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Workhuman interview

5 Questions with Zoe Peterson-Ward, Chief Customer Officer, Workhuman

Recognition Programs Support Engagement and Retention with Proven ROI

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Dash Research recently spoke with Zoe Peterson-Ward, the Chief Customer Officer at Workhuman, a provider of rewards and recognition technology and insights that has been in business more than 20 years. Peterson-Ward discussed challenges human resource professionals are facing, critical factors that support success of rewards and recognition programs, and the data supporting return on investment (ROI).

Can you provide some background on your personal or professional experiences that have led you to Workhuman, and how that shapes your approach to this role?

Zoe Peterson-Ward, Chief Customer Officer, Workhuman

I started my career in consulting, working primarily in process design and change management for clients in communications and the high-tech sector. This experience, early in my career, helped me learn a lot about what it meant to think about CX as a change management philosopher. When transformations are happening within an organization it’s critically important to not just think about the technology, but about the people who are using it and what the behaviors are that you have to change to drive ROI.

After consulting, I had a few operations roles. At one time, I was in an IT role, responsible for all HR and financial applications. That was complicated as we were dealing with a large number of acquisitions and bringing new employees into the fold. At the next role, I was in a sales operations role, responsible for a global CRM implementation that occurred across many countries so there were different languages, labor laws, and expectations. These experiences helped me to learn what is needed to cultivate a positive employee experience during change.

When I started my role at Salesforce, I had the chance to move out of operations into a customer-facing position, which was exciting to me. I liked the opportunity to carve out what my role was in delivering good CX for our customers and designing offerings and processes to support customers, again, really elevating the focus away from the ideas that it’s not just a technology solution. You have to figure out what you need to do to drive a behavior and delight those parties in the process. When Salesforce acquired ExactTarget and Demandware, the company suddenly entered the B2C space, and we had to build an entirely new practice. Being involved in the B2C area, you could really see the impact of customer experience at a much larger scale. And as a consumer myself, I could really put myself in their shoes and could more deeply understand their experience so that we could enable a more personalized, helpful interaction across the customer journey.

When I moved to Workhuman, the aspect that excited me most was its mission and having the possibility to help companies really shape the experience of their employees to make work more human. There is a tremendous amount of opportunity and honestly a big challenge as there is so much value at stake. Employees are a company’s largest asset, and it takes so much money to hire, train, develop, and retain. Keeping employees connected and feeling valued requires a tremendous amount of thought and planning. Companies simply have to get EX right.

What are the biggest challenges facing your customers or potential customers? How does Workhuman help with those challenges?

Human resources is really grappling with a lot these days: the post-pandemic challenges of bringing employees back in, sorting out the hybrid model, and building connectedness with employees who may still be working in a home environment. Workplace uncertainty about layoffs is ramping up anxiety.

Every HR exec is experiencing a real sense of urgency to drive a more human-centric workplace all while the workplace is evolving at a much faster pace than ever. Economic uncertainty is not necessarily a new thing. We have been through this before. But the corporate environment just hasn’t been able to stabilize over the past few years.

We will be seeing more disruptions like this, so the challenge is how to build a more resilient workplace. An organization that can contend with that uncertainty, but still have employees who feel valued and connected.

There is also a lot of complexity in supporting multi-generational workforces who each have different expectations on what it means to be engaged and what they need to feel valued. Building positive CX and EX is a business imperative but given all these factors it’s challenging to accomplish that at scale.

Workhuman has demonstrated over and over again the power of a positive recognition culture and the impact it will have on employee engagement, productivity, and helping employees feel a sense of belonging in their company. What I am excited about and where I feel we have a leg up on, is the Workhuman IQ solution and practice. For the past 20 years, we have had the ability to cultivate rich insights due to their datasets from all our client experiences, partnerships we have developed in the market, and a set of talent that can pull those threads of data together to find the trends. This helps us determine the factors that create positivity around recognition, and we can say what a good program looks like. We can get really specific for clients on the impact on things like retention and engagement, and can provide really powerful statements around ROI and the value the program provides. As someone who has worked in technology, that’s the big nirvana for me.

