Understanding the Corporate Award Buyer

Copyright © 2008 by Davis Multimedia, Int'l. All Rights Reserved.
As Printed in May 2008, Volume 33, No. 11 of The Engravers Journal

This art glass plate from R.S. Owens comes in scarlet and cobalt blue.

  The “Elation” from Visions Awards combines a gilded antique silver sculpture with a jade glass base.

   An increasingly faltering economy is causing major concerns for today's businesses, forcing many to make major changes to stay afloat. While at first glance it may seem to make sense for businesses to cut back on, or even freeze, corporate recognition programs and policies, study upon study has revealed that this line of attack can, and most likely will, actually backfire. The truth of the matter is, recognition is even more important when money is tight, a fact that many businesses, both large and small, are realizing and taking action on.
   "It seems that while the market for awards has slowed down in some categories, it has grown in others," says Dave Kogan, Marketing Coordinator at R.S. Owens, Chicago, IL. "One would think that the real estate market would have slowed down, yet there is a growth in that market for awards and promotional products."
   A new study from Recognition Professionals International (formerly the National Association for Employee Recognition) and WorldatWork reveals that 55 percent of corporate employers believe recognition is an investment, and an overwhelming 92 percent stated that employee recognition is more prevalent today than in the previous year. Another study conducted by Gallup shows that if 100 percent of employees in the average American business were satisfied and working at their full potential, customers would be 70 percent more loyal, employee turnover would decrease by 70 percent and overall profits would increase by 40 percent. The message is clear: Satisfied employees equal satisfied customers, and satisfied customers are directly linked to improved financial performance.
  "Award programs are a key contribution to a business’ success as they encourage employees to work towards a common goal," says Hannah Lin, Marketing Manager for Topmost World, Inc., Montclair, CA. "Implementing a rewards system in a company will always motivate teamwork, resulting in productivity with the end result being the success of the business."
   Anyone who has ever taken Psychology 101 has learned that people will repeat positive behaviors when those behaviors are rewarded. In the workplace, this is most effectively accomplished through the application of employee recognition or corporate award programs. According to Recognition Professionals International, "Employee performance and retention are strongly linked to consistent, appropriate positive reinforcement of behaviors that promote the organization's goals."
   For many award dealers, selling corporate awards is very profitable. Businesses typically purchase higher end, pricier awards, such as elegant clocks and crystal sculptures, and more often than not, satisfied corporate clients will lead to repeat business for years to come. In order to truly satisfy these clients, however, you need to go beyond simply supplying the awards and focus on understanding what these clients want, what they need and how employee recognition can benefit their businesses (and ultimately, yours). So, even though many businesses are facing tough economic times, they aren’t giving up on corporate recognition and neither should you. Here's a look at how corporate award programs are being used in today's business world. Hopefully, this will give you a leg up by learning how to better service these customers because, remember, satisfied customers are directly linked to improved financial performance.

This new copyrighted design from Topmost World, Inc. combines the traditional clear crystal with blue crystal.   This Premium Line plaque from Tropar has a rosewood stained piano-finished frame with a florentine quadrangle
design engraving plate.

Benefits Abound
   Extensive academic, scientific and business research has proven that employee performance is enhanced by systematic employee recognition programs. In turn, enhanced performance can positively affect just about every aspect of a business. Recognition programs have proven to enhance morale, increase productivity, improve customer service, sales and satisfaction, decrease turnover and provide that extra incentive that can turn average performers into excellent performers.
   In the corporate world, incentive programs can encourage positive rivalry among employees. For example, Toshiba America Medical Systems, a Tustin, CA-based provider of medical equipment and technology, found that a good incentive program can stir up friendly competition in the workplace which can ultimately benefit the company. Toshiba implemented an annual Extreme Performers program that rewarded top salespeople with an incentive trip in addition to peer recognition at an annual company-wide meeting. The program helped the company achieve 20-25 percent year-over-year market growth and stimulated additional competition among employees in the following years.
   At the end of the day, employees want a positive work environment and they want to be appreciated. The employer wants to attract, develop, empower and retain quality people. To both those ends, recognition programs can be a huge benefit.
Effective Programs
   Corporate award programs are highly personal and need to be tailored to the specific business and its goals in order to be effective. Generally speaking, however, most businesses follow the same basic guidelines when developing a workable program. Here are a few key areas:
   Focus the Program-Businesses realize that taking an all-out approach to any strategic maneuver rarely works. You can’t fix everything at once. Instead, experts recommend aligning the program with the business' goals and behaviors that they value most. For example, key recognition areas might include sales, turnover, years of service, safety, quality, teamwork, innovation, community involvement and overall performance, just to name a few. In many instances, companies find that more than one award program is appropriate to their organizational needs.
   Analyze the Participants-Recognition experts advise businesses to collect information about their employees in order to really understand who they are and how they want to be recognized. This might involve speaking directly with managers or the employees themselves, or creating simple surveys with open-ended questions to discover what actually motivates people. This information can then be used to help design an effective program.

