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Anne Jetter, IMA’s representative to the ISO TAG260 is collaborating with Bruce Bolger, managing director, Enterprise Engagement Alliance (EEA). The EEA is involved in several aspects of the ISO workforce standards initiative. They have developed this article to provide helpful context. 

ISO 9001 and rewards and recognition: What is the connection?

By Bruce Bolger and Anne Jetter

The vote by ISO, the International Organization of Standards, to approve the creation of standards on engagement has the potential to transform business practices worldwide. These standards are being developed under the ISO 260 Human Capital standards initiative, which encompasses a variety of human resources standards either already published or under development. As perhaps the world’s most respected facilitator of best practices across many industries, ISO 9001 quality management and other standards involving people directly influence the business practices of about 1.5 million companies worldwide. 

The IMA applied for and was elected to become a member of the US Technical Advisory Group 260 that encompasses all International Organization of Standards, ISO standards, related to human capital. Since this group is addressing multiple areas of human resources that could affect rewards and recognition, the IMA board determined that the ISO initiative would provide it an opportunity to share research and best practices in the field. The Incentive Research Foundation (IRF) applied to join and was elected in 2016. 

Whether or not rewards and recognition will be part of the human workforce standards remains to be seen, as the standards creation process requires a rigorous facts-based discussion which encompasses the views of experts from countries throughout the world representing many facets of engagement. What is most significant is that this vote by such a distinguished world body validates what many in the field have advocated for years: that engaging people is critical to organizational success. One of the seven key principles of Quality Management issued by the ISO 9001 Technical Advisory Group is People Engagement, and several of the principles speak to engaging customers, distribution partners, suppliers, and all employees in the quest to provide continually superior quality products and services. Any time organizations focus on engaging people, rewards and recognition are almost always part of the mix.

At the same time, research also demonstrates that these programs only achieve the best results on a sustainable basis when they are part of a comprehensive process that addresses all the issues involved with engagement, from branding and leadership coaching and assessment, to communications, learning, innovation, analytics, and more. Creators of standards will weigh many factors when deciding how to put all the pieces together.

The timing is good, because the industry through the IMA, the Incentive Federation, and the IRF  have produced an exceptional array of research demonstrating best practices in program design and implementation, and more importantly showing the role effectively designed programs can play in achieving concrete, measurable organizational results. This research suggests that a more rigorous approach than is common now to the design and implementation of programs, as well as the selection and creation of reward experiences that address both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, can provide more sustainable engagement. 

While at the appropriate time the IRF, IMA and other parties who have been elected to the ISO TAG 260 will have an opportunity to share this research and the potential application to engagement standards, in the meantime the industry should be utilizing this same research to make a case for a more scientific approach to program design such as is embodied in the CPIM program but also as it relates specifically to reward selection, merchandising, personalization and customization, and creation of an exceptional and memorable reward experience. 

A recognition that there is a more formal approach to engagement under development creates an opportunity for the field of incentives, rewards and recognition to leverage  the research to encourage their clients to recognize the importance not only of science but also art in program design that cannot be commoditized any more than can the work of a creative advertising agency. Based on input from multiple master fulfillment companies active in the field, only about 15% of award programs are selected, merchandised, personalized, or customized, or otherwise designed to maximize the reward experience. As such, many non-cash rewards are cash equivalents. Engagement programs using properly designed rewards and recognition programs have been demonstrated to help improve results—it’s time the business world better understood the art and science of the field.

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