"2018 RPI CONFERENCE Key Takeaways" written in the center with the background of music bar building

The country’s top recognition professionals share their expertise

In Recognition and Engagement by Lori McKnight

2018 RPI Conference Takeaways

The country’s top recognition professionals share their expertise

The 2018 Recognition Professionals International (RPI) conference was held last week in Nashville (THE best city for conferences by the way!).

Recognition Professionals International is the only professional association focused on recognition innovations and education as a systematic method for improvements in the workplace. RPI is endorsed by top authorities in the industry, has an impressive membership of Fortune 500 organizations and is the only association offering Certified Recognition Professional (CRP) courses.

The overriding theme in the sessions I attended was Culture. How to build, perpetuate and change your culture for the better. Despite Forbes research showing 92% of leaders believe culture drives business value, too many organizations are chasing engagement verses putting the building blocks in place to create a positive and vibrant workplace. As Dr. Paul White puts it, employees are people, not just producers. Culture really boils down to how how people think and act in an organization and how a company shows it cares for its people.

The Building Blocks

Every organization has its own unique culture that can’t be replicated. It’s comprised of both good and not so good traits.

David Sturt talked about culture being more than just your organization’s “personality”, it’s the net sum gain of many key attributes. Over the two day event, many of the keynote addresses and workshop presenters instilled how important culture is both with data, case studies and real-life stories.

Organizations with vibrant positive cultures have:

Leadership teams that “get” it – Organizations with leaders who mentor and coach vs “boss.”

Fast fact: a quarter of employees don’t trust their managers and 31% believe their managers take credit for their work.

A Purpose – The organization can clearly articulate how they are making a positive contribution to their customers’ and employees’ lives and communities.

Fast fact: 68% of people say the chance to make a difference is their biggest motivator. Employees who volunteer are 76% more engaged, productive and happy.

A Focus on Wellbeing – The big and many little things a company does to show it cares for its people. A “psychologically safe” workplace challenges ideas, not people. Check out Amy Edmondson’s TED Talk on building a psychologically safe workplace.

Fast fact: Engaged people at work are more innovative and 150% happier at home than those who are actively disengaged from their jobs.

Give Opportunities – This is the #1 reason Millennials leave an employer. While Millennials may not want to be micromanaged in their day-to-day job, they appreciate having micro-managed careers.

Fast fact: 50% of employees feel underutilized in their jobs.

Showcase Success – Success comes in bite-size pieces. Publicly showing what success looks like and recognizing progress along with results cultivates a more vibrant and innovative culture.

Fast fact: 1 in 5 employees don’t do their best work because they don’t believe others are.

Emphasize Appreciation – Recognition is centered around performance, appreciation is recognizing the person. Companies that recognize their employees’ work AND appreciate that people have families and lives outside of the office will have the best cultures.

Fast fact: Lack of recognition is second highest factor of stress, after workload.

How to Create Cultural Buy-In?

Chester Elton, a New York Times Best Selling author and dynamic speaker, spoke about the “All-In Culture” where everyone just “gets” it. Chester used the story of The Great Blondin, a tightrope walker from the 1800s whose claim to fame was being the first person to cross the 1,100 foot Niagara Gorge unaided. Before performing this breathtaking stunt, Blondin asked “who will get into this wheelbarrow with me and cross the falls”. His manager was the only person to volunteer. His manager trusted his ability and had faith he would be successful. He was “all-in”.

To create buy-in and perpetuate your culture, you must Engage, Enable, and Energize your people.

How Engaged is your workforce? There are no shortage of tools to measure engagement nor data to support the power an engaged workforce has on productivity, morale, retention, safety and operating income. According to Willis Towers Watson, companies with engaged employees enjoy a 19% increase in operating income; without engagement, operating income decreases 30%. They also found the highest levels of net profit margin in companies with high levels of both engagement and enablement.

Are your employees Enabled? Do your employees know your values and feel empowered to do the right things aligned with those values, even when managers are not around to ask? It’s little things like giving a crying child a balloon, helping a client or colleague even though it’s not your responsibility, doing something special when you find out it’s a customer’s birthday. Enabling employees to do these little acts of kindness creates a culture of caring and appreciation. As Dennis Borchers of The Tractor Supply Store (TSC) aptly said, “these acts may not necessarily result in sales or be measurable but the results are immeasurable”.

Are your employees Energized? Wouldn’t you be proud and engaged if your company did things like this? Pretty amazing tear jerker demonstration of teamwork and savvy logistics.


How do you know when your leaders and employees “Get” it?

As Chester Elton put it, “When your dish washer loves coming to work every day and gets your culture, then you know you’ve done it”.

All work and no play is not a problem in Nashville! We were lucky enough to catch @ChrisShrader along the Broadway Strip. Now this guy knows how to engage people! https://youtu.be/hLpVD5HQxb0

Want to learn more? Here are a few books featured at the conference
How to Build Great Teams, Chester Elton
The 5 Languages of Appreciation and The Vibrant Workplace, Dr. Paul White
Appreciation, David Sturt
Ubuntu, Dr. Bob Nelson


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Author: Lori McKnight

Lori McKnight
Lori is the VP of Recognition for CSI International Inc. She has a MBA with a minor in Human Resources, is a Certified Recognition Professional and member of the SHRM blog squad. Prior to joining CSI STARS, she worked at Mercer Human Resource Consulting and Youthography, a youth market research agency. Connect with CSI STARS on LinkedIn to learn how we cultivate a workforce that loves coming to work.