Employee Recognition 1 - Walking the talk

By Ko de Ruyter and Debbie Keeling

In designing employee recognition programs, it is imperative to be very specific about the kind of behaviours that you want your associates to display (and get rewarded for). Many of our clients make the mistake of relating their incentives to broad and generic corporate values. Instead, the specs are important, as they make for easier and more transparent reward criteria. Also, do consider recognizing your operational managers. For many customer-facing employees, their supervisor, team leader or store manager is a role model who they look to for guidance on good practice. 


Consider the selling of green products. Judging from annual reports, most companies have adopted environmentally-friendly business practice as a strategic imperative. The operational reality, however, is that the majority of firms treat ‘talking green’ as a lofty lip service. Often the deployment of this key priority is pushed through to the frontline with little support. For sales associates, it is still a hard sell as green alternatives come at a higher price premium. So, what would be the best way to recognize those sales teams that actually walk the green talk? 

A recent study by Motivforce R&D among sales managers and associates of 36 stores of a large electronics retailer helps answering that question. We presented the managers of these stores with a set of choices between environmental responsibility and margin. This enabled us to identify which store manager is walking the green talk and whether it would be worth incentivizing that type of behaviour. We find that a consistent preference of the store manager for the green option drives sales associates’ concern for the environment. But does leading-by-example also pay off? Surprisingly, we found that it not only boosts the sales of green products, but that it also leads to higher monthly store margins. So, in your employee recognition programs do not forget to reward (operational) leaders for showcasing behaviour that is important to you and to your customers. In the case of downsizing your environmental footprint (whether that is by selling energy-efficient fridges or sustainable travel destinations), your program may go a long way in aligning people, planet and profits via a corporate climate change.