Article: Zubin Zack of O.C. Tanner on bolstering success with employee recognition

HR Technology

Zubin Zack of O.C. Tanner on bolstering success with employee recognition

Organisations in the Middle East are catching up on recognition trends, with a tech-driven focus to engage remote employees, says Zubin Zack, Managing Director Middle East, Africa & South Asia O.C. Tanner Company.
Zubin Zack of O.C. Tanner on bolstering success with employee recognition

Modern workplaces incorporate various essential elements, such as new technologies, flexible work arrangements, rewards and recognition, and employee-centric initiatives. Among these factors, Recognition is the most crucial, boosting employee morale in the workplace.

In an exclusive interview with People Matters, Zubin Zack – Managing Director Middle East, Africa & South Asia O.C. Tanner Company, discussed emerging trends for employee recognition in the Middle East region, the role of HR technologies, and how global organisations can successfully integrate employee recognition process for a diverse workforce.

Here are the edited excerpts: 

Can you share insights on emerging employee recognition trends in the Middle East Region? How do these trends differ from or align with global practices? 

When discussing emerging recognition trends in the Middle East, it is exciting to see the corporations that exist in the region and within each country. The UAE has a lot of multinationals with high employee turnover, while Saudi Arabia has a predominantly local population, leading companies to invest in their employees. The UAE is diversifying its industry dependency, while Saudi Arabia is introducing technology to attract large MNCs and global companies. Similarly, Qatar and Kuwait have large populations and companies with extensive employee bases.

The Middle East region is only now beginning to pick up in terms of recognition trends, with companies investing in diversifying their employee base and growth across various industries. The type of recognition trends is similar to those in developed countries but at a slightly slower pace. Currently, there is a trend towards using technology to engage remote and offline employees, taking inspiration from best practices in the West or other developed countries.

Acceptance of recognition initiatives is high in the Middle East, with a trend towards measuring success through transactional metrics. While insights are being used, the focus is primarily on transactional metrics, with few companies moving towards measuring impact. The acceptance of recognition programs is growing at a faster pace in the Middle East than in other markets.

Recognition is being seen as a genuine strategy to improve the employee experience, and companies in the Middle East are eager to adopt it. They believe that recognition can help improve the experience of their employees, and this is a significant shift from the past. These are the two trails of recognition trends in the Middle East, and it is exciting to see the progress made so far.

In your view, what strategies are most effective for organisations with strong cultures in attracting and retaining high-value employees? What key methods can be employed to reduce employee turnover and enhance employee well-being in such a work environment? 

If a culture is already strong, the most effective strategies are the simplest and clearest ones that reinforce the culture's message without causing confusion. The employee value proposition is the most important strategy for organisations to define what they stand for in terms of their vision, mission, core values, benefits, and workplace policies. Then, an effective branding and communication strategy can help get that message across to attract and retain the right employees.

To reduce employee turnover, organisations should identify the problem statement, collect data, and conduct exit interviews and surveys to understand why employees are leaving. Once data is collected, organisations can select three parameters to improve in the next survey. For example, investing in first-line manager training to groom first-time managers who may be causing attrition.

Overall, simplicity and clarity are crucial to reinforcing a strong culture, defining an effective employee value proposition, and improving employee retention and well-being. 

What HR technologies facilitate employee recognition processes? How has the role of HR technologies in employee recognition evolved over time? 

HR technology, particularly rewards and recognition platforms, significantly enhances these programs. As we move ahead, I'll address the technology features and their evolution over time, with a primary focus on recognition. 

  • First, it is important to understand that technology serves to streamline and centralise recognition processes that may have previously been conducted offline or manually across various office locations, countries, and teams. This centralisation ensures that recognition is managed consistently and efficiently.
  • Furthermore, technology allows for the standardisation of recognition programs. It helps define the values that are worthy of appreciation and recognition, as well as the relevant data points. This standardisation ensures that recognition aligns with the company's core values and objectives.
  • Analytics technology is a crucial component as well. It enables the collection and analysis of data points related to recognition activities. This data helps organisations understand where and how recognition is occurring, benchmark it against industry standards, and make data-driven decisions.
  • Technology also plays a role in providing information, education, and insights into the recognition program. It simplifies the process and makes it more accessible to employees.
  • The evolution of technology in this context began with the automation and centralisation of recognition and rewards across branches and countries. This centralised approach made recognition more accessible and user-friendly. AI and features like nudges were introduced to improve the effectiveness and reach of recognition. It automated the process of recognition and provided education on how to recognise colleagues effectively.

In recent years, particularly in the post-COVID era, we have seen a surge in the use of analytics to measure the impact of rewards and recognition programs. Organisations now use data to assess the effects of recognition on company culture and key metrics. These metrics include program utilisation, employee engagement, attrition rates, and the overall sense of shared purpose within the company.

In summary, recognition technology serves three essential functions: automation, standardisation, and consolidation. As it has evolved, it has also focused on providing education and insights. These advancements help organisations measure the impact of recognition on culture and key performance metrics effectively.

Q. Sharing insights on Learning and Development, what strategies should leaders adopt to boost employee morale, enhance productivity, and effectively train the future workforce? 

The strategies of using learning and development to boost employee morale, and productivity and prepare the future workforce are essential. However, the way we implement learning and development is where half the battle is won. There are two areas in learning and development: personal interest learning and meeting company objectives. Personal interest learning involves employees learning for their passion and personal development objectives. Meeting company objectives focuses on making sure the current workforce is future-ready by providing them with the necessary skills and training. 

  • To align these two areas, we need to collect data to understand where each employee stands. This includes assessing each employee's productivity, deliverables, and future skill sets required for their job role. We also need to evaluate if their passion aligns with the company's vision. For example, an employee in the operations team may want to upgrade their skills in digital marketing while the company may want them to learn operation research and quantitative methods. 
  • To make this work, we need to assess our budgets and expenses. We can provide on-the-job training, job rotations, free online courses, and internal programs run by employees willing to share their knowledge. We need to know our capabilities, budgets, and where we want to spend our time and energy. Once we know the resources we have, we can decide if we need to get external faculty and how much budget to allocate.

Overall, aligning personal interest learning with meeting company objectives is crucial for successful learning and development.

What are the key challenges faced by global organisations in the realm of Employee Recognition? How can a global organisation effectively integrate recognition processes for a diverse workforce?

The three most significant challenges faced by companies in implementing employee recognition programs are:

  1. The biggest challenge faced by global organisations is underestimating the amount of time and strategic ownership needed for recognition programs to be effective. Therefore, it is crucial for companies to consider recognition as a strategic tool and invest the necessary time, resources, and money to launch a successful program. This includes conducting assessments to determine organisational requirements and consulting with experts to determine what will work best. 
  2. The second challenge is to start with a simple blanket message that involves a large group of employees before moving towards personalisation and customisation of the program. Simplicity is key to creating momentum and achieving success. 
  3. The third challenge is similar to the first, where it is essential for leadership to set an example and lead by demonstrating the importance of recognition.

Additionally, the complexity of large companies, including multi-country, multi-language, and multicultural nuances, can pose a challenge. However, by addressing these three primary obstacles, companies can create successful employee recognition programs that benefit and motivate their diverse workforce.

To successfully navigate these challenges and integrate recognition programs for a diverse workforce, organisations should follow these three key steps: conduct thorough research, start with simplicity to engage a broad audience, and ensure that leaders lead by example. These steps will enable the organisation to integrate recognition programs into its global and diverse workforce effectively.

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Topics: HR Technology, Employee Relations, Learning & Development

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