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News Analysis: What Does ISO 10018 Have to Do With Rewards & Recognition?

By Bruce Bolger, EEA Founder

With more investors demanding that public companies invest in human capital and engagement, and the economics of engagement proven beyond logical dispute, ISO 10018 standards have the potential to elevate the level of knowledge and expertise required by traditional incentive, rewards and recognition providers.

Today, any company can claim that its products and services engage people. Check out the websites of companies in incentives, rewards and recognition and one finds many claims about engagement. Almost no barrier to entry into the engagement field exists, because organizations that utilize these services have virtually no objective way of evaluating the claims. The arrival of ISO 10018 People Competency and Involvement standards from the International Organization for Standardization has the potential to shake up the incentive, rewards and recognition marketplace by providing organizations with a more scientific way of developing engagement strategies and identifying solution-providers capable of offering verifiable solutions. It could also drive a new level of demand and respect for reward services that can provide more scientific selection and presentation of rewards in much the same way media buyers must research and justify their recommendations to clients.  

The rise of these ISO standards could significantly affect providers of almost any type of engagement solution and related technology by establishing an accepted strategic framework that will focus on better integrating incentives, rewards and recognition across all audiences, and by reducing the amount of ad hoc initiatives that currently characterizes the nascent engagement field. These standards will make it more difficult for organizations to claim they can help drive sustainable engagement unless they demonstrate the knowledge and services required for an organization to benefit from the roadmap provided by ISO 10018 standards. These standards could also attract new competitors into the marketplace – i.e., consultants who have traditionally supported the application of ISO 9000 standards, many of whom probably know little about incentive program design, or rewards & recognition.

Millions of Followers

Now that engagement is hot, it’s only a matter of time before ISO 10018 standards attract attention. The framework underlying ISO 9001 standards developed by the U.S. Navy languished little known for years until the work of W. Edwards Deming and others unleashed the total quality management (TQM) movement in the 1980s. The field endures today in part because of the adoption of the highly respected ISO 9001 standards created in 1987, now followed by over 1.3 million companies worldwide, according to Wikipedia. With more investors demanding that public companies disclose formal engagement practices, and with ISO 10018 standards related to engagement already in place and more on the way, it’s only a matter of time before organizations discover the value of ISO 10018 standards. ISO 9000 standards have created an estimated marketplace of over 10,000 consultants worldwide that help organizations implement best practices and achieve ISO certification through an independent audit.

The ISO 10018 standards on People Competency and Involvement, created by the same ISO working group that manages the ISO 9000 quality management standards, have the potential to disrupt the incentive, rewards and recognition marketplace in multiple ways. An understanding of these standards challenges the claims of some in our field that incentives or recognition alone provide a sustainable result. After all, many organizations have deployed these strategies for decades, and by all measures customer and employee engagement have risen little over that time.

ISO 10018 standards spell out a strategic approach to engagement that aligns engagement activities across the organization in a way that is rarely applied today. Most organizations continue to view engagement as a series of ad hoc leadership, assessment, communications, recognition, incentive and other initiatives, and as a result often implement ad hoc engagement concepts and then wonder why engagement rarely changes. In addition, many, if not most, organizations silo the engagement of customers, employees, distribution partners and vendors between human resources, sales and marketing, creating natural barriers to alignment.

A Death-Knell for Hollow Claims?

Because of the lack of standards, anyone can make any type of claim. Pushed by their customers, many suppliers let their clients utilize their services in a way almost guaranteed to underperform by failing to address all the factors that address engagement in a more integrated way. At the same time, most clients lack a formal framework against which to evaluate the many claims made by different types of solution-providers. A review of research, the ISO 10018 standards and common sense clearly shows:

  • Program design is critical. Someone needs to understand how to create an incentive, recognition or reward campaign that engages the entire team, or customers and distribution partners, while ensuring the effort is supported by leadership, the culture, communications, learning, analytics and more. Failing to address how these other engagement tactics come into play almost guarantees sub-par performance or worse – incidents such as those that occurred at Wells Fargo.
  • The reward experience counts. Anyone who has read all the research compiled over the last 20 years knows that 85% of current programs fail to address the key roles played by selection, presentation and personalization of rewards so that they become memorable experiences rather than cash equivalents.
  • The cleverest customer incentive, promotion or loyalty program will eventually fail if it doesn’t ensure that the customer also has a consistent experience with the organization’s people, products or services.
  • The notion that rewards, recognition or incentives drive employee engagement any more than effective leadership, training, communications, innovation and analytics defies logic and research, yet you’d barely know that when visiting the websites of many of these companies.

A Field Emerging From Fragmentation

Today’s engagement marketplace reflects the current state of the field: fragmented and disjointed. While the marketing field has thousands of agencies and consulting firms acting either as general contractors to help clients streamline their strategies and implementation, or as specialists working in conjunction with an agency or chief marketing officer to better align marketing tactical implementation, the engagement field has yet to crystallize in a similar manner. The ISO 10018 standards my help change that, in part by attracting the attention of thousands of traditional ISO 9000 consultants and service providers who can bring a more objective approach to engagement solution design.

What is the possible impact of ISO 10018 standards? ISO 10018 has the potential to do for engagement what ISO 9000 did for the emergence of quality management. Although little known to date, the ISO 10018 standards lay the foundation for a significant shift in the way organizations manage engagement and utilize solution providers. Because having an ISO certification is often considered a means to reduce risk, ISO 10018 eventually will come to the attention of both investors and public companies seeking a clear, respected roadmap to implementation and evaluation of engagement strategies. This standard will be of great interest to investors, customers, employees, distribution partners and communities seeking to invest in or do business with organizations focused on people.

The push toward greater integration and alignment of practices will in turn affect the traditional providers of executive learning, coaching, communications, etc., including providers of rewards & recognition.

Opportunities for Full-Service Solutions

Organizations seeking to benefit from these standards will need solution providers who:

  • Develop and manage a strategic plan in the way top advertising companies and consultancies do for other fields.
  • Understand the inter-relationships between audiences and engagement tactics and apply a scientific and measurable approach to solution design and implementation.
  • Demonstrate how their specific engagement services can support other engagement investments.
  • Show how their technologies help organizations integrate and align engagement efforts to support ISO 10018 compliance, rather than create a tangle of apps and web services.

Suppliers of incentive, loyalty and rewards & recognition programs can potentially flourish in this new environment by digesting the available research and understanding how to apply it to program design and reward strategies. The Incentive Marketing Association’s CPIM program at IncentiveMarketing.org is a good place to start.

As they become more widely known, the ISO 10018 standards will make it easier for organizations to evaluate and compare solution-providers, services and technologies, and to separate those simply posting an “engagement” buzzword on their website from those with the talent and experience to provide measurable solutions. That in turn will create opportunities for those reward providers ready to move beyond claims that non-cash is better than cash and instead focus on how organizations can use rewards to differentiate from compensation and support broader brand objectives.

ISO 10018 standards pose the biggest risk to organizations (and the solution-providers that support them) that rely on traditional “do this, get that” incentive, loyalty and social media platforms or other unidimensional programs, or who tout the latest incentive, recognition, benefit, gamification or other bright shiny object without a formal understanding of how to make these moving parts work better together.  

These standards create an enormous opportunity for those with the resources and expertise to pivot to the delivery of professional services.   

For more details on ISO 10018 standards, go to: New EEA E-Book on ISO Engagement Standards and Implications

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