Program Best Practices

4 top takeaways for scaling human-centered programs in HR

As the war for top talent ensues, investing in and caring about people is critical to your company’s success.

The challenge we face as HR leaders is how to care for our people in an authentic, meaningful way, at scale - a task that seems daunting given limitations in technology and your overwhelming list of to-dos. Is it possible for HR to actually be human again?

Today in our latest online webinar, I walked through a new framework for evaluating optimal organizational programs that bridges the possibility of meaningful employee personalization with growing company scale. Here’s the webinar video recording in case you missed it, as well my key takeaways below:

Learning #1: To attract and retain the best talent, understand what people want and then deliver it.

Millennials will soon represent more than half of our active workforce (now 38% and climbing), and have unique demands and needs.  They are less engaged than their more senior colleagues (with 71% of millennials not engaged), and less likely to stay with you for the long haul (spending on average just three years with their employer before making a switch).

Millennials, unlike other generations, want to strongly identify with their company, making the company’s brand theirs, and in turn, hoping to leave their own mark on their work and the company as a whole.  Some will call that fulfilling their purpose.

The key to engaging millennials is to understand their “worker self”, as well as their “personal self” - the key drivers and motivators that form their holistic personality.  To help carve the best solution, we’ll look to research from Abraham Maslow and his classic hierarchy of needs theory.  Maslow shares a pyramid that begins with basic human needs (food, water, rest) and grows through additional needs like security, healthy relationships, feelings of accomplishment, and ultimately the possibility of achieving self-actualization.  Boomers historically expect their work and company to fulfill the lowest two rungs, but millennials want it all.  To connect with millennial employees is to help them achieve a true sense of purpose within the organization, the closest thing to self-actualization in the workplace.  But not all millennials are created equal, which requires us to inject our traditional HR tactics and strategies with the element of personalization, at scale.

Maslow's pyramid: Millennials want it all

Delivering what millennial employees want translates into a few approachable tactics below.  What are you currently delivering at your workplace?  Are you even prioritizing millennial needs? We polled our webinar audience, and 54% said yes, they are making a strong effort to customize the needs of millennials when planning for their company-wide employee experience.

  • Alignment with the company’s mission, vision, and values
  • Feeling a sense of purpose – that their work is making a real impact on the customer or larger business goals
  • An authentic connection to their coworkers
  • A thoughtful and well-designed workplace experience
  • Real-time feedback and open conversation around career growth
  • Autonomy to chart their own path
  • Meaningful employee recognition for a job well done

Learning #2: People want to be treated like humans.

Let’s review my new framework for evaluating optimal HR and people programs, it’s a common four-part quadrant, with the X-axis representing how “human-centric” a program is, through highly-personalized features that cater to the employee’s unique interests, needs, and connect with the employee in a 1:1 manner.  The Y-axis represents the ability for the program to effectively scale, through features that optimize process and automation.

A framework for optimal HR and people programs, Taylor Smith

When you’re a small company, you’re doing a lot of things on your own, so your employee experience efforts often fall into the bottom right quadrant, Stage 1.  Tactics in this stage include 1:1 onboardings, hand-written birthday cards from the entire team, and go a long way, but over time are hard to scale.  As companies grow, we’ll see them move to Stage 2, taking on additional tools and technology to allow for automation, while maintaining some of the high-touch internal programs that represent their culture.  Companies in high growth-mode or with +500 employees shift into Stage 3, ramping up investment into external tools that improve efficiency, but reduce the elements of personalization.  Some companies will stay here, even when growing to 10,000+ employees.  

But the Holy Grail? That’s Stage 4, enabling companies to deliver an authentic employee experience through trusted, automated tools and technology, while still connecting with the employee in a meaningful way.

Where would you say your current HR tech stack falls?  We asked our webinar attendees, and 74% of the audience fell into Stages 1 or 2, nurturing high-touch programs while seeking more opportunities for automation and scale.

Learning #3: Delivering human-centric programs at scale is a challenge, but not impossible.

Let’s walk through the framework together using Anniversary Award employee recognition as a quick case study.  Because of employee recognition’s tight association with prestige and feelings of accomplishment, it works $50B annually into employee rewards and employee recognition, primarily comprised of cash bonuses, gift cards, floral arrangements, and company plaques.  Quite a lot of money, with a goal of positively influencing the receiving employee’s performance, attitude and contributions.

