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How Can Recognition Act As A Positive Enforcer In Renewing The Energy Of A Workplace?

8/29/22 9:29 AM


"For us at Edelweiss Life, recognition is very intrinsic to our organization; we believe it fosters an environment that can drive growth, quality, and innovation across our functions," believes Vikas Bansal, Chief Human Resource Officer, Edelweiss Life Insurance.

Let's deep dive into this candid conversation of Mr. Bansal with BW's journalist.


1. Recognition is often undervalued in many workplaces. What do you think is the importance of recognition in a workplace and how do you at Edelweiss Life view it?


Recognition is an important enabler in any workplace and plays a critical role in driving organizational pride and loyalty among employees. As an HR leader, I am always taken aback by how undervalued recognition is across sectors, and leaders don’t always appreciate the importance of softer aspects like Recognition in driving employee engagement as well as productivity. Gone are the days when employees evaluated their current or prospective employer only basis the pay scales and incentives. People want to know how organizations are caring for their people and nurturing them to deliver better – recognition comes into play here in a big way. 


For us at Edelweiss Life, recognition is very intrinsic to our organization; we believe it fosters an environment that can drive growth, quality, and innovation across our functions. We are a decade-old company and since early on, we have never wanted to take a piecemeal approach. Recognition is important, but what’s more important is a holistic experience. 


We have a consistent history of bringing innovative products to market, delivering excellent customer service as reflected in our NPS and more. All these parameters can be reached consistently year after year because our employees put in relentless hard work and man hours behind achieving those milestones. For instance, Q4 is usually the busiest and business-critical for insurance companies. We see a massive surge in day-to-day activities across functions. From smaller things like making meal arrangements to holding a recognition event after the FY closes, recognition comes into play more than you know. 


2. What is the Recognition framework currently in place at your organization? 

Recognition is not unidimensional for us. We have tried to build in at least 3 different aspects: 

● Manager Feedbacks:

If you want to build any kind of culture in your organization, you won’t be able to do it unless you have a complete buy-in from the managers. They are the ones interacting with your people on a day-to-day basis and therefore the custodians of the culture you want to create. So, if I want to create a recognition-rich culture in the workplace, are my managers having structured conversations with each individual reporting to them? It is critical that every individual is getting the due attention and advice multiple times in a year. Having one conversation in a year at the time of appraisal is not enough. These manager feedbacks help us achieve more regularity recognition – wherein managers can appreciate a job well done and give guidance to those who can course correct and perform better.

● Niche Training Programs: 

We have 3 marquee leadership programs – Business Leaders, Young Leaders, and Women Leaders. We have made significant efforts in creating an aspirational perception for these programs and it has helped us drive better goal-based engagement with employees. 

● Rewards & Recognition:

We have a 3-tiered framework for organization-wide recognition, as it is typically thought about wherein employees are presented certificates and trophies. We have (monthly) Superstars, (quarterly) Trailblazers and (annual) ICONS. Superstars help us recognition more immediate and tactical efforts made by employees, and Trailblazers are awarded to those who have displayed our core values (Quality, Cost Consciousness, and Customer Centricity). ICONS is the mega recognition event of the year, and unique in one specific way. ICONS recognises a broad spectrum – those who have displayed core values, the organization-critical behaviours like Collaboration, Innovation, Social Responsibility, etc. – and urges people to self-nominate. A majority of the nominations we receive are through self-nomination because we wanted to debunk this expectation that my manager is in control of my recognition. We receive an uproarious response for ICONS every year.   


3. How do you create and ensure alignment between Recognition and organizational goals or values? 

So let me use ICONS as an example to explain. ICONS, which is our annual recognition property, was linked to 2 primarily elements until this year – organization’s core values, and individual behaviours like Collaboration, Innovation, Social responsibility, People-centricity, etc. These elements are linked to organization’s priorities. So, for the last several editions, our employees have been guided by these factors and therefore their performance has been driven by one or more elements. This has in turn contributed to organizational goals like innovation, building a socially conscious brand, etc. 

This year, we have introduced a new element called Edge Behaviours. Edge is our Employee Value Proposition and we have sketched out 6 behaviours – Learn, Adaptable, Accountable, Data-Driven, Collaborate, and Nurture – that we believe will not only help the organization in the long term but also our people in their respective professional journey. This year at ICONs, we have asked our employees to include in their self-nominations how they have displayed these behaviours. Over time, we expect there to be a robust recall for Edge Behaviours which in turn will guide the year-round performance of our people. The key is to remember that you can’t undertake such exercises overnight. Creating the right alignment or recall takes consistent efforts for a fairly long period. 


4. Employee Value Proposition is increasingly becoming an important agenda for several organizations. Do you have one and how does recognition fit into that framework? 

