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.



How Institutions Built on ‘Pressure based Performance’ or ‘Stress based Learning’ are Killing our Nation!

Rstressecently, I shifted my 7 year old child from a conventional public school to a non-conventional school which follows the same curriculum but a very different approach to the way in which the learning gets imparted. In training parlance, both schools have the same learning content and learning outcome, but the mode of delivery varies. Whereas the previous school relied heavily on memorisation and endless practice, the latter relies heavily on learning by asking, doing and reflecting. The results are very satisfactory – my child seems to be happier, keener to learn and is discovering new things even about concepts learned earlier. To illustrate with an example, while he has known the concept of even and odd numbers for a long time now, its only recently that he discovered (on his own!) that when you subtract an odd number with an even number, the result will always be odd and so also for even numbers.

In the India of the past and to a large extent even today, it is believed that pressure and stress could increase our ability to learn. This is the philosophy behind getting students to scurry from 45-minute to 45-minute cram-for-test sessions, forcing resident students to work over 80 hours a week, and why corporations expect employees to learn and perform at peak levels while  working weekdays and weekends without respite. But the research into the effects of stress on learning is forcing brain-based educators to conclude that the systems favoured by our learning institutions may in themselves produce so much stress that not only is effective learning and creativity compromised but so too the capacities for big-picture thinking, future planning, and compassion. The result is scholastic, government, and corporate institutions are filled not with joyful, productive, creative, and compassionate learners but with disgruntled individuals who have behavioural problems and are unhappy and uninspired. No wonder then that we face leadership issues at the top, that while our workforce is well equipped in functional skills, they lack higher order skills such as critical thinking, creative problem solving, empathy, ability to envision the big picture – all critical aspects of nation building.

The need of the hour is to question the basic premise on which our learning system is based as that is what will impact the character of our nation going forward. Is it important to create competitive robots each trying to outrun the other on parameters of ‘how much I know’ or is it important to create emotionally healthy individuals who are tolerant, inquisitive, aware and nurture a deep love for learning? It is not only for educators and policy makers to imbibe the latter approach to education (and change the curriculum and the assessment and delivery approach accordingly), it is also for us as parents and guardians to change the principles on which we nurture our children. It is with this collaborative mind-set between the parent and educator community that the fabric of our coming generation can change.   


Can Drama and Theatre be Adult Learning Platforms?


Over the past few years, drama and theatre-based corporate training in India has evolved from role plays, ice-breakers and team-building activities into a serious tool. Companies are using it for everything from behavioral change, leadership skills development, change management to handling cultural and personal issues.

“The goal is to lead a participant to a unbiased evaluation of life events and choices that impact their work and professional life,” Watching experiences from outside and discussing them triggers introspection, it is pretty similar to relating to a movie that we love to watch.

Some examples of how organizations are successfully using this tool include are as below :

  • Intel uses it for management training at various levels. Its theatre training vendor uses research to develop customized people management case studies. “The aim of the programme is to depict the importance of certain behaviours and equip the audience with techniques that help understand the most relevant aspects of managing teams,”
  • Target India, on the other hand, uses it for diversity training. Drama-based training “is an effective model to be implemented for topics or themes that may have multiple viewpoints,” Theatre is also becoming increasingly relevant in dealing with personal and psychological issues, which are not very easy to handle directly. “More often than not, people can differentiate between a good and a bad behaviour, and even more so when they are watching from outside in a safe, anonymous environment,


Training with Drama options can include:

  • Team Building with Theatre can be a great way to allow teams to release some tension, change group dynamics and have fun. Using a combination of games and improvisations that can ultimately lead to creating a performance develops great team spirit. It is chance to reveal different dimensions to the team and its members in a safe and enjoyable environment.
  • Storytelling workshops offer techniques to deliver stories and information in a variety of ways that captivate and enthral an audience. It is performance orientated so you get to experience acting techniques and deliver them using your individual skills. It uncovers limiting beliefs, enables group work in a supportive environment and offers exploration of what an audience requires. With the emphasis on telling a story, participants are removed from fear of failure with the focus elsewhere they are released to perform at their best.
  • Conference events can come alive with ideas when using drama – using drama to show rather than tell.
  • Presentations Skills. courses can be organized to use the world of performance and acting to develop Presentation Skills.
  • Working with actors to explore themes such as Customer Service, Dealing with Bullying and many other issues. Called forum theatre, participants instruct the actors how to behave in certain circumstances and then explore the outcomes.


  • Creating interactive role plays for themes such as: Customer Service or Dealing with Difficult People. Participants can explore what happens when things go wrong and how to put them right in a safe environment.


