Humanizing Technology Behind Employee Recognition Programs

Good Morning Message on Tablet Computer Screen on Office Table.

How many of you remember the date you first used a computer mouse, or purchased your first laptop, or perhaps felt kind of “Star Trekky” when you accessed an electronic device through onscreen touch?

These technology events blur in our memories because they’ve happened so quickly and seamlessly into our lives.

In the past, technology often created boundaries between techy-minded people and those of us who were not. Today, we expect HR technology tools to be easy to use and help make our jobs and lives better. And as Jason Gots says, we actually want technology to “amplify the best of human nature.”

My world, in the field of employee recognition, causes me to strive to help people get recognition right wherever they work. The use of technology with recognition programs helps provide tools for managers to practice giving recognition more efficiently to many people, more easily and quickly, when they might only see a few of their staff in any given day or week.

Unfortunately, many recognition and reward programs out there, end up transacting things or “stuff” to people, versus truly celebrating and humanly acknowledging them. Software and hardware diminish our ability to properly express appreciation unless we humanize the technology in the first place.

Start With The Employee Recognition Experience

Way back in a 1997 Macworld Expo, Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs said,

“One of the things I’ve always found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.”

Recognition will always be a felt phenomenon – a relational experience between one person and another, or even several people towards a team. It’s a chance to express heartfelt acknowledgment for a person’s contributions or the effort they’ve given to something.

How can we better humanize technology used with employee recognition programs?

Let’s start with the recognition experience employees want and then work our way back to the technology.

People know when they have been authentically recognized when they experience positive emotions because of the recognition received. Here are a few typical experiences associated with genuine and meaningful recognition:

  1. Face-to-Face: Nothing can replicate the most meaningful type of recognition than that which is given in person from one individual to another.
  2. Public vs. Private: A majority of people like public recognition. But remember, there will always be a percentage of folks who cringe from being in the limelight.
  3. Relationship Strength: Recognition is most appreciated from people they already have a positive relationship with and who they work with the most.
  4. Timeliness: Receiving acknowledgment for making a difference needs to be received as soon as possible after the great things done.
  5. Clear Wording: Expressing appreciation must honor and respect the individual using positive and specific wording rather than trite generalities.

Working on Humanizing the Technology

We will look at the above recognition experiences and consider some ideas of how humanizing the current technology might unfold.

  1. Face-to-Face: Ironically, a majority of recognition platforms use only text-based messaging in the form of streaming newsfeeds on social recognition programs, sending personalized online eCards, or sending certificates to people that can be printed off. With the advent of short-form video sharing like Vine, or streaming video apps like Periscope and Blab, technology will emerge to provide a personal connection to scale, with a visual and auditory acknowledgment beyond the written word.
  2. Public vs. Private: Many current online recognition and reward programs allow givers and receivers of recognition messages, eCards, awards, and rewards, to identify how widespread the recognition is shared. Givers and receivers can choose whether they want the recognition visible throughout the company, across a department or team, or if the recipient wants it just between the giver and themselves, or not shared at all.
  3. Relationship Strength: Most companies are picking up on the identified need for peer-to-peer recognition programs where there is greatest positive relationship strength. However, a method is needed for integrating employee engagement results to flag managers and supervisors who may not be regarded well by employees. Then they can improve their positive communication skills first before any recognition will be perceived as valuable, sincere and authentic.
  4. Timeliness: So far, timeliness of recognition is still dependent on human observation skills and reports of achievements, contributions or effort made, before any recognition is given. As HR information systems and systems monitoring key performance indicators are aligned, imagine technology informing a manager of significant goals reached or productivity measures achieved by an employee, without seeing it personally, and those metrics triggering the need for them to give well-deserved recognition in a timely way.
  5. Clear Wording: Technology can be designed to give a recognition authenticity measure, a guide, if you will, as to whether your recognition message is specific enough for the action or results observed, and telling the sender how “human” and real the recognition sounds. This can be like Grammarly and other apps that check your content for proper grammar, punctuation, and style, and even enhance your vocabulary. We all need a helping hand with how to say things the right way.

Technology for recognition programs should be some of the most humanly designed systems in order for employees to feel they receive the most meaningful and effective recognition.

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Ben Shneiderman, a professor at the University of Maryland Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland, College Park, suggests any “user-interface design” should be made to “…encourage trust, empathy and responsibility, while protecting privacy. That’s the next big thing.”

Trust, empathy, and responsibility happen to be a few perfect attributes to integrate into humanizing all future employee recognition programs.

Q: How are you striving to humanize the technology you use for employee recognition?

This article first appeared as a guest post on Switch and Shift

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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