By: Barbara Bowes

While the last few years have found baby-boomer retirement issues holding top priority, the latest human resource surveys are showing that employee engagement is now taking over the primary lead. In fact, one survey reports that 94 per cent of survey participants indicated that employee engagement was the most important workforce challenge they were currently facing.

Yet, what is employee engagement and why are HR managers so concerned? Employee engagement refers to whether or not employees have a positive or negative approach to their work and to whether or not employees are willing and/or not willing to perform at their best in ways that further benefit their employer.

The reason HR managers are concerned about employee engagement is that engaged employees are known to make a strong impact on business success from a profitability point of view and also contribute to a positive work culture.

At the same time, human resource professionals know that a focus on employee engagement has a spillover effect in that other human resource functions such as performance management, employee recognition and employee retention seem to improve. As well, those organizations that track employee engagement scores are also discovering that their managers are much more effective in developing, providing feedback, recognizing and rewarding their employees.

This is good news from two points of view. First, it confirms that leadership styles have transitioned from an autocratic authoritarian style to one of collaboration, coaching and mentoring of employees. Secondly, it is finally giving credence to the fact that employee reward and recognition programs are not simply that annual warm and fuzzy “must have” event, but do indeed have real return on investment for a business.

If you really think about it, a fully engaged workforce that outperforms other work groups will essentially become your competitive advantage. And, if employee reward and recognition programs have proven to be a big part of successful employee engagement, then it makes sense to strategically implement a reward and recognition program. This program will become a set of guiding principles that will ensure all forms of your rewards and recognition are in alignment with your business strategy. The following steps to implementation will ensure an effective contribution to your employee engagement.

1. Secure leadership commitment – a reward and recognition program must be supported not only by a CEO/president, but also by all the executives and managers in the company. Appoint a program champion to oversee the design, development and implementation.

2. Link rewards to business strategy – your program must be connected to both the needs and expectations of your workforce, as well as to the organizational goals and objectives. Incorporate your company values and goals into the program so that your messages are consistent and employees understand what behaviours are important.

3. Make the program fair and inclusive – a reward and recognition program must be able to impact and motivate all of your employees, not just a set of top performers. This now includes consideration for the interests and needs of the various generations of workers in your organization. Establish your selection criteria so that “justice for all” is perceived by your employees, which in turn will help to develop trust in your program.

4. Design for meaning – consider conducting an employee survey to identify personal interests and suggestions for what would be appreciated in a reward or recognition program. Employees value meaningful rewards that they can get excited about and that motivates them to excel. Work with your employees to help create a personal mission that links with the corporate mission. Form an employee committee to assist management in designing the program. Value all suggestions.

5. Design for choice – with so many different interests and needs in today’s workforce, the best strategy is to allow for choice in the selection of a reward gift. Rewards typically range from an item with the company logo to making a charitable donation in the name of your employees. This will enable you to meet the needs of an intergenerational workforce and one with significant cultural diversity.

6. Simplify the nomination process – ensure the nomination process is not too complicated or time intensive so that people will be encouraged rather than discouraged from participating. Keep your forms simple, and be sure to be consistent and make the overall selection process transparent.

7. Link reward with action – it’s well known that when recognition quickly follows action, you’ll get a lot more “bang for the buck” in terms of employee motivation. Timeliness helps the employee to know why he or she is being acknowledged and why their contribution or behaviour was valuable. As well, your timely recognition will be better remembered and the employee behaviour will be reinforced.

8. Train your managers – managers are typically the people handling the reward and recognition program as well as leading employees toward greater engagement. Train your managers to understand the goals and objectives of your program as well as how to effectively implement the program on an ongoing basis.

9. Promote your program – help employees understand the “what, where, why and how” of your rewards and recognition program. Use multiple communication strategies and media. Be sure that employees understand the “what’s in it for me.” Plan to promote employee success and recognition through your company newsletter or email/twitter messages. Make them a star.

10. Make it a celebration – in addition to making daily acknowledgements, annual performance reviews or sporadic special events, celebrate employee achievements by holding an annual event. Incorporate all kinds of rewards and recognition ranging from retirement to special achievements. Make it a celebration.

11. Measure your results – measuring success through tracking employee satisfaction and employee engagement against your program objectives will give you an indication of success. When management is aware of this annual measurement, you’ll see an increase in accountability and leadership behaviours as well as increase in the application of other human resource functions.

