Performance Platforms

Paul Nolan

How technology is fueling workplace recognition

Here are some startling statistics that put our infatuation with technology and mobile devices in perspective:

  • 40 percent of U.S. males age 18 to 34 and 33 percent of U.S. females in that same age bracket say they would ideally buy everything online. (Source: DDB Worldwide)
  • Online retail is expected to grow 8 to 12 percent in 2017 — three times higher than the growth rate of retail overall. (Source: National Retail Federation)
  • Americans spend an average of five hours per day on mobile devices. (Source: Flurry Analytics)

With those numbers in mind, if you are a sales manager, HR director, marketing manager or other executive charged with increasing employee engagement or driving customer loyalty, what tools do you think make sense to use as your starting point?

“Software is eating the world,” stated Marc Andreessen in a 2011 Wall Street Journal article. Andreessen is co-author of Mosaic, the first widely used web browser, and a wildly successful Silicon Valley venture capitalist. “More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services — from movies to agriculture to national defense.”

That was six years ago. If software was eating the world then, it is devouring it now without stopping to chew. As Andreessen effectively summarized, one would be hard pressed to identify an industry that is not undergoing wholesale changes as the result of software that has been developed to serve its customer base. The world of employee engagement is no exception.

Not your father’s incentive program

“We are much more of a technology company than we’ve ever been,” says Bryan Phillips, senior vice president of technology for Maritz Motivation Solutions. “Everybody wants to be able to predict the future, and a lot of the marketing and HR departments we serve can’t get everything they need from their own IT shops, so they ask us for help. As long as it’s related to one of the areas we have expertise in, we get involved.”

Those areas of expertise are expanding. Where Maritz and companies like it once focused on designing and fulfilling reward and recognition programs, they now offer full-force software as a service (SaaS) platforms that provide all of the incentive and recognition services you need, plus the means to communicate everything about them to participants, target different departments with different programs, provide peer-to-peer recognition capabilities, track performance against goals, survey employees on any number of topics and, of course, parse all of the data out in analytical reports that explain everything down to the most minute detail.

“Many companies commit to building engagement programs, but fail to deliver on the bottom line, much less deliver on the employee results,” says Autumn Manning, co-founder and CEO of YouEarnedIt, a technology company that provides a platform for real-time recognition. “YouEarnedIt is a platform that pulls many disparate programs together that are all aimed at culture and employee experience and helps companies deploy them through one powerful technology platform.”

Manning, Phillips and others say their technology usually ties seamlessly into CRM or other software  their clients have running. “We knew when we started four years ago that we couldn’t predict the tools and technology that would take off,” Manning says. “We built our platform from the beginning on a robust and open API (application program interface). Our challenge and promise to our customers is that whatever tool is important to them, they can tie into.” She lists Slack, Workday and Sharepoint as common programs that clients merge with YouEarnedIt’s platform.

More players

If a benefit of all of this technology is the nearly infinite choices that employers can offer to top performers as rewards, the other side of that coin is the increased number of companies (like YouEarnedIt) that now exist in the incentive and recognition space. As with a number of industries, a lower barrier to entry has produced new businesses offering their versions on an old-school strategy — recognize achievement to increase job satisfaction and encourage even better performance.

One company that has recently expanded into new markets, including the U.S., is Engage People Inc., a Toronto-based company that describes itself as an amalgamation of five leading service provider organizations that have served the global loyalty, recognition and incentive communities for over 25 years. CEO Jonathan Silver says the company’s offerings are designed to help client companies increase engagement among employees, salespeople, distributors and end customers.

More demands

But it’s about more than just employee or sales performance or customer loyalty, Silver says. “The economy has changed. You need to have a reward that is relevant to the consumer, but can still be delivered on a global and scalable basis. As participants are becoming more segmented or fragmented, one size doesn’t fit all. The industry is moving away from merely shipping merchandise to being able to help our customers build programs that will drive measureable results, and do that in real time. The technology needs to enable that.”

Just as companies want to reward in real time, they also want to switch strategies on a dime. “We don’t have two months to design a campaign anymore,” Silver says. “If market forces change in an industry, you need to react to that in minutes and have something up and running in a couple of hours, not in a couple of weeks. Technology needs to be an enabler to drive business results.”

Phillips says Maritz Motivation Solutions has significantly increased its analytics and artificial intelligence capabilities. For a pharmaceutical client, it can help determine what doctors are most responsive to training. For an auto manufacturer, it can help pinpoint which customers are most likely to purchase certain models.

St. Louis-based Maritz has established an ongoing relationship with the city’s startup community, including a partnership with a company called Capital Innovators, which helps startups reach the next level by providing funding and resources. “We provide mentors and we work with them on a variety of technology that will benefit us in our space,” says Phillips.

The bottom line: Employees want more of a say in how they are rewarded for their hard work. Today’s recognition software allows employers to give their workers a louder voice and to tailor recognition experiences to their desires, ensuring that the investment in recognition produces the most effective return possible.

Paul Nolan is editor of Sales & Marketing Management.