Improving recognition in an organisation


My role:
Product design (UX, UI, Research), Product (managing backlog, framework, prioritisation, sprint planning)
The initial brief: Build an MVP for BETA launch, validate and expand understanding of requirements
Solution: A marketing planning tool with requirements for common social channels, which allows branching and version control
Timeframe: 10 weeks to BETA, 2 months full-time post-launch, 3 months part-time
Impact: Good feedback about the product, still looking for product/market fit and how the solution sits with business objectives.


We were working on a product which had the lofty goal of changing peoples relationship with work. At the time of writing, we were focussed solely upon helping organisations improve their reward and recognition offering. With a comprehensive set of features to help organisations give and manage rewards in the pipeline, and due to be released a couple of months later, and the time of writing, we had three elements to our product defined as:


The ability for individuals in organisations to recognise each other based on values and behaviours defined by an organisational and driven by HR


A framework which allows individuals to put forward ideas or suggestions to change their team or company, or respond to challenges put forward by leaders


A feature set which enables managers to get responses from their employees by asking a series of multiple choice or text-based questions.

We had just landed our biggest client, who had recently gone through a period of large restructuring, with many jobs changed or lost. We would soon acquire, our most extensive user base and wanted to understand more about the unique organisation and the culture which underpins it. We were about to launch the product as a whole to the organisation. We had three months to transform our 'Surveys' tool to make it suitable for the annual awards and nominations which would fuel the event and provide us with a second opportunity to drive users to the platform following the initial, staggered launch.

I worked with one member of the Customer Success team for the majority of the research, and led the design with oversight from the head of product.

What we set out to achieve

Primary Objective 

“Conduct primary research with the future users of the product, both in stores and in the head office. The goal is to understand the current methods of communication, the hierarchy within the organisation, and gain insight into how recognition is perceived within the organisation to aid in product design and service design.”

Secondary objectives (generalised between different persona types)

- Understand the flow of information and method of communication within the organisation 

- Understand how digital tools are used in the organisation

- Understand the organisation structure and personas

- Understand how different users will access the product

- Understand how notifications can be handled for different devices and access levels

- Understand the current culture and how it differs between stores and head office

- Understand the relationship between stores, BPM’s and head office.

With a view to:

• Confirm requirements to develop our surveys tool to ensure it is fit for purpose for a large organisation to run their initiatives

• Consider ways of bringing the rewards and survey tool closer together

• Develop the service offering from our customer service team to help clients get the most out of the product


We increased our understanding by:

• Conducting interviews and a workshop with the internal comms and HR team in London

• Visiting shops in Leeds, London and Manchester  to interview employees and shop managers

• Spending the day with and interviewing area managers

• Holding remote interviews with various managers and leaders worldwide

• Attending regular area manager meetings to playback our findings and witness the success of the implementation

• Holding design review sessions with the leaders to ensure the requirements gathered were correct

• Synthesising findings to present to HR to encourage them to run more suitable initiatives

• In terms of design, we followed the following format:

Research > Synthesis > Ideation > Iteration > Implementation > Public Documentation

The work itself

Themes from research

Login problems

As we feared, many of the individuals working in shops (around 8,000) would not be able to access the product the way it was currently designed, because we each individual needed a unique identifier, resulting in unique login credentials.

This was not possible for shop employees because they:

- do not have individual work email addresses
- would not be allowed by the company to use their personal email address
- were not allowed to use their personal phone to hold any company information so could not download the mobile application

Password and application issues

Each store has a shared tablet, which, contrary to the belief of IT, not everyone knew the password for, and employees were often dependent on the area manager to either write it down in a book or to pass it on by word of mouth. To reset the password was also a painful process.

"I don't know the password anymore, no. I think the manager does. I did get it reset once, but I had to call up head office"

Another instance was the password being changed to SSO without retail employees being informed. They had to call up to get the new password.

One final complication was that the application could only be installed remotely, and the tablet itself could only be registered inside a store. Consequently, so we would spend a lot of time before the release in store testing the tablet. We encountered problems with the application disappearing from time-to-time.

How would we provide access to those who didn't have a login, and how would we send reminders? Would SMS notifications be financially worthwhile?

Feeling under-appreciated

In part, it was expected. The company had gone through a massive period of change, removing a level of management as part of a cost-saving initiative, and providing those who remained with a reduced salary for what was described as "for the same job I'm doing now".

"The worst part of my job is the lack of recognition. There are two managers in the shop. The other CEM has been here 45 years but doesn't do anything. She gets all the praise because she's been here so long. I'd like to be higher up because I'd be different. I know what it's like to work your ass off and not be thanked."

"Again I'm probably judging on what I think is good. <....but as a manager you can drive what you think is good"...> "Yeah I could drive that. I could explain what I think warrants being put on a platform and an individual being recognised, e.g. a client getting a new customer to place a bet on the SSBT."

