Interview with Maike Kunz, Former Head of Recognition at SAP

Learn about how to implement and manage a successful Employee Recognition and Rewards Program from Maike Kunz, formed Head of Recognition at SAP.

July 13, 2020 By Kristina Martic Share on Twitter! Share on Facebook! Share on LinkedIn!


  • Maike Kunz, Sales Compensation Senior Consultant, former Head of Recognition at SAP
  • Kristina Martic, Head of Marketing and Communications at Semos Cloud


On July 8th, 2020 we held a webinar on How to Drive Positive Employee Experience Using Employee Recognition.

๐Ÿ“น You can watch the webinar on-demand here.ย 

As employee recognition has proved to be one of the most powerful ways to drive positive employee experience in the workplace even during these unprecedented times when employees may be physically separated, we decided to invite Maike Kunz to share with us some of the best practices for implementing and managing a successful employee recognition program.

Until recently, Maike was a Head of Recognition at SAP, a globally known organization with over 100,000 employees across the world.

Using JobPts, Semos Cloud’s employee recognition and rewards software, Maike was able to implement a very successful recognition program that is now rated by both employees and managers at the best HR practice at SAP.

๐Ÿ“šย Before you jump to the interview, download our Employee Recognition Playbook with a step-by-step guide for implementing and managing a successful employee recognition program.ย 

Let’s now begin with the interview.

Q1: What is the role of Employee Recognition in driving positive employee experience during these unprecedented times?

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Maike Kunz:ย 

None of us could predict these times to come, and we were certainly forced to become much more agile and adjust the way our employees work.

Even though we are virtually well connected, at SAP recognition also happens in-person. So the way we used to live recognition could not happen any more. You couldn’t simply go to the office next door and tell the colleague: “Hey, you did a great job!”.

Therefore, we knew we had to do something differently in order to not lose the positive impact recognition has on our employees’ experience.

Before this pandemic, we were planing on organizing a Global Appreciation Day at SAP. Even thought this was supposed to be an in-person event, we knew this wasn’t going to happen. However, we decided to move forward with the idea and organize a company-wide virtual event during which we wanted to communicate the importance of employee appreciation at SAP and keep recognition at the top of our employees’ minds.

This is exactly what our employees needed with the emergence of this pandemic!

For the event, we invited all of our leadership teams to act as role models. They recorded videos for their teams with inspiring messages of gratitude, and these videos were played during the Global Appreciation Day. This is something that really made a big difference, because when there is no recognition in the workplace, this can have a very negative implications on employee experience.

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Kristina Martic:

Thank you Maike! Since I had the opportunity to also participate at the SAP’s Global Appreciation Day, I was so impressed to witness the amazing impact this event had on your employees’ engagement with your employee recognition program.

As one of the biggest challenges for employers when implementing an employee recognition program is around how to promote it internally, this is a perfect example of an internal marketing and communications campaign that can really boost employees’ engagement and adoption of the program.

Q2: What is the best way to prove the ROI of an Employee Recognition program and measure the impact it has on employee experience and business results?

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Maike Kunz:

This is a great question as proving the ROI of recognition also came our way when we wanted to implement a global recognition program. It is normal that the business wants to know what are they getting out of every new initiative.

With recognition, however, it is not so easy to measure the real outcome and business results. However, we did find a way to measure our employees satisfaction with the recognition program.

Every year, we do an employee survey asking for feedback about all of our HR services and programs. Year after year, our employee recognition program is rated as one of the best HR services that SAP offers.

In addition, we also measure the usability of the recognition program which is also one of the programs employees engage the most with.

As mentioned before, it is not easy to put hard numbers behind the benefits of employee recognition. However, we know that when recognition is missing, this can have very negative consequences on employee experience. For example, we conduct exist interviews with all of our employees, and this is when we find out that one of their reasons for such decision was lack of recognition for their work.

Therefore, I would really recommend that every organization considers implementing an employee recognition program. To me, it is just amazing to read our employees’ comments about our recognition program, and it is just unbelievable to see what an impact it has on their experience in the workplace.

The investment is low and the return is just huge!

