Estimates from organizations including Mercer and WorldatWork put next year’s average U.S. base salary increase at approximately 3% -- a healthy gain for most of the industrial world, which actually saw pay fall this year, but a disappointing “new normal” for benefits pros who remember sunnier days. With budgets for rewards and compensation stretched like sausage casings – thin and fragile, but holding it all together – companies will be looking for even more low- and no-cost ways to recognize top performers and achievers than they have in years past.

That works just fine for David Olson and Dr. Bob Nelson, co-founders of Recognition PRO. Olson and Nelson have spent years tracking incentivized behavior and corporate rewards, and, like the song says, the best things in life are free. They say the best-motivated workforces aren’t driven by plaques, coffee mugs or even bonuses; they’re driven by deeper personal connections with their managers and coworkers, and personalized recognition that comes from those relationships.

“I’m a culture consulting coach with CEOs” Olson explains how he and Dr. Bob connected a few years ago. “[We] recognized the need to improve employee recognition culture within workforces, and we came up with a unique way to go about doing that,” Olson adds. “Most of the $50 billion [incentive] industry has tried to solve the problem by throwing merchandise at employees. That doesn’t really create a culture of recognition; creating a culture of recognition comes down to strengthening manager-employee relations …”

Nelson, the best-selling author of “1001 Ways to Reward Employees” looks at the problem from a psychological perspective. The ultimate goal of psychology, some say, is to improve behavior – in this case, group behavior. “I’m not in the incentive industry,” Nelson says. “I’m really a behaviorist.” Out of the 13 most-motivating management behaviors, he says, the top nine cost an organization nothing at all.

Check out Wednesday’s inBrief to read more about Recognition PRO. Find the full story in the Sept. 1 issue of EBN.

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