Meaningful employee reward and recognition programs are a powerful tool for engaging your employees and increasing retention. However, a program must be well thought out, fair, transparent and based on corporate goals and objectives that are linked to the recognition and rewards that your employees value.

Source: Employee Recognition Survey, Winter 2012 Report, SHRM/Globoforce; Creating an Effective Reward and Recognition Program, Leadership council, March 2006

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She is also host of the weekly Bowes Knows radio show and is the author of Resume Rescue and Taming the Workplace Tigers. She can be reached at Learn more at

There are a couple of old familiar sayings that summarize some of our communication, recruitment and selection challenges in the workplace. The first is, “you hear what you want to hear” and secondly we often realize that people have a “tendency to oversell their abilities.” All my years of experience allow me to corroborate these statements, as I have seen both of these communication translations create problems in the workplace following a candidate search.

Managers are especially at fault when they attempt to describe their workplaces. One of the first things I do as a search professional is to assist clients in reviewing and assessing their current culture, the current duties and tasks in the job profile and the competencies required in order to be successful. Without a refreshing examination of these details, interviewers have a tendency to reflect back on a former incumbent instead of focusing on future needs and requirements. This results in a skewed overview of a job as well as the organization culture.

At the same time, I know that candidates legitimately make every effort to sell themselves to a prospective employer. While not intentionally exaggerating, many candidates take credit for accomplishments where credit is not truly due to them. After all, leaders have drilled into employees that teamwork is key to success and as a result, many candidates actually lose sight of what they contributed individually versus the overall team accomplishments.

All of these issues lead to the importance of accurately describing the job for which you are recruiting, accurately describing the organization culture and accurately describing the challenges a new employee would face. If this initial information is inaccurate, successful candidates will quickly determine they made a mistake and will regret accepting their new position. As the employer, you will soon see this error in hiring as well.

However, it is rare to see an individual resign after only a few short months. Instead they simply hunker down and do their work, and all the while they are looking for another job. As you can expect, little work productivity and engagement will result and the employer will soon be trying to fill the position again.

This exact situation was recently reported in a survey conducted by Developmental Dimensions International, a US-based research firm. In their study, one in eight new hires was declared unsuccessful with individuals terminating their job in the first year. According to their survey, the number one reason for hiring mistakes was over reliance on manager evaluations. While the survey was not specific, I can say that my experience suggests again that a poor description of the job at hand and an unintentional misrepresentation of organization culture is often a key part of those manager evaluations. The result, of course, is that the wrong person is hired.

Yet equally as important, the survey also indicated that only 30 per cent of hiring managers are skilled at conducting high-quality interviews. In my view, this isn’t unusual since most hiring managers are not conducting interviews on a frequent enough basis and, in fact, many have not conducted interviews in many years.

When managers are inexperienced interviewers, they fail to develop a connection between interview questions and the competencies required by a successful candidate. As indicated earlier, the managers simply review an old job description and don’t pay any attention to identifying a set of competencies required for the job. Then again, many managers may rely on gut instinct alone rather than assessing the candidate’s responses to objective interview questions.
What executive search professionals have to offer in this case is objective views, consultation and advice on getting the right candidate the first time. We focus on identifying the key competencies, the key challenges a candidate might face, the nature of the organization culture and that of the department in which the candidate will work. I also focus on the reporting structure and the leadership style. Once this is complete, I am able to draw up a set of competencies that will ensure success in the role.

At this point, I apply my expertise to developing questions for the interview. The best questions ask for examples of direct experience including what was the situation, what was their role, what action did they take and what was the result. When candidates are able respond in a systematic and logical way, the interviewers will be able to more accurately assess the best cultural fit and the best fit of skills.

By Patricia Barbato

Insomniac Press

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Written in a down to earth manner, almost as the author is speaking directly to the reader, Inspire your career is full of wise counsel from a young lady who progressed quickly in her career. Using personal experience and reflection exercises, the author takes readers on a journey that touches on the many areas new workers confront early.

For instance, she provides advice and tips on understanding the bigger picture, the importance of avoiding assumptions, and the importance of recognizing and dealing with personal frustrations. Finally, the author deals with various transition issues that individuals will face in their career. This is an enjoyable and helpful book especially for new job entrants so don’t let the dense internal layout detract from the value if offers.