But the bad news?  Deloitte found that 87% of traditional employee rewards have zero impact on organizational performance – including KPIs like engagement, performance, and retention.

So how do we produce employee recognition programs that are meaningful, at scale?  Let’s revisit the framework with a few stories from companies we’re close to:

The Human-centric framework adopted for Anniversary Awards, Taylor Smith

One of our oldest customers Vungle partners with Blueboard to reward their employees as they achieve company anniversary milestones.  A few years ago when they were small, less than 50 employees, it was easy to connect 1:1 with every employee on their anniversary to ask what their favorite restaurant was, and then purchase a gift card or voucher for them to use.  This program falls into Stage 1, highly personalized, but not scalable at all - this could easily become an Office Manager’s full-time job as the company starts having a few anniversaries hit each day.  Since rolling out Blueboard almost three years ago, Vungle is saving over 100+ hours annually in administrative time, while still delivering a custom, personalized catalog to rewarded employees.

Another Blueboard customer Hoopla is a great representative of someone who falls into Stage 2. Before working with us, Hoopla’s admin team would contact each employee on their anniversary with a Google Form to complete, asking employees to choose from one of five experiential employee rewards (like a massage, round of golf, etc.).  The employee was then responsible for booking their own experience, and expensing the costs back to Hoopla.  A bit less time from the Office Manager or admin, but a less desirable experience for the employee.  Now that they’re working with Blueboard, employees choose from hundreds of curated employee gift experiences, and our first-class Concierge team handles all of their logistics and booking needs.

When I worked at Accenture we were more than 10,000 employees so anniversary programs were highly automated, with hundreds of employees hitting milestones each day.  I remember receiving my first anniversary email: it was a standard message thanking me for my year of service and wishing me more good things over the year to come, electronically signed by our CEO, complete with my employee number and the email delivery timestamp listed.  It was a nice gesture, but completely impersonal, to the extent that this experience was one of the many reasons I chose to leave Accenture and start Blueboard.

Moving on to Blueboard, sitting squarely in Stage 4.  We partner with hundreds of companies to deliver an effective and streamlined employee recognition platform that bridges personalization with scale.  Send employee rewards with just one click, invite employees to browse from hundreds of hand-curated experiences, let our Concierge team completely spoil them, and understand the impact of your employee recognition efforts through our automated post-experience surveys.

And the best part about Blueboard?  We take a typically insular event, and make it highly shareable, giving your employee recognition efforts longevity that would never happen with monetary or gift card rewards.  Thinking back to the last time your boss gave you a gift card for a job well done - in the moment your excitement is high, but after receiving it, did you just toss it into your purse or desk drawer?  Did you maybe even re-gift it to Uncle Bob at Christmas?

Experiential rewards offer excitement and value longevity that monetary rewards just don't

Let’s instead look at Experiential Employee Rewards: similar build up in excitement and value during the employee recognition moment, but the after-effect?  Soaring excitement and feeling of value as the employee goes out and about on their experience, recording and sharing memories across social media.  When they get back to the office, they’re brimming with excitement recapping their adventure with coworkers in your micro-kitchen or around the kombucha machine.  And from there, you build a true Culture of Recognition, where employees are happy to celebrate each other’s achievements, and begin to model what employee reward-worthy behavior looks like for their peers.

Learning #4: Employee recognition is a lower-hanging fruit initiative that touches all 3 of Maslow’s priority human needs.

At Blueboard, we not only deliver an employee recognition platform that allows managers and program admins to deliver employee rewards with one click, but also offer hundreds of experiential gifts for employees to choose from. Once they pick their favorite, employees are paired with a dedicated Concierge staff to further personalize their experience based on the employee’s preferences, location and availability.

The best part?  Our employee rewards are proven to make a big impact on the engagement metrics you care about, our latest post-experience survey results are online here for quick review.  The takeaway is that experiences not only increase the employee’s feeling of appreciation and motivation rates, but also build a more happy and healthy company culture, as well as positively impact employee retention rates.

If you’d like to access the full presentation deck, I’d be happy to send along the slides; shoot me an email at and I’ll send them through.  

What are your thoughts on the new framework?  Feel free to share some love or feedback in the Comments section below.  And if you’re ready to get in touch with our team to learn more about Blueboard, the Request Demo button is right above ya.

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