What makes employee recognition programmes successful?


Here’s a typical conversation between an HR business partner and a line manager –

Line Manager – “We are facing a major problem of employee demotivation. I need to fix it asap before my results plummet badly.”

HR business partner – “Well, there could be many things causing demotivation. First, tell me, what is happening about the reward and recognition programme we put in place?”

“Its happening .. but on and off, but that can’t be the reason. We have an awesome incentive plan in place. Its transparent and quite a few employees end up making good money. Infact, its been rated as one of the best ones in the industry”

One of the most common mis-concepts amongst managers is to equate incentive schemes with reward and recognition programmes. However, one needs to understand the very crucial difference between the two. While incentive programmes focus on the what (what was your target achievement this year?), recognition programmes focus on the how (how did you go about achieving such great results?). While incentives urge employees to attain a particular target in a defined time frame, recognitions are more long term. Recognitions revolve around the behaviours displayed by the employees to reach the end results especially behaviours that are aligned with your company’s core values. They recognize employees for the effort put in in achieving a set of results. Traditional annual performance reviews can be frustrating if there is no discussion and understanding of what employees have been doing. It is even more frustrating when employees have been going out of their way to deliver results, and they receive no recognitions for their effort.

As such, the first principle of an effective recognition programme is quite simple – give recognitions based on behaviours. Find a platform (newsletter, online forum, cafeteria meetings etc) where you share what your employees have done to get the recognition. Share specific behaviours and link them to the company’s core values.

The other important aspect of an effective recognition programme is that it should be continuous and real time. To achieve this, encourage your whole organization to give out recognitions regardless of their positions. Recognitions should not necessarily trickle from top to bottom.

One of the most pertinent examples of an effective employee recognition programme is NSF International, a public health and safety organization headquartered in Michigan. The company has tripled in size over the last 10 years, including opening new offices in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. As NSF grew and spanned across more time zones, real time employee recognition and engagement had become a challenge. They launched a global recognition programme, called ‘Give a WOW’ which helped connect all of NSF’s employees worldwide, regardless of location or time zone, to provide a platform for positive recognition and engagement. In addition, NSF incorporated their seven values as the recognition categories, ensuring that they were reinforced on a daily basis. Further, even in their performance rating mechanism, rating officials were encouraged to consider all relevant indicators of levels of performance, to include relationships between organizational success and individual employee performance, and between employee conduct and employee performance. Needless to say, the programme has been a huge success.

In conclusion, if you want your employees to do their best because they are passionate about your company and its mission and not just because you are giving them a financial incentive to do so, it is important to send out a message saying that you care about what they are doing, and you want to thank them for their efforts. A well designed employee recognition programme does exactly that.



Training Gamification – To Play or not to Play?

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” – Plato


Games have been an inseparable part of human life. In early age, we learn mostly by playing. For children, games provide immense opportunities for social, personal, emotional as well as intellectual development. But is that true for adults as well? Do adults also learn by playing games or do they only prefer it as a recreational activity for enjoying leisure time?  The growing popularity of various video games, on line games etc. point towards huge potential of gaming methodology for learning purposes. Not surprisingly, there is growing trend of using games in various forms in teaching and training interventions.

There are numerous benefits of using gamed based method over traditional methods. Game based methodology is fun, highly engaging, motivating and promotes self and peer learning. Even beyond these obvious advantages, the biggest support for this method of instruction can be attributed to the fact that they provide effective response to each level of Kirkpatrick evaluation for training effectiveness.

  • Reaction – The first level of evaluation of training success is participant reaction to the program. Since game based methods offer high engagement and an outcome/ result at the end of the game basis participants’ performance, it ensures positive reaction from the same.


  1. Learning – The second level of evaluation assesses the extent to which participants have advanced their skills, knowledge and/ or attitude. A well designed game will assess skills gains by tracking the failures participants encounter during the game including the types and frequency of failure. For example if a participant fails to get past first stage couple of times but learns the skills and get past second stage in one attempt then skill gain is evident and learning is noted.
  2. Behaviour – The third level of Kirkpatrick model, Behaviour, attempts to measure transfer of learning to workplace which could be a tricky process. Any well designed game has behavioural aspect built into it which ensures high probability of learning application.
  3. Result – The fourth level of evaluation, Result, seeks to link the training with business outcomes. A simulation/ game is programmed to help participants see the impact of their actions on the business result hence enhancing the chances of improving the business outcomes post training.

