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Letting employees determine employee recognition

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Employee recognition used to be solely handled by the manager or by executives. This top-down approach had its flaws but worked well enough to survive in the traditional workplace where employees and managers met, mingled and interacted on a daily basis.

But in a world where many employees work remotely, employee recognition and incentives must adapt. At Endeavor America Loan Services, we let employees become the leaders in an employee-recognition system that is democratic, inclusive and engaging. We’ve have seen that effort pay off with a highly productive workforce with low turnover and high morale.

From the start of our company, which is headquartered in Walnut Creek, Calif., but employs remote team members across the nation, we recognized that employees are the best evaluators of performance. So we put incentives and rewards in their hands to increase engagement, collaboration and teamwork. In the past, democratizing employee recognition would have required a significant time investment and ongoing administrative manpower. But today, technology allows these programs to be run efficiently with minimal oversight. We use YouEarnedIt, a software platform that allows every employee to reward or recognize a co-worker for performance. The software is simple and saves managers the time and expense of building an employee-recognition system from the ground up.

However, a commitment to an employee-led recognition program starts long before choosing a software platform. It starts with creating the company’s core values.

Our core values and our employee recognition program are inextricably linked. Every award of points in YouEarnedIt is based on our four core values:

  • People Matter
  • Inspiring Leadership
  • Strength of Character
  • Rock Solid Service.

These are the core values that define who we are as an organization, which makes their connection with employee recognition that much more significant.

Our core values set the standard for our company’s culture. And with a strong company culture in place, employee rewards are based on how well an employee meets or exceeds the company’s cultural goals.

Part of the struggle of being a young company is being unable to demonstrate our culture to referrals and new employees. Now, we can present tangible examples of what our culture is and how it works. Those examples are instrumental in attracting talent as well as maintaining our vision. Of course we, just like any other company, need to contend with employees who are the wrong fit or take advantage of working remotely. This behavior quickly stands out when a large majority of our team is engaged, as it does not live up to the core values. Despite us operating with many remote employees, we still consistently measure productivity, and we see real-time results.

A remote workforce presents opportunities and challenges for managers and company executives. In the right environment and with the right culture and recognition, remote team members can be highly productive and highly satisfied. In the wrong setting and without the motivation of a strong culture and strong feedback from fellow employees, remote team members can be set adrift in an aimless work world of low motivation and low morale.

We couple YouEarnedIt recognition with regular care packages to remote employees, consistent training programs and team-building exercises that place employees in teams that match their skills.

We believe that employee recognition, embedded into a company’s operation, is a critical step towards recruiting, retaining and getting the most from all team members. And, coupled with a strong company culture, employee incentives can lead to a highly productive and highly connected workforce, even when employees rarely meet face to face.

Our remote team members are productive and engaged. Our recruiting costs are nonexistent, as employee referrals bring in qualified candidates. And staff turnover, in an industry known for a high rate of instability, is nearly nonexistent.

Building a strong company culture and employee recognition program takes an investment of time, effort and resources. But the rewards of empowering leadership to the employees are well worth the effort.

Darius John Mirshahzadeh is the president of Endeavor America Loan Services, a national wholesale and correspondent mortgage bank headquartered in Walnut Creek, Calif., that he founded with Mike Mirshahzadeh and Ali Vafai.