the employee rather than some external driver.  For example, software engineers are motivated by working with the latest technology in meaningful projects where they can gain the respect of their peers (see Common non-financial intrinsic rewards cited by people to make them more motivated at work include:

  • Personal achievement opportunities, such as gaining personal fulfilment for jobs well done and  feeling as if they are contributing to something larger than themselves and to achieve personal missions they accomplish through meaningful work.
  • Social elements, such as the camaraderie and interaction with customers and co-workers
  • Career opportunities for advancement and to accomplish life career goal
  • Interest in the work itself, perhaps making something of value to customers or serving customers
  • Opportunities for personal growth though learning, training and development as well as through increased responsibilities at work.
  • The giving of personal time and appreciative attention from the supervisor is one of the most cited by staff as most rewarding and motivational for them at work. We want to be valued for a job well done by those we hold in high esteem. Being patronised or demeaned is one of the greatest turnoffs – and it only needs to happen once. There is much research done on those ‘small moments’ which negatively impact on a working relationship.

Motivation is individual and diverse and sometimes having a positive experience of one of those things can be offset by having a negative experience in another area.

For example, if someone has five of those motivational factors on the above list but their supervisor is not appreciative of their output.


Given that what people want from work is dependent on the organisational context, the situation, depending on the person, their needs and the rewards that are meaningful to them, there are a number of elements known from research about what people need to have in order to feed their motivation to work:

  • We need to know we control our own work: by being allowed to have an influence on organisational decisions, by having clear and measurable goals; knowing that we are responsible for defining and completing key task and being recognised for achieving these goals.
  • We want to be communicated with on both small and important matters in a timely way: including understanding the reasons for decisions made by managers; opportunities to participate in meetings and project opportunities and understanding where the organisation is and how our accomplishments meet those.
  • We want to be given opportunities for personal growth and development: this includes training and development; clear career paths; being included in succession planning and experiential learning.
  • We want our managers to lead us well: People want clear expectations that provide a picture of the outcomes desired with goal setting and feedback and an appropriate structure or framework.


Why provide employee incentives?

It is said that engaged, motivated employees work harder, smarter and are more productive. A well structured employee incentive scheme can aid employee retention by engaging them and elevating their productivity and service levels to new heights but it can also help a business attract new employees by enhancing the brand image – engaged employees will talk positively about their workplace.


  • Supercheques or vouchers which can be cashed in at shops
  • Landmark Awards designed especially for loyalty, long service and other special occasions.
  • Money – pre-paid visa cards
  • menu systems incorporating gift vouchers and gifts from categories such as food and drink, jewellery and watches, sports and leisure, photography, sound and vision and a comprehensive selection of lifestyle products.
  • Technology products, such as ipads, iTunes cards
  • Adrenalin-packed experiences such as Bungee jumping, helicopter and Warbird flights, Yacht, powerboat, RIB and Zapcat thrills or driving excitement in supercars, rally cars and off-road vehicles.
  • Enhancing mind, body and soul: such as eco retreats, theatre breaks and casino experiences; Makeover treatments, spa days and detox therapies and popstar singing experience and Champagne tea at somewhere like Blenheim Palace.


  • Many incentives such as food negatively impact on health plans of employees and requests to stay and work on impact on health and well-being. Downside: ‘Why does my boss buy me chocolates as an incentive when I have just begun a health diet?’
  • Others are innovative but with potential to fail?:
One organization incentivise staff to get their timesheets filled out and turned in on time – the digital ‘Drink Time Sheet’.  The idea? Set up a refrigerator full of free beer, but have it electronically locked, and linked to the office’s timesheet system. Once all the week’s timesheets are submitted, a siren sounds, the refrigerator unlocks, and the staff can celebrate the end of the week with a few Friday beers.

Here, no account is taken of those who do not drink alcohol for faith or any other reasons so this can be alienating. It can also exclude those who work part time, have a negative impact on health and maybe mean employees are over the limit when they drive home.


CBS News reported on four ways in which incentive schemes can go wrong:

1. Don’t incentivize workers to do things they feel they cannot do. If staff are already working hard to sell the firm’s products but there is no improvement then a review of sales approach or a review of the commercial viability of the product has to take place rather than trying to incentivise staff to sell more. Goal: Sell more. Result: Salespeople look for new employment.

2. Don’t use incentive schemes to address problems managing poor performers. Sometimes there are situations at work where a few people are not behaving as expected. Rather than go to the offenders, management may set up an incentive scheme which aims to get everyone working in the required way but instead institutes new rules that negatively impacts upon everyone.

3. Don’t try and incentivize workers to do something that they believe violates their values. For example, rewarding doctors for seeing more patients de-professionalises doctors.  Many see spending less time with patients to move them through a production process means not practising good medicine. Some may deliberately see fewer patients. Goal: Increase productivity (number of patients seen per doctor). Long term result: Lower productivity.

4. Don’t introduce an incentive plan as a way of getting an unpopular new strategy in. For example, if people have joined a company thinking they are doing one type of work where they can work in their home town then an incentive plan is introduced to do work on the other side of the world. Goal: work abroad. Result: No increase in working abroad and low motivation among the sales staff.


Employee recognition should occur throughout the year.