While there are various advantages of using this approach, there are also caveats which we need to watch out for before developing a game based method:

  • Relevance – Game should be designed keeping the learning objectives in mind so that the purpose of the workshop is fulfilled. It is easy for the participants to get carried away by the ‘fun’ aspect of the game.
  • Too much information – If there is a lot of information download then the game can becomes long and confusing
  • Cost Effectiveness – Many times it becomes difficult for corporate to use it as a blended learning format due to high cost criteria. Choosing the appropriate gaming format which suits the budget is the key.

Games are fun, engaging and multigenerational. Used in an appropriate way, they augment existing learning programs and enhance learner adoption, retention, application and business impact.

Blended Learning – Best Way to Develop Talent?

‘Personally, I am always willing to learn, though I don’t always like being taught.’ – Winston Churchill


Today, more than ever before, a manager’s ability and willingness to learn from experience is the foundation for successfully leading with impact. How do you become a leader?

Consider the 70-20-10 rule that emerged from 30 years of Centre For Creative Leadership’s Lessons of Experience research, which explores how executives learn, grow, and change over the course of their careers. This rule suggests that successful leaders learn within three clusters of experience: challenging assignments (70%), developmental relationships (20%), and coursework and training (10%).

Most organizations acknowledge that formal training alone can be limited in impact. Yet they continue to invest most of their training budget in classroom events and eLearning

assets. They struggle with how to systemize and evaluate a learning strategy that also includes workplace experiences and relationships.

The key to a True Blended Learning approach  is a combination of formal learning combined with workplace based or “informal” learning opportunities –addressing all segments of the 70-20-10 rule.


70% – from on-the-job experiences

  • Stretch assignments or committees
  •  Managing or being involved in a new project
  • Giving a presentation
  • Attending meetings in another department
  • Partnering with others on the team on a project
  • Being a “project” or “team lead”
  • Doing a job rotation
  • Managing an event

20% – Development Relationships

  • Shadowing someone in another role
  • Identify a mentor or peer coach
  • Give and ask for specific feedback on development areas
  • Get advice and guidance from experts in the skill areas you are focused on building
  • Attend presentations, lectures, events to learn from others

10% – through formal training, coursework


  • Classroom based skill building
  • Virtual classrooms and online learning
  • Games and simulations
  • eModules
  • Books, articles and courseware
  • Social learning – Twitter, Blogging, Linkedin
  • Webinars

The way leaders learn will change dramatically in the next few years. t’s impossible to separate learning from work – nor should you want to. The challenge is to support the learner with appropriate materials, technology platforms, and other “scaffolding” in the critical leadership domains of assignments and relationships on the path to leadership development.

Blended learning is not just about technology or mixing classroom with online experiences. It’s not about social media or the latest trends that promise to change the way learning happens forever.

It’s about building in a systematic, thoughtful manner, a structure and an ecosystem that enables and encourages learning continuously.  It’s about ingraining learning in the very DNA of the organization at as early a stage as possible. Only then would great talent and leaders get created.

Honing Our Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills

The image shows a huge Bengal Tiger standing in a bamboo forest. Your mission is to look for “The Hidden Tiger” in the image below.

bengal tiger

Its been a while since I have been trying to create a training game on ‘Critical Thinking and Problem Solving’. When I started, it actually looked easy – infact, that’s one of the reasons I chose this topic (You think through and solve problems everyday – whats the big deal!). But as I dig deeper, I realise how complex and layered this skill is. And getting one program or one game to take care of the intricate web of learnings is really a challenge.

I guess we’d all agree that everyone needs critical thinking and problem solving– be it a vegetable vendor deciding which street to sell on which day and at what price, or a little baby crawling and trying to reach a toy out of the many sprawled on the floor in front of him, or a forex trader deciding when to exit the dollar or the yen. Yet, it is one of the most ignored and under-emphasised skill sets that gets developed in us. Typically, we are a bunch of traditional problem solvers – using past data to solve current problems. Infact, in a lot of cases, we do not spend time understanding the problem and simply go ahead and “solve the symptoms”.