The “Connected World” from Visions Awards uses natural materials to form a sphere on an ebony marble base
with metal framing.
  Mark years of service with a “Book of Time” from Visions Awards.

   Prudential Financial, one of the oldest and largest financial services companies in the U.S., established a separate recognition services department which they used as a strategic tool to shape employee behavior and performance in order to move the organization towards its desired goals. Through employee feedback, they established that newly hired employees felt the company was lacking in noncash recognition and senior executives agreed. As such, instead of spot bonuses, the company implemented nonmonetary awards for several programs, including The Prudential Work/Life Award given to employees who were successful at balancing work and life responsibilities. They also created the Project Management Council Award to bestow on employees who utilize different skills to complete a successful project.
   Create a Budget-Establishing a budget for employee recognition and incentive programs can often be a challenge. For example, a budget that is too low can send the wrong message and actually alienate rather than motivate employees, whereas a budget that is too high might cause employees to think the company is being frivolous.
   Businesses that are serious about corporate recognition need to develop a budget that considers both long- and short-term expenditures and that fits the program and the workplace. According to a Recognition Survey from WorldatWork and Recognition Professionals International, the majority of corporate businesses are doing this. The study revealed that 71 percent of organizations that instituted recognition programs have a dedicated budget that averages around two percent of the total annual payroll budget. While two percent doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that a company with 120 employees and a payroll budget of $4.7 million annually will spend $94,000 on recognition!
   Choose Appropriate Awards-Even the most heavily financed recognition programs can fail if the rewards are not appropriate. Awards need to match the accomplishment and be meaningful to the employee in order for the program to be effective. When selecting awards, experts recommend that businesses choose personalized incentives that are relevant to the recipient and that are aligned with the organization's goals.
   In some cases, reward programs can actually be "unrewarding." One dot-com business instituted a rewards program designed to motivate and appreciate employees, but it ended up having the opposite effect. According to one employee, people viewed the company's efforts as patronizing and lacking in thought. The program called for workers to receive a badge for each job done well. After they accumulated 10 badges, they could exchange them for a paperweight. The problem, says the employee, is that the badges read "U Done Good," which conflicted with the company's strong stance on using proper grammar, and the paperweight was essentially of no value to most of the staff members. In addition, the company rewarded employees with a work shirt at its annual recognition ceremony, but not long afterwards they implement a "professional" dress code and banned these shirts from the workplace.

This Flame Series from Tropar combines a 3/8" thick acrylic award on a black and gold metal base.   Art Glass awards from R.S. Owens can be deep etched and color filled for unique corporate recognition awards.

