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Employee recognition is going social on corporate intranets

By Lesley Young

A 23-year-old TD Bank branch employee hits a nearby burger joint for lunch. Standing in line, four teenage boys mercilessly tease the one boy who has a TD bank card (boys will be boys). The employee pipes up and says, “You know what, that’s OK, because today his lunch is on TD.” A colleague, upon hearing the story, signs into TD Bank’s corporate intranet social recognition program, and submits the story under a feature called “Wow Moments.” The burger buyer receives an email containing the story, which is also pub­lished on the intranet Wow Moments wall, and on strategic intranet newsfeeds and banners, as well as his own intranet profile page. Soon employees are praising him online and in-person.

“More than 70 comments were added to the original story,” says Steven Green, president of Toronto’s TemboSocial, the software behind TD Bank’s recognition program. “Even the CEO wrote on the wall. So here’s a 23-year-old guy working in a small, regional branch saying to himself, ‘I can get points toward another iPod, or I can build a personal legacy where people discover and validate my real value to the organization, and grow my career.’”

And therein lies the ultimate benefit of social recognition via corporate intranets: it’s a powerful way to recognize employees, and by example and reach, motivate everyone else. “Intranet social recognition programs, namely peer-to-peer programs, have been around for a little while,” says Manda Cuthbertson, director, operations and delivery with employee engagement consultancy Blu Ivy Group in Toronto. “The challenge is to create dynamic content in order to give employees a reason to go to the intranet and engage in two-way dialogue.” (See “Need Fresh Ideas?”)

That’s not the only concern, says Green. How you implement the technology matters. Organizations may want to keep it basic and leverage a simple discussion forum, says Toby Ward, CEO of intranet website developer Prescient Digital Media & Social Business Interactive. Best Western uses Appreciation eGrams, a program that allows employees to send each other personalized e-cards. “It provides a quick and easy way for employees to say thank you,” says Barbara Bras, vice-president, human resources. Since the program began in 2011, more than 2,300 Appreciation eGrams have been sent, averaging almost three per business day from just over a thousand corporate employees.

More robust platforms are available through organizations such as Prescient and TemboSocial or Vancouver’s Intranet Connections. They generally cost $12 per employee per year to run, says Green, and are out-of-the-box programs, meaning they adapt easily with existing intranet systems. While a company’s reward and recognition program vendors may offer a social recognition platform, Green advises organizations to make sure it’s integrated directly into the corporate intranet versus run out of a separate rewards and recogni­tion intranet. You don’t want employees to click away from the corporate intranet, he explains.

Another important way to leverage social recognition is by building in the company’s culture, says Carolyn Douglas, founder of Intranet Connections. TD Bank’s Wow Moments wall requires contributors to file stories under core value drop-down menu categories (e.g., customer service, ambassadorship, etc.).

Last but not least, remember the importance of drawing employees into the intranet. Identify and establish employees who are deeply connected with the organization so that they will be your champions—constantly looking for new ideas and leading content development. Douglas adds, “Your intranet is only as good as the ideas you put on it.”

Need fresh ideas?
Carolyn Douglas, founder of Intranet Connections in Vancouver, offers these approaches:

Manager-to-peer recognition: Create a distinctive way for leaders to give social kudos to staff, such as unique graphics or award names.

Socialize friendships: Douglas believes friendships between employees motivate high-performance work. You can foster those connections on your intranet by promoting events, such as workshops, lunch and learns, or even an intranet murder mystery.

Socialized 360° feedback: “Directors, managers and co-workers can all contribute to a real-time performance review on a secured area of the intranet,” says Douglas. This is a more narrow form of social recognition, but powerful nonetheless, she adds.

Game Off!
Beware of using gamification in social recognition programs (turning kudos into a point-based game), caution all the experts. Not only does it de-humanize the experience—the exact opposite of what social recognition should be about—it’s a dead-end after prizes are awarded.

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