Influence Greatness (IG23), the outstanding annual conference produced by O.C. Tanner, was held this week in beautiful Utah. It was a goldmine of inspiration and insight for anyone who wants to build a better work culture that enables every employee to thrive.
It’s difficult to attend the conference or visit O.C. Tanner’s bustling headquarters in Salt Lake City, as I was privileged to do, without being impressed with the products, services, research and commitment to employee recognition as a catalyst for great work.
As an analyst in the HR space, I have long felt that employee recognition is under-appreciated and under-utilized as a talent retention and engagement tool by employers. In Brandon Hall Group’s annual employee experience research studies, employee recognition and rewards usually sit in the middle of the pack in terms of priorities for addressing engagement and retention. But that may be changing; in our 2023 study, 46% of organizations reported creating an employee recognition and rewards program to improve employee experience since the pandemic. That ranks second, behind only investing in employee development.
A Unique Business Model
O.C. Tanner is uniquely positioned to help organizations adapt their cultures to the post-pandemic era of hybrid work and build a culture of belonging as they adapt to hybrid work and an environment of constant change.
Founded in 1927 by Obert C. Tanner, the company spent most of its first 50 years crafting and manufacturing employee service and recognition rewards. It is the rare company that has maintained its original focus — recognizing and appreciating employees by manufacturing pins, medals and other symbols of achievement and company loyalty — while successfully adapting to the digital age.
Examples of awards and trophies that O.C. Tanner manufactures for some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated companies.
Symbolically, O.C. Tanner’s manufacturing center is located just off a main corridor of the headquarters building, not far removed from the areas where digital designers, marketers and software engineers nurture the industry-leading Culture Cloud technology platform that enables myriad forms of employee recognition at scale.
O.C. Tanner still builds and ships thousands of pins, awards and medals each day while doing sophisticated research on the modern workplace and building out increasingly sophisticated technology solutions. It’s a poignant reminder that while technology dominates our world, there is still a place for physical symbols of achievement and appreciation.
Empowering Recognition at Scale
At the same time, employee recognition and culture development must be accessible to the hyper-connected workforce and scalable for enterprise organizations. Through its Culture by Design™ approach, O.C Tanner does this with adaptable configurations, integrated experiences, impactful offline solutions, intelligent branding and AI-driven nudges that remind leaders and employees to provide recognition.
The platform enables myriad forms of recognition at scale. The company has created plugins with all major web browsers, several integrations with enterprise solutions — most notably Outlook, Teams, Slack, Workday, Zebra and Virgin Pulse — and has established APIs (application programming interfaces), which act as an extension cord from O.C. Tanner into a system of your choice.
The company also has several forms of prescriptive analytics. For example, the platform can correlate the level of flight risk based on the level of recognition over the past 12 months and develop team profiles related to the amount of recognition given and received so leaders can determine appropriate experiences and actions.
O.C. Tanner also has a solid AI/ML roadmap that includes experiential chatbots, evaluating past recognitions when considering promotions, and leveraging recognition data to assist with performance review preparation. It is a strong delivery system for recognition solutions that are driven by a research-based understanding of the frailty of the post-pandemic workforce and the impact that recognition and appreciation play on employee well-being and quality of work.
2024 Global Culture Report
The 2024 Global Culture Report by the O. C. Tanner Institute, the research arm of the organization, seeks to identify critical issues and suggest strategic approaches employers can take to improve workplace culture and facilitate great work. Based on focus group discussions, interviews and online surveys with employees from organizations with 500+ employees in 27 countries, the research touched 42,446 workers.
The research, which was highlighted for industry analysts and at the IG23 event, will be released to the public Oct. 5. It identifies six possible shifts that the Institute recommends that employers pursue:
- A culture of nimble resilience. HR leaders can help their cultures become more adaptable and innovative. This shift requires replacing traditional, reactive approaches to resilience with one that centers on people, celebrates diverse perspectives and fosters cross-disciplinary collaboration.
- Equitable flexibility for all employees. People now expect greater flexibility in when, where and how they work. Without it, they’re more likely to leave an employer. However, incorporating flexibility equitably without compromising the organization’s needs is a significant challenge. The key is tailoring flexibility to employees in their many, varied roles.
Meghan Stettler, Director of the O.C. Tanner Institute, said the key to equitable flexibility is learning and understanding employees’ unique needs. “Most workers are not asking that much. Just a little shift in how you address employee needs is all that is needed — just some flexibility within the constraints of someone’s role.”
- Practical, empathetic leadership. Empathy is often loosely defined and implemented without training or boundaries, resulting in “empathy fatigue” among leaders and coworkers. Leaders must understand and act in response to their people’s needs, challenges and potential to create a culture where both employees and leaders feel supported and connected.
“When your leader recognizes and appreciates their employees and empathizes with their situations, they often get that appreciation reciprocated,” Stettler said. “Everyone wins and feels valued.”
- Awareness of the 80% experience. There is a vast gap between the experience of corporate employees and the 80% of the workforce — often frontline workers who lack access to systems and resources and have little autonomy in their roles. These employees are critical to operations yet they report being overlooked and undervalued. Many feel disconnected from their organizations, suffer from high burnout and attrition, and express resignation to unfulfilling experiences due to lack of support, opportunity and voice.
This is a difficult problem but can be addressed through concerted efforts to support these workers. O.C. Tanner customer Starbucks, for example, with thousands of store workers, has a long-established program of recognizing employees with green action recognition cards, paired with spot rewards for meaningful contributions and efforts. Shannon Galford, Senior Operations Manager, Global Recognition at Starbucks, said “recognition does not necessarily always draw people to Starbucks, but it keeps people at Starbucks.”
- Improved skill-building programs. Upskilling programs are essential for recruiting and keeping top talent; however, employers face challenges, including avoiding potential pitfalls and meeting both employee and organizational needs.
- More effective change management. Over the past three years, the rapidly evolving work environment has taken a toll on morale, well-being and turnover. To counter these effects, organizations need to focus on employees throughout the change management process and earn their trust. Cultivating greater trust requires giving people a voice and empowering people at all levels, which was highlighted in the opening keynote at IG23.
Recapturing Power and Presence
Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, the opening keynote speaker, said employees are still in the process of rebuilding their feeling of personal power and presence from the disruption of the pandemic. Cuddy described personal power as the ability to control one’s own state and behaviors. When people feel powerful, they believe all is safe. Personal power provides the difference between trust and distrust, being secure rather than defensive, taking action rather than being passive and envisioning opportunities rather than seeing threats.
“We must recapture power and presence,” Cuddy said. “Trust is the conduit of influence. It’s the medium through which ideas travel.” As workers rebuild their sense of personal power, Cuddy said:
- Paralysis or passivity converts to taking action
- The future possibilities become clearer
- New goals and objectives emerge
- Creativity emerges
- People reconnect and energize.
Cuddy urged the audience, comprised largely of HR leaders who work to improve the work experience of others, to also take care of themselves. “Re-empowering other people starts with re-empowering yourself.”