   Recognition can take on many different forms, and they can be monetary or nonmonetary in nature. Monetary awards can include a verbal thank-you, a written note of appreciation, a reserved parking space, but they usually also include an expense-paid trip or a cash bonus. According to many successful case studies, however, tangible awards have their place in even the largest of companies. Even in programs where a monetary award is the main incentive, many experts recommend presenting tangible awards as well-something that recipients can proudly display and that will leave a lasting impression. Studies show that cash rewards are quickly spent and almost as quickly forgotten.
   Items such as watches, clocks, pens and plaques are time-proven recognition award products and, of course, personalizing these awards makes them even more memorable.
   According to a WorldatWork/Recognition Professionals International Recognition Survey, 75 percent of organizations use plaques and certificates, followed by cash, product gift certificates, corporate logo merchandise and jewelry to recognize employees.
   As money becomes tighter for many businesses, companies are looking for more creative ways, other than cash compensation, to recognize employees. Rideau Inc., a provider of recognition and incentive solutions in Montreal, Canada, was looking for a creative awards solution for a train manufacturer. They were able to locate lapel pins depicting old corporate logos of the company, which they replicated and displayed in a shadow box. The shadow boxes were presented as service awards for long-standing employees, which turned out to be the perfect solution for acknowledging employees for their many years of service.
   "We're seeing a lot of customers looking for something different," says R.S. Owens' Kogan. "People want designs that are new and fresh. They want vibrant colors, especially in deep cobalt, bright blues and rich reds. Some end users are even looking for eco-friendly, 'green' products."
   Many companies spend enormous amounts of money developing the perfect company logo and/or slogan. As such, many recognition experts recommend aligning the corporate identification with an employee recognition piece to reinforce the employee/company connection. "A common trend that we've been seeing over the years in corporate awards is the combination of the traditional clear crystal with blue crystal," says Topmost’s Lin. "Many companies have blue in their logo and like to incorporate that into their awards."
   As a maker of custom recognition awards, MTM Recognition, Oklahoma City, OK, creates recognition programs for its own company on a regular basis. Recently, the company wanted to develop an award with an heirloom feel to it. As a reward for salespeople who make the President’s Club and those being recognized in the service program, MTM designed a custom ring that features the company logo, the year, the recipient's name and a diamond symbolizing each achievement. Employees also receive a customized crystal and brass Chairman's Award that they can take home for a period of time to share with family and friends (similar to the Stanley Cup tradition).
   Recognize the Recognition-In addition to the right focus and the right reward, the right presentation can also have a major impact on the success of a recognition program. In essence, if no one knows about the recognition program, how effective can it be? Experts such as Adrian Gostick, Director of Marketing and Communication for the O.C. Tanner Recognition Company, Salt Lake City, UT, and author of several books on the topic of recognition, says that effective presentations, whether small gatherings or gala affairs, create bonding experiences that will keep employees committed for years to come.
   One employee at a trucking company recalls how even the most lavish gifts do not garner employee gratitude without a meaningful presentation. A vice president at the company was recognized for outstanding achievement with an upgraded company car and a $10,000 Rolex gold watch. The watch, however, was shipped to him in a cardboard box and left on his desk, along with notification that he would be receiving a 1099 tax form for paying taxes on the gift. He ended up selling the watch two months later because it had no sentimental value to him.
   For maximum impact, awards should be presented to top performers in a meaningful manner. Whether it's a formal setting, such as an annual awards banquet, or an informal one, such as a departmental meeting, the point is that companies need to recognize outstanding achievers in front of their peers. They also need to explain the reasons why recipients merit the award. Kentucky Fried Chicken/Tricon highlights its many recognition programs by featuring hundreds of employee photographs along the walls of its corporate offices. They even send a "Recognition Band" to march in and celebrate randomly selected employee achievements.
   Hyping the program within the business can generate excitement and motivation among employees. Experts say this can be accomplished in a variety of ways, including the use of newsletters, E-mails, posters, meetings, brochures, etc. At Prudential Financial, for example, staff achievements are routinely broadcast through a variety of internal media to showcase the recognition of those who exemplify desired behaviors.
   Everyone agrees that employee recognition and motivation play an important role in the success of every organization, large and small. Experts even agree that recognition programs can help, not hurt, a company’s bottom line during tough economic times.
   While many of the companies used as examples in this article are quite large compared to the average client of most small award shops, all of the same principles still apply. An effective corporate award program should be personal, tailored to the company, its goals and the wants and needs of its employees. In addition, to be effective, the awards must be coveted by recipients and of sufficient value to motivate participants. They also must be presented in a meaningful and public way so that the recognition experience makes a lasting impression on recipients.
   By understanding how effective corporate recognition programs work, you can better serve your clients and potential clients and be rewarded yourself for many years to come.