Recognize the Middle?

On February 12, 2016, in HRExaminer, John Sumser, by John Sumser

photo of man walking over fallen log in winter scene in article, recognize the middle by John Sumser

If the organization were a beaker full of water over a bunsen burner, accelerated internal gratitude systems would be the way you bring things to a boil.

The surging tide of ‘recognition platforms’ is raising interesting questions. Companies like Globoforce, Achievers, O.C. Tanner and anyone who sold plaques and Cross pens to corporate clients are busy trying to become software companies. Their offerings often include some peer-to-peer mechanism for saying Thank You to other employees.

A powerful thing happens when everyone in the company starts saying thank you to everyone else.

If the organization were a beaker full of water over a bunsen burner, accelerated internal gratitude systems would be the way you bring things to a boil. When people are encouraged to offer each other recognition, the tempo and tone of the company intensify and get brighter. In my experience, the people get more bug eyed and smilier.

For me, it feels like all of my teeth are going to get cavities at the same time. Kindness and sweetness have never been the core elements of  my organizational experience. High volumes of the stuff aggravate my blood sugar levels.

In a very thoughtful article on the Globoforce Blog (What Happens to Me When You Are Recognized), Derek Irvine, Globoforce’s Executive VP of Strategy & Consulting, lays out the case for recognizing everyone in the organization. Take a moment to read it.

Essentially, Derek provides a research foundation for the following three part recognition strategy.

  1. Recognize A players to energize them and the people who want to be like them;
  2. Recognize B players to inhibit feelings of envy towards the usual suspects and make excellence seem achievable; and,
  3. Use analytics to identify and amplify performance trends.

He calls this a strategy of inclusion. It’s very interesting to suggest that not being a top performer is a factor in the inclusion conversation. What a clever way to introduce a discussion about balancing inclusion and differentiation.

Someone else might call this the “every kid gets a trophy” (EKGaT)  strategy. Irvine says,”When no one is left unrecognized, discouragement may be hard to come by.”

My bet is that this really works well some places and fails miserably in others. (You may notice a theme here). It’s hard to imagine an incentive structure that works in all settings.  The EKGaT strategy works well in places with large workforces of people who do the same job.


There is no research I can find on the long term effects of incentive driven organizational stress on employees. We simply do not know what happens when the temperature of the organization is raised and held there. You can imagine heightened episodes of stress related behavior, on and off the least for some.

There may be a saturation point. If everyone is recognized, the fees to recognition companies certainly go up. But as is the case with any incentive, routine delivery simply creates a sense of entitlement. Its value as an incentive decreases with repetition.

The article has an undercurrent of ‘stop focusing on top performers.’ Again, that’s either a really good idea or a really bad one depending on your organization. When everyone gets a trophy, it’s hard to build an aggressive sales team. Some legitimate business strategies require losers.

I’m really delighted that Globoforce has opened up the conversation. It’s time to consider the actual value and most effective uses of recognition and incentive systems.


Read previous post:
HR Tech Weekly Logo
HR Tech Weekly: Episode #56: Stacey Harris and John Sumser

This week: Franklin tech firm Rustici sells to U.K. company for $26 million, Want a job? These two industries are...