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Kristina Martic:

Thank you for the great insights Maike! I also had the change to read SAP employees’ feedback on your recognition program on our profile on G2Crowd and Capterra, and it is great to see how recognition positively influences employee morale, job satisfaction and motivation.

I also agree with the part about employee surveys. I think it is very important to listen to your employees and ask them about their opinions and concerns.

Exactly this is why we recently added employee surveys services to JobPts, our employee recognition and rewards software.

๐Ÿ“šย Also check our eBook on the 6 Reasons why Employee Recognition is Crucial for Company’s Success.

Q3: How important it is to align recognition initiatives with the core company values? How did you do that at SAP?

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Maike Kunz:

Absolutely! When we were implementing our employee recognition program back in 2016, we also had to think about what are we trying to achieve with this new initiative, so we decided to tie recognition withย  “how we run behaviors” which is one of our core company values at SAP.

There are 4 of those behaviors that we encourage our employees to live by, and they are bottom-up driven behaviors. As these behaviors are very important to us, it made a very good sense to make them the central part of ourย  recognition program and drive them using employee gratitude and appreciation.

Some of those behaviors include: build bridges not silos, keep the promise, stay curious and embrace differences. When employees recognize their peers at SAP, they are always able to tie recognition to one of those behaviors which is an excellent way to embed behaviors we want our employees to live by.

Since we implemented this employee recognition program, we could definitively see, for example, that teams are much better in collaborating and communicating with each other which has significantly reduced the silos in our workplace.

Q4: What would be your most important advice for organizations that are planning to implement an Employee Recognition program?

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Maike Kunz:

The very first thing is the CULTURE! In order to introduce and drive the new culture of recognition, employees also need to understand the importance of appreciation. That is how appreciation became a very important topic at our company, and all employees were well aware of our appreciation initiatives such as the Global Appreciation Day that was organized to recall the importance of culture of recognition at SAP.

The second thing is the INTERNAL MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS that also ties back to the culture. If you want your employees to stay engaged in the program, employees need to be continuously reminded about the importance of recognition and leadership needs to act as role models to the entire organization.

The third advice is to KEEP IT SIMPLE. It should be very easy for employees to recognize someone. For example, a mobile-friendly recognition solution is important to us as we have a lot of employees who are often on the road and don’t have access to other devices but their smartphones.

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Kristina Martic:

Love these 3 tips Maike, especially the second one on internal marketing and communications. When we speak to some of our clients, some of their biggest concerns are around how to promote the program internally and make sure that the employees engage with it.

It is crucial that employers communicate clearly the benefits of employee recognition for both employees personally and their organization as a whole.

๐Ÿ“šย Also check our Internal Communications Plan to Launch and Manage Employee Recognition Program.

Q5: What was your biggest challenge during and after the implementation of Employee Recognition program at SAP?

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Maike Kunz:

So the biggest challenge for us was around deciding whether or not and how to move recognition from the existing local to the global level. In the past, we had local programs and they were all different.

So the challenge was to streamline them all and make them a part of a single global recognition program. They all had different guidelines, processes and tools that they were using. This was challenging, and it took us some time to achieve as LOBs from all those different locations had to also agree with this change.

Once we managed to do so, the program itself became so much easier to manage and administer. This was very important for us as we need to continuously scale our internal processes.

Another challenge was to explain the construct of the recognition to employees. You would be surprised to see how many employees and professionals don’t really know what recognition means. Here, it is very important to draw the line between recognition and incentive which often get used interchangeably, and this is wrong.

But at the end of the day… we had challenges, we took them and we overcame them! So don’t get discouraged!

Q6: What do you think the future of recognition and rewards will look like?

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Maike Kunz:

This is a great question and I think this current pandemic will have an impact on it. I believe that many of our employees will continue to work remotely and, therefore, we will need to find ways to support them without losing that human touch.

For example, a new video recognition solutions may be introduced where employees can see each other face to face while appreciating each other.

๐ŸŽ™๏ธ Kristina Martic:

Yes, I totally agree with you Maike. Some changes will have to be made to support the current situation.

It is funny that you mentioned video recognition as the other day, when we were discussing the product road map for JobPts, we thought video recognition could be a nice add-on to our employee recognition software!

๐Ÿ“น You can access the full version of the webinar here.ย 

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