Like I said, employees want their employers to deliver a holistic experience and we believe that an Employee Value Proposition can help us achieve that objective. We look at EVP, which is called EDGE, as our commitment to employees while they are associated with us. Every employee has a unique perspective, skill, and outlook that they bring to the table. It is our commitment, through EDGE, that we will nurture and develop that uniqueness. 

EDGE has 3 pillars – Growth, Development, and Impacting Lives. 

Through the Growth pillar, the company has mapped out a growth journey for every employee which includes creating personalized learning cards, enabling career conversations, etc. The Development pillar provides employees a platform to enhance their skills through a series of functional, business, and personal learning programmes. The Impacting Lives pillar focuses on the complete physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing of employees. We see recognition as a part of the Impacting Lives pillar because it has an important role to play in driving emotional wellbeing of the employees. 


5. Do you believe there is an interplay between DE&I and recognition?

There definitely is an interplay between DE&I and Recognition, but I will define recognition a bit differently in this case. DE&I is a serious commitment, and you need strategic as well as execution excellence to achieve it meaningfully in your organization. We are at a fairly nascent stage of DE&I and our focus has been largely on 2 cohorts during this period – improving representation of Women and Persons with Disabilities in our workforce. 

In fact, the genesis of our larger D&I agenda started from WOW (Wellbeing of Women), an internal resource group we created pre-pandemic. WOW has been an incredibly successful platform which has helped increase the overall engagement rate of female employees from 67% in 2019 to 84% in 2020. This group worked on a framework of Essential (safety & hygiene), Enable (health, wellness, work environment) and Empower (networking & collaboration) and has been founded, and run by the female employees of the organization. 

When we decided on taking on the larger D&I agenda, our goal was to improve female representation from 27% in 2021 to 35% over the succeeding 3 years. We have seen a promising response and already reached 30% so far. In case of PWDs, we have added 3 full-time employees, and 4 interns during the past year. 

When I look at why were able to create this change, I find recognition played an important. Proactively recognising the challenges faced by these cohorts and creating the necessary policy as well as infrastructure changes is what helped us achieve this change. Women Leadership Program, Flexibility in working hours, redefining the Parental leave, etc. are some of the changes we instituted to create the difference necessary for us to become an employer of choice for these cohorts. Currently, we are in the midst of undertaking an exercise wherein we want identify employees who have disabilities, so that we can interact with them, recognise their challenges and build necessary measures to meaningfully include them in the workforce. 


6. There is also a view that recognition has some negative outcomes. It could be alienating for some individuals who do not fit the mold of top performers. What are your views on that?

For companies that don’t have an EVP, I see why it could have negative outcomes. 

But, for Edelweiss Life, our focus is on peripheral factors like Growth and Development which enable them to get the recognition they want and deserve. Aforementioned measures like Feedback Conversations with managers, personalized learnings, career conversations, etc. are all important in understanding the dreams and aspirations of employees. Someone who has a career aspiration in Accounting, but is currently working in litigation, may not perform well because he is engaged in work that doesn’t motivate him. As an HR leader I need to course correct and put his skills to right use and help him achieve the desired recognition. I can only discover his aspirations and skills when I have a structure in place that requires the manager to have those conversations. 

Simply put, Recognition alone can only take you so far. Unless you are actively supporting employees who are perhaps struggling in the workplace, or their managers are not giving them due attention and guidance, etc. you cannot achieve an engaged workplace. 


7. What is your advice for HR leaders looking to discover/reinvent Recognition for their workplace?

EVP is truly a scientific mantra that can help HR leaders streamline their People policies including recognition. I will advise them to undertake that exercise immediately. Make it inclusive – speak to your employees and listen to their feedback because all the solutions lie in what they are saying to you. Recognition, while important, alone cannot help them. Organizations need to figure out methods nurture their employees who can support the business goals. 


8. What role do managers play when you are looking to establish a Recognition-driven workplace?

Managers, like I said, are the custodians of the culture you are trying to build. You know that saying that people don’t leave organizations, they leave their managers. I truly attest to it. Managers are the most important levers of any organization – you need to provide them with the right tools to manage their teams effectively and interact with them productivity through positive reinforcement including using recognition. Training your managers, especially those who are managing People for the first time, is extremely essential. 


9. Do you believe Recognition could help build resilience against the Great Resignation era or arrest attrition?  

Yes, it certainly can contribute to retaining people. I will reiterate that Recognition comes in many forms, and we must be mindful about what the employee needs at what juncture during their association with your organization. For someone who is financially hard-pressed, you cannot offer them a trophy and expect them to stay back. You need to identify the pain points and use recognition more strategically.  

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