Progressive organisations are passionate about delivering learning and development that harnesses the diversity, energy and creativity of people towards the common purpose. Drama & Theatre based programs achieve this by finding imaginative and creative ways of helping people learn, develop and adopt positive behaviour at work.

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.

Powered by Disability

We have all heard of elephant and ant stories. Here is one version which I love the most. A mighty elephant in a forest is extremely proud of his strength and power. It could fell trees, kill lions, tigers and other wild animals. One day he saw an ant on the leaf of a tree and laughs at her tiny structure. Then there is sudden rain, wind and storm and the elephant and the ant rush to a cave for shelter. The cave gets blocked with big rocks falling from rain and wind. The elephant tries hard but could not move the rocks. The ant due to her small size is able to make her way out through small gaps between the rocks. The elephant dies a slow, painful death outside the cave.
What is our usual reaction to a disability, disadvantage or difficulty? – fear, anger, frustration, sadness, despair etc. Most of these emotional reactions are negative and we are tuned to see difficulties as something undesirable and to be avoided. Is it possible to feel positive, powerful, creative, different, energetic when we face a challenge or a problem?

The answer lies in our ability to see ‘advantages of disadvantages’ and ‘disadvantages of advantages’- proposed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘David & Goliath’. If we set our mental frames to look beyond the obvious disadvantages and obvious advantages, we may discover enormous possibilities and strengths leading to huge success. The book is rife with such examples where weak defeats strong, unconventional beats conventional and difficulties are turned desirable once people discover and mobilize their ‘hidden’ strengths invisible to others. David, a small, ordinary looking shepherd kills a giant called Goliath by using unconventional method of battle – using a slingshot rather than hand to hand fight. What looks like David’s weakness –short and thin body- turns out to be his biggest strength as it provides him agility and speed which is disastrous against Goliath’s huge but slow moving stature.

david and goliath

Another powerful example is that of people suffering from dyslexia. Dyslexia, a disability which leads to difficulties in reading and writing is turned desirable when people suffering from it sharpen their alternate skills – listening and memorizing instead of reading and writing, openness and disagreeableness instead of conventional thinking and social acceptance. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, John Chambers, Craig McCaw, Charles Schwab…..the list of successful dyslexic people is endless. The book cites a research which claims that one third of world most famous entrepreneurs are dyslexic.

Getting back to our ant and elephant story – What looks like an advantage or strength at one situation may turn out to be a big disadvantage or disability at another time. Many times we misinterpret and misread conflicts and difficulties. Power is not limited to physical might, size or wealth. Once we realize this, our struggle, conflict turns into valuable and beautiful experience helping us learn biggest life lessons .

Unravelling Creativity – Part 1

Torrents of creativity

The other day at one of our meetings, we were talking about how a lot of companies are redefining their competency framework to include an element of creativity/ innovation in it. A lot of training programs have suddenly sprung up which claim to be developing ‘creative skills’. However, as I study creativity/ innovation more and more, I realise that at least in the Indian context, developing creativity is less of a learning journey and more of an unlearning journey.

We all know that our brain consists of two hemispheres. Each has a different function – logical ability, mathematical ability and linguistic ability are all left brain activities whereas emotional intelligence, spatial intelligence and visual ability are right brain activities. From our very childhood, the Indian learning curriculum focuses much more heavily on logical and mathematical ability. Lately, there has been some focus on linguistic intelligence also. As such, the way we are trained since our childhood, our left brain tends to dominate in all our thinking processes.

Creativity, on the other hand is a whole brain activity. It consists of first, redesigning the problem at hand and converting it into various forms to arrive at multiple solutions. For instance, consider the following problem –

Jack and Jill are lying dead on the floor of a room. There’s a window in the room. There is a little water and some broken glass around the two dead bodies. No wounds, no blood, no evident signs of injury. How did Jack and Jill die?

The standard left brain response to the problem would be to examine the evidence one-by-one, ask a series of logical questions to arrive at the solution. The creative (whole-brain) response would be to first use all our faculties to redesign the problem from the very beginning. Who are Jack and Jill would be the first question – and in that question itself lies the answer – Jack and Jill are fishes!

Having said that the more dominant side of a standard Indian is the left side, we look at a product/ process/ concept with a dominant mental pattern which relies heavily on the data available for the senses to see/feel/hear etc. This does have its advantages if the problem is straight forward – we do not tend to re-invent the wheel and our response time is faster. However, in the absence of such structured data we tend to get lost as our ability to think differently has been supressed for a very long time (since we started our schooling).

As such, learning creative thinking skills for most of us really is more about unlearning some of the habits that we have picked up since we were kids – excessive reliance on data, being drawn to structure and repetition and ‘logical’ problem solving.

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!