"I can name one person who goes the extra mile. I'm sure we all can. David*, in London*, has 10 NPA, even when we have mystery shopper. When I'm reading the reports, he's done everything on there. He has done mystery shoppers four times, and he always gets 10."

"I've been bought a coffee before. But to be honest, just to be thanked would be enough"

Lack of ability to reward

One of the most significant themes, having spent time with managers across the country was their inability to provide on-the-spot-rewards.

"We have been asking for (a scheme) like this since January we can reward without it coming out of our own pockets."

Even at head-office, there is no budget for recognition set aside at the start of the year, but there is a rough guideline each month. This is something we would address with our rewards offering, with great success, but it added to the pain many people were feeling in their jobs. Many people doing great work and forming essential parts of their local community, but not being rewarded for it.

"There is no consistency (structure), but you need to make sure it is consistent. There needs to be something to works towards"

"I remember being bought a bottle of whiskey a couple of years ago. It really meant a lot."

"I take my staff out for a Chinese at Christmas. It's expensive and comes out of my own pocket, but there is no other way" 

Geographical and cultural differences

While in some stores there seemed to be a great sense of community, and we heard rich stories of how store employees interact with locals and form a part of the close-knit community, this wasn't always the case, particularly of those in London. 

"There isn't really a sense of community no, because of the shift patterns, and sometimes you work on your own or with one other employee. Up north it seems like they are always having a lot more fun. In Cornwall too, there isn't a glass divider, so I think that is better"

There were also explicit behavioural and cultural dynamics across different types of teams in Malta, the Philippines and Poland, with varying roles and educational levels, but the need for values to be shared across the whole organisation.

"Company fit is the most important thing. You do think of people in particular shops, but the company fit is the most important". 

Because of the different teams, but overarching initiative, we would need to design the management functionality so that multiple individuals could shortlist at different times and different locations.

Confusing initiatives

Various managers also seemed unsure as to what they were supposed to reward or disagreed with the current initiatives. Some even felt like their job is not understood following the restructuring, and they have even less time than anticipated to spend with their staff.

"The managers are the tray at the bottom to collect all the shit". Now we have someone above managing company-wide releases and initiatives to make sure not too many things are happening at once. The structure wasn't thought out very well straight away. They said we'd spend 80% of our time in the shop. It's more like 60%."

"We have the excellence awards, which is a big ceremony. There is a big ceremony for that. I was a finalist for racing post manager of the year last year. That was a big achievement to be even nominated. I think we need to focus on the smaller things on shop level."

"There is no consistency in the recognition model. It's sporadic. If you do something well, it's highlighted. By phone, email, a yammer post, but it's not consistent."

Lack of awareness about how to vote

Some individuals were unaware of how to vote in the excellence awards, and others who were not even sure what it was. Others we had spoken to didn't feel like it would be worthwhile for them to submit a nomination, as their voice didn't matter much. How would we increase awareness?

Click on the images below for more detail, which show some of the planning and synthesis which took place at this stage
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Designing - setting and managing up a nomination

Building on our current 'Surveys' tool We would need to create a management system where nominations are created on an individual basis or part of a group, which we called an event. The setup process would be carried out by only the most senior individuals and managers, so in this case, and the case of other clients, we worked with them very closely to validate the design.

The use cases are as follows:

Nomination - created by a manager on a more ad-hoc basis, not requiring administration from a larger team, e.g. a manager decides to run a single nomination for employee of the month

Event - set up by a manager or leader as part of a more comprehensive initiative. Contains multiple nominations within the same period, e.g. a summer event with nominations running in numerous categories

Setting up

Setting up a nomination is done using a simple form, which provides the manager with the ability to choose from an event or a stand-alone nomination and those who should be involved in the management of it, as well as who can be nominated for, and other criteria.


Notifications were the most complicated part of the design, caused in part by the sub-account functionality, which was added for those users who do not have an individual account but belong to a store. As part of the custom login journey we created, we also added SMS notification functionality.

Notifications can be triggered in the following ways:

- In-app


- Email


A large part of managing a nomination is choosing a winner and recognising the best of the best. We created a system which would allow multiple individuals in different countries and time zones to be able to view all of the nominations received for a given category and shortlist according to their own, or provided criteria.

They are then able to attach rewards, announce the winners, announce nominees in a variety of ways, to account for any offline schemes which may take place. This was iterated upon over the coming months as user requirements evolved, and the product was used across more companies at a larger scale.

Announcing nominations is something which also required a lot of development, and can be done the following variations which allow for offline and online events:

- Announcing nominees in-app (with and without rewards)

- Announcing winners in-app (with and without rewards)

- Announcing the above in an iFrame


To track the impact of the improvements, we created some specific metrics and KPI's outside of our regular product management framework and tool. The idea being that it would go beyond the top-level impact of the release, e.g. number of submissions and track the result of a significant release in an additional way. These documents were also used in part with the technical team to ensure we were capturing the right data points.

