Rewards & Recognition: Variation & Best Practices

We recently attended the “Engagement World” expo in Galveston, Texas, at which all aspects of enterprise engagement were discussed including ISO 10018 and standardized engagement plans.

Along with exceptional content, several presentations reaffirmed the fact that to be truly effective, an engagement plan must contain certain elements, including a method for rewarding and recognizing desired behaviors and outcomes.

Along similar lines, during a recent Conway Management Partners in Improvement meeting several group members discussed this fact, and shared some interesting insights regarding various ways of recognizing and rewarding people, and the variation in results.

For example, some, like a service award, are very predictable; if you reach an anniversary, you are likely to receive one. But many other recognition programs include an element of surprise when exceptional service is spotted.

Some rewards cost the organization little or nothing — such as a thank you note or a special parking place. Others are quite costly, such as a one year lease on a car, or an upscale ‘President’s Award.’

Some are for teams, and others are for individuals. Many of the rewards and recognition are after the fact, while some are announced and hyped in advance in order to encourage people to try for them.

The amazing variety allowed us to explore the benefits and unexpected drawbacks of the different types of rewards and recognition. But despite the variety of implementations, the objectives were really quite simple. An organization implements a reward and recognition program for one of these three reasons:

  1. To increase the recipient’s satisfaction and happiness with the organization and his or her role within it
  2. To motivate continuation of certain types of behaviors and accomplishments
  3. To motivate people to work to achieve certain measurable results

Out of the rich discussion of the variety of rewards and recognition programs the group members were familiar with, the Partners identified the following eight criteria for effective recognition and rewards that achieve the three objectives.

  1. Keep it simple: The most cost effective method of all seemed to be the simple thank you note. The notes, if done well, are widely appreciated and cost nothing more than the time and attention to set up a system of information when an individual or team deserved a thank you.
  2. Be very careful about extrinsic rewards: these can cause more trouble than benefits. Extrinsic rewards require very clear metrics, auditing, and careful, even elaborate design to ensure a focus on the rewarded metrics will not lead to deterioration of other facets of the organization. Obviously, this makes it hard to ‘keep it simple.’
  3. Be specific: it is much more effective to recognize a team or a person for a specific result or accomplishment than for generally doing a good job.
  4. Be timely: the closer in time the reward or recognition is to the accomplishment being recognized, the more impactful it will be.
  5. Be consistent: Be sure that you respond to comparable accomplishments in comparable ways.
  6. Be authentic: Sincerity in words of appreciation and praise are essential to an effective system of reward and recognition.
  7. Communicate widely: Publicity helps extend the celebration and communicates widely what is valued by the organization.
  8. Use team rewards to encourage better organization-wide results.

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