Employee of the month recognition programmes can cause alienation and discontent for those who are working hard and are not being publicly rewarded. Everyone who contributed to a success should be rewarded. Example: one firm had a high turnover. The solution: Use non-cash forms of employee recognition to recruit and retain employees. Employees were rewarded for referrals of qualified employees who stayed more than three months. Daily recognition rewards were issued for being on time, for opening the store in the owner’s absence, and for outstanding customer service. Employee retention increased during the first six months. The owner’s store became identified locally as ‘the best place to work.’

Employee recognition approaches and content must also be consistent. … but not become expectations or entitlements.

Be as specific as you can in telling individuals exactly why they are receiving the recognition. .. specific feedback in employee recognition reinforces what you’d like to see the employee do more of.

Offer employee recognition as close to the event you are recognizing as possible. When a person performs positively, provide recognition and a thank you immediately to capitalise on the employee feeling good at that time and enhancing positive feelings and raising confidence.

Communicate the details of the incentive scheme…from the launch of the programme and throughout to the end.

Measure the results of employee incentives. for example, through increased performance.

Reward managers for providing a supportive environment.


Firms should always deliver on incentive promises. One motivated Hooters employee in America got less than she bargained for. She entered a competition to sell the most amount of beer to customers thinking she would get a new Toyota car, she won and was taken out to the car park to be presented with a Star Wars toy. She is currently suing her employer.

Watch out for employee playing games with the system

Most incentive plans involve numbers, increased numbers of sales, increased number of cars off the production line etc.  All such production targets can be ‘gamed’, for example selling something on the grounds that it can be cancelled later or getting someone else to do the selling for you for a smaller bonus.

Incentives can discourage risk taking, creativity, and taking on challenges because the task is now just something that stands in the way of gaining the prize

Incentive schemes should not set employee up against each other and cause rifts in the workplace. Setting up employee competition can backfire and can rupture relationships by destroying trust.

Employee failure to win a reward can be demotivating and impact on performance.  

How good employee recognition programs work – can your company do it?

  • Employees work best if given concrete goals and objectives that they and their supervisors can both measure and manage. Clear, understandable criteria for recognition are important.
  • Generation theory and life cycle theory warns us that we need to understand what motivates each employee. What motivates  a Gen Y student part-timer struggling with tuition fees isn’t what a full-time career track Baby boomer store manager or line manager views as recognition (See the CIPD/Penna research ‘Gen Up’).
  • Good employee recognition programs allow for many winners.
  • Successful recognition awards are often individual surprises rather than multiple awards saved for an announced event. Instead of employees focusing on winning an award, they are focused on just doing well at their jobs.
  • All employees at all levels should be recognized for good work, including supervisors and managers.
  • Effective programmes don’t have to be elaborate and complicated to operate successfully. Once criteria are set and recognition awards match employee values, administration can and should be simple.
  • Versatile recognition programs include tangible and intangible awards for all types of employee successes, from concrete and visible contributions to subtle influences on the company’s successes.
  • To be effective, acts of employee recognition should come from the managers who hire, fire, appraise, coach, and correct employees on a daily basis. Recognition programs can’t be left to top executives at boring monthly meetings.
  • Top executives who offer simple, verbal expressions of gratitude are recognizing employee performance with as much impact as physical rewards offer.


Here are examples of five often-overlooked recognition opportunities:

  1. Relationships. Recognise customer relationship building as well as customer sales. Building strong relationships with prospective clients can lead to future sales, ongoing business development, and client retention when they do close the deal.
  2. Teamwork. Don’t overlook hidden “stars” within your support staff. Ignoring the people who helped sales is a clear way to make team players feel underappreciated and become resentful.
  3. Effort. Recognise frequency of sales as well as major amounts. Not every new account brings in the kind of revenue that extremely large accounts do. Yet it takes just as much effort, if not more, to close many smaller accounts, and juggling multiple accounts is also time consuming.
  4. Opening Doors. Recognise and/or rewarding the person who opened the door in the first place to avoid feelings of resentment that their time and effort wasn’t appreciated. Sometimes a sales visit doesn’t lead to a sale for your particular department, but maybe it opens a door for someone in a different department of your company and leads to them making a sale.
  5. Loyalty. Recognise someone’s ability to retain clients to encourage behaviour changes that will benefit your entire organization. Whilst bringing in new business is often rewarded, staff are rarely praised for retaining clients. Many employees, in customer service, administration and accounts who work hard every day, often going the extra mile or two, just to keep those existing customers happy.



It can cost two to three times more to replace a worker than to retain the employee. For example, Taco Bell found that 20% of the stores with the lowest turnover rates enjoy double the sales and 55% higher profits than the 20% of stores with the highest employee turnover rates.

Employee recognition is a thank you for doing something that benefits the goals of the organisation. 

Employee of the Month programs can fail because it is exclusive and often the same people win over and over again.

What do you incentivise? Long service or good performance?


There are six elements said to make a successful implementation of an employee incentive programme:

  1. Have clear objectives about what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Draw up a budget for short and medium term.
  3. Allocate responsibilities for the scheme.
  4. Decide who the incentive scheme is aimed at.
  5. Allocate timesales for start and end date of the scheme so that participants know how long they have to achieve their goals.
  6. Decide on which incentives are to be used.


It also doesn’t harm to give an  award but the research suggests don’t make this reward too large or something that will take employees away from what they should be doing and engaging in gaming instead. People like to receive medals and trophies as they have lasting meaning.  Look at the Olympic athletes!


Kohn, Alfie ‘Punished by Rewards’. Mariner books