In the future, we created more universal metrics for the product team, of which nominations formed a crucial part, as a higher form of recognition. We focussed on 'Meaningful moment' which would be defined by critical activities, such as.

- No. of messages sent

- No. of rewards sent

- No. of nominations submitted

These would then be tracked to higher metrics such as:

- Moments : active user ratio

- % users who receive a moment

- % users who have send a moment

Design - submission

Due to the aforementioned login problems, we built a custom login journey for the specific tablet model and this customer, which provided access to the individuals in-store on shared devices. It required us to create a new sub-account type whereby individuals could add themselves to the shared account of the store using SMS validation.

While undoubtedly the right decision, it would not be without cost though and would require a lot of technical maintenance and contributed to an already large code-base and extra work and restrictions for upcoming feature development.

The submission journey itself was a simple one, and the user would be able to access the form by their task list or the nominations area.


The view showing the user all nominations, and the ability to view past submissions.


The desktop form where the user submits a nomination after reading the description and guidelines.


The ability to view and track past submissions. This is an example of an improvement which came after the initial release, to provide the user with more information and aim to produce more original content and therefore, a better quality of submission.

User is nominated

There were a whole series of notifications explicitly designed to cater to what happens when a user is nominated. The primary motivation was to create anticipation before the announcement and to encourage discussion among colleagues.

In time, this would need to be remedied and adjusted as in small teams; it was found to be somewhat discouraging to hear that you haven't been nominated, and one could deduce who had nominated them. We also built functionality for a manager to remind those who are yet to submit, providing an online option, rather than forcing it offline. This was particularly relevant for those working in shifts and without regular contact with managers.

Examples of in app notifications


The below shows one example, which has multiple variations. When a nomination has been announced, the manager is able to add a custom announcement message, and the recipient can see the other individuals who won and the nominations they have received. In the below example, both teams and individuals could be nominated for.

After the release

• We continued to conduct further research and intercom campaigns with managers and individuals who had submitted nominations to validate our design and understand its impact within the team

• We did a research spike with another client to develop the announcement journey to cater for their organisational requirement to have a reward fixed to a nomination, rather than a voucher which could be redeemed.

• We continued to design and validate further improvements which entered our nominations backlog in productboard.

• We worked hard to develop the rewards platform, introducing store, multi-currency, redemption functionality to provide a more seamless integration to the events which are ran. Our research drove the scheme design, which resulted in a very successful and suitable rewards launch for the same client, and our highest ever number of concurrent users.


The improvements to the original surveys tool, relaunched as nominations was a great success. The custom login journey provided individuals at the bottom of the organisational hierarchy with the ability to have their voice heard louder than ever before and for their work and community impact to have more visibility. The organisation as a whole had a more reliable and systematic approach to running nominations, which was subsequently used even more successfully with other organisations.

The service and product research, also laid the foundation for a lot of the success which came over the following year, with rewards going live and used alongside nominations to great success. 

A few metrics showing the impact of the release and adoption of nominations and the broader use of the product:

- A 400% increase in nominations submitted for the annual awards event

- Increase in company-wide engagement survey results by 20%

- HR team recognised as 'Team of the year 2018' at the Personnel Today Awards 2018

- A 30% increase in recognition across the organisation

In the coming months, we also worked on a nominations announcement feature, driving users into the application to see the results in order to drive Monthly Active Users (MAU). This had the following impact:

- Increase of highest ever concurrent users - 638

- Increase in page views from 5,353 to 13,074.

- 9x increase in traffic driven from email notifications to the application, compared to an announcement made before this release.

For further reading of the impact, see below:


The release of the nominations platform was a success, with the most meaningful moments and work being captured and elevated to a higher level. In turn, the results were made more accessible and promoted across the company.

Over the coming months we made many iterations to the way that nominations were managed when closed, as managers wanted more functionality to be able to announce nominations in different ways and different times and to attach a range of rewards to each nomination.

We continued to improve it and work closely with the managers to continue to save them time, and make the nominations and reward experience a valuable part of not only our offering, but of their employees time at work.

The success of the project encouraged our clients to use more parts of our product in the future. We would roll out our rewards platform to them six months later.

What I COuld HAVE DONE better

On reflection, I think I could have had a greater impact in my team if I had presented the findings and documented the impact even more. There is always the tendency when working to a tight build deadline to under-communicate with the wider team, and I certainly could have done better.

I also should have documented my interaction with the individuals we interviewed and our sessions. All interviews were recorded, and information synthesised, but I didn't take enough photos. This sort of richness would have been most useful.

During the research I also made the following notes for improvement:

"Overall, I think we succeed in relating to employees of different backgrounds and company levels, but I think we need to change the way we introduce what we are doing on the day. I think it’s more suitable for senior stakeholders but it may not be too relevant to a low-level employee."

"Whilst with the client we were looking also looking to conduct organisational research  to help improve the launch of the product, I think we could have pushed more into problem space. This would help improve the product and generate future ideas, rather than just a way to launch our current one."