How does Workhuman partner with customers to ensure a successful implementation? Is there typically a bit of education/support needed?

We take a very strategic approach. It’s critical that it is set up well. Our differentiated approach provides both a success team as well as our consulting practice, and our people are thought leaders in this space.

We spend a lot of upfront time with clients to understand what their goals and objectives are. And we work with them to ensure they are set up for success to drive those outcomes. We also know in order for a program to be successful, they must have the right internal sponsorship and it must be promoted internally and communicated. The whole organization needs to know why they are doing a recognition program and why it’s a good thing. Our mantra is it needs to start at the top. There needs to be an executive sponsor with significant involvement and support in setting the tone. It’s really not that different from any other strategic initiative.

The first year is critical in helping to develop the right muscle in the organization for recognition programs to be successful. We really invest in helping companies have the right branding, communications planning, and strategy. We also involve not just the HR team, but finance, IT, and communications as well, as much as possible.

Organizations get the biggest bang for their buck when the entire organization is participating. That means encouraging peer-to-peer recognition. The more people weigh in to share their thoughts at that moment of recognition, the more internal connective tissue is created. We do check-ins to make sure the program is living up to expectations and will bring in insights from Workhuman IQ to elevate and demonstrate what they are seeing. Our goal is to help them to move up the maturity level in usage and acceptance.

Are you seeing any particular “sweet spots” in the market in terms of company size or industry segment? What types of organizations are seeing the most success?

From an industry perspective I would say we are not really seeing a lot of differences or particular areas of high or low adoption. We have customers of all sizes. It’s not the size or the industry. It comes down to the effectiveness of the program design and its execution.

What we have determined is that there are factors that do have a significant impact on success:

  1. Reach. What percentage of population is participating? Who is receiving/ who is giving? The most successful programs have about 80% reach on giving and receiving.
  2. Frequency. This has a big play. The greatest success is when 2-5% of the company’s population is getting recognition on a weekly basis. We advocate driving participation so that every person is getting four to six recognition moments a year. Eight to 12 has even more impact.
  3. Value. Monetary vs. non-monetary. Monetary does have a big point to play, but it’s not the only thing.
  4. Connectivity. The more people participating in a moment, the more impact on the metrics. As an example, the more a manager weighs in on an employee’s recognition moment from a peer, the more impact it has on employees feeling valued.

We are really seeing growth and success. It’s an important strategic lever in this turbulent marketplace and there really can be a big impact with a small investment.

This year may be a challenging one in terms of tight budgets and the need to make tough choices on technology priorities. What would you say to a company contemplating purchasing rewards and recognition software and balancing the need vs the cost?

It comes down to the ability to prove ROI and deliver a strong value proposition.

We have evidence from Merck who has just reached the five-year mark of their recognition program. New hires who receive recognition within their first year are significantly less likely to leave in that first year. There is also 1.3x lower turnover for employees who receive a monthly INSPIRE Award.

In Baystate Health’s very first year, they had a sizable number (15,000) of recognition moments. Those doctors who received three or more recognition moments had zero attrition compared to the 6% they would normally have. There was 7x lower turnover for nurses who received more than three Baystate Celebrates awards.

This data is pretty powerful when you consider the cost of recruiting and training to replace employees.

We have hard and fast ROI demonstrators. I feel very strongly about the numbers we have presented in many different studies that show a dramatic improvement in employee engagement. We did a large-scale study with Gallup that demonstrated when employees are recognized at work, they are up to 10 times as likely to strongly agree that they belong at their organization. This is important as employees who lack a strong sense of belonging are up to 12times as likely to be disengaged and five times as likely to be looking for another job. Our research with Gallup determined organizations can experience an opportunity loss of $20 million for every 10,000 workers due to low wellbeing and its drain on performance.

With these numbers, it is an easy technology decision to consider bringing in a recognition program. More and more, people want to work for a company that matches their values, and this technology can reinforce the tie between the individual and their organization.

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