After having struggled with this concept for long enough, I believe that critical thinking based problem solving involves at least the following inter-related skill sets

  1. Clarity of thought (to look at the big picture and segregate the problem from its symptoms)
  2. Creativity (to go beyond the obvious but not losing sight of the problem itself)
  3. Poise (not getting overwhelmed by the problem or its ramifications)
  4. Analytics (breaking down data and identifying not-so-obvious trends)

Look at the seemingly simple problem I posed to you at the beginning of this post. The mission was to look for ‘The Hidden Tiger’. Solving this problem needed all the skills mentioned above –

  1. Clarity to understand the problem and not be coloured by the perception that ‘The Hidden Tiger’ was necessarily the image of a tiger
  2. Creativity to look for non-traditional solutions (step 1 too needed elements of creativity thus reinforcing my point about the skills being inter-related)
  3. Poise to not give up too soon
  4. Analytics (the data is in the form of this picture and there is basic analytics required to break the pic into parts to look for the hidden tiger)

Each one of the aforementioned skills are complicated enough themselves. Its but obvious that developing oneself as a ‘critical thinker’ requires a pretty deep learning journey interspersed with a lot of practice. The good part though is that this is one skills which once learnt is not easily forgotten!

Do only kids learn by playing games?


Catalyst’s approach to adult learning is unique, fun and impactful. Our approach to learning is game based to ensure participants are engaged in the learning process and internalize the learnings. As such, the impact of our programs is more sustained. Most of our training programs follow a structure where participants are divided into various groups of players/ observers and are taken through some meaningful games which relates directly with the learning outcomes of the programme. After they have played the game, they record their observations on response sheets by reflecting on their own. Finally, learnings are shared within the team in the form of structured discussions. The entire approach is supported by videos and other frameworks which would help re-inforce learnings positively. The beauty of the approach is that learnings are not enforced or participants, rather, they get co-created with the participant’s active involvement. Infact, every time the game gets played with a different set of participants, new learnings and insights emerge making the session rich and meaningful even for us as trainers.

Whats the right ingredient to create a successful entrepreneur?


There are innumerable articles and books on ‘How to be a Successful Entrepreneur’. Being an entrepreneur myself, I have read some of them but have realised that the bulk of the emphasis is on two things – one, how to raise funds to start your venture and two, how to get the right networks in place.  As such, there is a surge in various funds/ angel investors/ VCs etc  looking to invest in high return and scalable business models. Several platforms such as TiE, IAN, NEN etc have come up which help entrepreneurs connect with each other or find partners, mentors etc.

Surprisingly, the most important aspect of entrepreneurship seems to either pass unnoticed or is given least weightage in most such discussions. And that I believe is carrying the right attitude and displaying the right behaviours in a fast-changing entrepreneurial set-up. Most successful entrepreneurs make it big inspite of a lack of funds or great networks simply on the strength of their attitude – be it positivity, perseverance, passion or value consciousness. On the contrary, many well moneyed and well-connected entrepreneurs are unable to see a good business idea through. This fact gets proven everytime you  read the journeys of truly successful Indian entrepreneurs, be it Dhirubhai Ambani, Sanjiv Bhikchandani, Subroto Bagchi etc.

At Catalyst, we have tried to bridge this gap in the learning of an entrepreneur by creating a truly unique product – EDGE. EDGE stands for ‘Enabling, Developing and Growing aspiring Entrepreneurs’. EDGE is a developmental tool which helps aspiring entrepreneurs identify their strengths and development needs by comparing them to a set of pre-defined ‘entrepreneurial’ competencies. These competencies have been arrived at after studying the attitudes and behaviours of several successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs in India through in-depth interviews, focused discussions and surveys.

The tool is in the format of a 2 day long Development Center consisting of various kinds of individual and group exercises. Each individual’s performance on these exercises is evaluated by trained assessors. Further, psychometrics are used to strengthen the quality of findings. Basis these inputs, a detailed targeted feedback report and growth plan is created for each and every participant to provide him with a structured development path. I believe an developmental intervention of this kind at an early stage would go a long way in increasing the chances of success for every aspiring entrepreneur.