Close the Connection Gap: Easy Ways to Build Recognition Programs and Drive Your Culture

The business need for ensuring our employees feel connected at work has never been more clear. And creating these “Connections” becomes easier when you think about them in four actionable dimensions.

Allyson Tom
VP People & Culture, Blueboard

At Blueboard we know that an organization’s ability to nurture workplace connection is integral to their ability to attract, grow, and retain great people. Upon joining, I felt tremendous responsibility to uphold our values and the people-centered culture our team had created. I entered a vibrant (and vocal!) community that truly holds each other accountable to our mission and values. And since our business literally involves helping other organizations retain and value their employees, I knew I would have to take care and time to truly listen and connect to our team members at the highest level. 

I had spent over a decade in early-stage, high growth environments, and not-for-profits prior. My lens has always been to connect with the people rather than focusing on specific HR policies or programs. Yet even with engagement and connection as my north star, diving into the research at Blueboard was a lightbulb moment for me. Creating “Connection” became less nebulous and more defined and actionable. 

Defining Connection 

With customer insights and survey data, Blueboard took the time to define connection– not just use the word vaguely as it has been in many of the conversations that people leaders and managers have been having in regards to the “great resignation”. Instead, the research defines connection in four dimensions of the employee experience: 

  • Employees’ sense of connection to the company's mission, values, and leadership vision
  • Employees’ sense of connection to their coworkers and managers through authentic relationships
  • Employees’ sense of connection to their work—that they have a positive impact on the company’s goals
  • Employees’ sense of connection to their personal aspirations—that they’re making positive impact overall.

This definition has been a key framework and driver for employee programs we implement, how we interact with candidates, and how we think about preserving our culture at scale. Before even thinking about how to recognize and reward, we are thinking about how to connect in both our interview processes and in our everyday transparent communication. 

Connection for us starts when our leaders show up, are accessible, and extremely communicative through the highs and the lows. As we scale and grow, we try different things, as innovative companies do. Some of them don’t land the way we envision. And sometimes we don’t communicate as effectively or with as much empathy as we should when things are moving fast. But when these missteps happen, our leaders engage openly and honestly with the wider team, and the managers that are at the center of it all. 

This accountability, starting from the very top, is the precursor to wider connection and recognition. Rather than feeling disconnected, our leaders ensure that we come back together to reconnect, listen, and learn from each other. With that as a solid foundation, our People Team can do the work of programmatically creating connection and recognition. 

Investing in Connection 

While 85% of HR professionals report connection is critical, only 31% report they've addressed connection challenges at work*. There are so many well-documented reasons why HR leaders are stretched too thin to solve for this. However, with remote and hybrid work it’s crucial. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. 

Particularly lean or resource-constrained HR teams can start to build connection and recognition strategies that are tethered to their mission and values rather than finite financial or product milestones. Create peer-to-peer programs or executive led programs that are lightweight but ensure that your employees are seen and recognized for the way they are contributing to the culture and workplace. 

For us, connection and recognition starts before a person even joins the Blueboard team through a really clear and connected interview process. Besides assessing skills, we also strive to get to know each of our candidates as humans. We discuss what the Blueboard values mean to them– not so that we are hiring the same culture “fit”, but so that we can hear first hand how they are going to enrich our culture. We want them to add their voice and experiences to our product, customer processes, and internal ways of working. 

Specifically, we identify internal culture champions that are adept at having values-based interviews. We remove the burden of having them assess skills and knowledge (this having been done previously), and let them focus on truly connecting to the candidates. This dedicated time allows them to hone in on how candidates align with our values and how their perspective will enhance our culture. It’s certainly an investment in time for our hiring teams, but ultimately time well spent. 

Recognition Doesn’t Have to Be a Heavy Lift 

It might seem daunting for small HR teams or teams with carefully allocated resources to launch a recognition program. But it doesn’t have to be a huge lift, especially when you have so many other needs competing for your attention. 

We have found that being intentional and starting with “the why” can help you define your focus and start something that can scale. Depending on your size, start with your survey data or team feedback. This can help you design programs that become self-sustaining and are championed by your managers and employees. Rather than rewarding outcomes that require quarterly maintenance or deep reporting (sales or productivity targets), internally we tie recognition to: 

  • Our Mission/Vision and Values
  • New and different behaviors that add to our culture and our customer experience
  • Team members acting as culture champions

Tethering recognition to these higher order items works to increase internal connections and maintains our cultural DNA as we grow. It also helps our People Team get more leverage out of our programs: Cultural champions and managers will pick up the baton and run with it once they see the effects. We supply general parameters and encouragement, and they become ambassadors. 

Rather than a top-down “HR” program, our entire team is dedicated to timely and authentic recognition that is meaningful. Keep in mind that meaningful recognition doesn’t always need to include big line items on your budget. You can start with peer-to-peer appreciation and intangible forms of gratitude and scale up to higher value rewards as you grow. Thank you notes and small gestures of appreciation can be mighty signals of gratitude and make employees feel seen. 

And once you're ready to scale, our framework separates tangible rewards into the following categories, making it easy for you to design a recognition and rewards program that matches your internal culture, strategic goals, and budget level. 

  • Formal employee recognition: Centralized employee recognition, generally managed by your HR or People team (example: Anniversary Awards
  • Informal employee recognition: Decentralized employee recognition; guidelines exist but recognition is managed at different levels (example: Spot Rewards)
  • Day-to-day employee recognition and appreciation: Widely shared and received by every employee at your company. Informal, easy, and frequent (example: Appreciation Notes)

SUMMARY

There has been a huge shift in the balance in power and who has a voice in the employee experience. Employees are asking questions and expecting organizations to support them. We can’t afford to be cavalier about listening to what they need and expect from our organizations.  

Now more than ever, is an opportune time for people leaders to have a deeper, actionable conversation with their executive stakeholders. Retaining talent has become more than an HR issue– now Founders, Executives, and Boards are treating it with more care and scrutiny. As HR leaders, we tend to deprioritize our “asks” or programmatic spending, but the business need is clear and the data is sound. We need to attract talent and ensure they feel connected to work, and purposeful recognition programs are an authentic way of closing the connection gap. 

Want to connect with Blueboard and learn more about how to start recognizing your team with memorable experiences? Connect with us! You can also learn more about fixing the Connection Gap by accessing the full report.

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