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Recognition for the Recognizers
By Bill Catlette

I spoke last week at the annual conference of Recognition Professionals International, held in Newport Beach. To be perfectly blunt, when we booked the speech nearly a year ago, I wondered if this might be a gathering of folks who blow up the balloons at departmental birthday parties, and flip the burgers at the company picnic - a lightweight affair if you will. In a word, I was wrong, way wrong. Rather, this is a serious, business-minded crowd, committed to leveraging the power of purpose-driven recognition and rewards to improve business outcomes. The audience was a mix of practitioners (those who manage from within the recognition programs of an organization), and vendors, who provide a realm of recognition solutions as wide as the imagination can conjure.

My bet is that these folks will have the wind at their back for the foreseeable future. For one thing, it seems likely that an ailing economy will cause many organizations to "lean down" their spending in the traditional comp and benefits areas for a while. We will be more reticent than usual to add to the fixed cost structure. With growing acceptance of the notion that a focused, fired up workforce really does lead to improved outcomes, we will, however, likely see enhanced focus on performance-based recognition and reward programs.

In his May 2 quote of the day, business guru Tom Peters seemed to agree. "The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity." Hence, I predict something of a coming out party for this group of professionals.

The 2nd reason for the increasing stature this profession is experiencing is the growing realization that, as potent a tool as recognition and rewards can be, their effect is vastly diluted unless administered on a customized, highly personalized level. In other words, we're beginning to realize that one size really does just fit one, and thus, people are best recognized in the manner, frequency, and currency of their choosing. The blizzard of combinations and permutations associated with doing this for a workforce of any size suggests that most organizations will want to bring in the professionals, ergo RPI Executive Director Christi Gibson and company should find themselves in greater demand than ever.

There is another reason these folks should thrive, however, and it has less to do with market forces than it does with plain old service. Partner, Richard Hadden and I speak at a lot of association conferences, and I dare say I've not run into another association where the Executive Director and the board are as involved and service conscious as these folks. Throughout the conference, Christi was constantly touching base to ensure that needs were being attended to, and when they weren't she saw to it that the matter was addressed, jumping personally into the breach if need be. As a case in point, when the on-hand supply of books at my book signing was depleted, she took my guest room key and personally schlepped a case of books from my room to the exhibit hall. Experience suggests that detail conscious, service-centric behavior of this sort is usually well rewarded.

While at the conference, I had a flashback to a time when I received a five-year service award with a previous employer. One afternoon as my boss finished chewing my tail for something I've long since forgotten, he casually tossed me a plastic box containing my service award pin. As the little box arced through the air, he offhandedly said, "Here, I'm supposed to give you this." On my way out of his office, as I passed his administrative assistant, I slam dunked the little gold pin into her trash can, silently vowing not to be there to receive another such award. I wasn't.

I bring up that episode because it has everything to do with discretionary effort, or what we call Oomph. Recognition and rewards are vital to a person's daily decisions whether or not to go the extra mile. But they have to be genuine. A thoughtless act by a manager (at any level) can negate an otherwise potentially powerful process and completely turn a person off. I know, it happened to me.

Want a more engaged workforce? Want the performance benefits of creating a great place to work? Bring Bill Catlette or Richard Hadden in to speak or conduct leadership training for your organization, or to keynote your association's next convention.

Contact Bill (901- 853-9646) or Richard (904-720-0870), and let's talk about how we can make your next meeting a colossal success!

Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
Contented Cow Partners, LLC

phone: 904-720-0870
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