Fixing Your Broken Rewards and Recognition Programs

By: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Published 12/20/2014

Many, many years ago I was working for a Fortune 500 company in sales. And I remember their method of recognizing top performers was an annual sales trip.  When I won the trip that first year, I actually opted not to go on the trip and instead I took my own trip. Sounds crazy, huh?

Well, actually it wasn’t so crazy and I would still take my own trip rather than spend four days in southern Florida in July at a beach resort.

You see, I’m not a big beach person and four days in hot, humid Florida in July wasn’t a reward to me.

Many companies still provide the annual sales trip while others have other recognition programs for employees. Most recognition programs are inherently flawed because they are generally standard, one-size fits all approach. The purpose of reward and recognition programs is to motivate those with great performance to continue their high level of performance.

The problem with these recognition programs is they aren’t personalized to what motivates the individual employee. My example is a case in point. I love to travel so a trip can be a motivator but it needs to be the right kind of trip. If the trip had been one where I could have enjoyed the mountains, I would have been excited for the opportunity to go.

So here are some tips and techniques for you to create a reward and recognition program that is customized, impactful and will keep your employees motivated and engaged.

  1. Ask employees about what they value as rewards and how they like to be recognized. Bring together a diverse set of ideas and opinions.
  2. Develop a program for all levels of the organization and include recognition for both teams and individuals.
  3. Be transparent about the how’s and why’s of your program. Communicate why the program is important and how employees can receive rewards and be recognized.
  1. Focus on desired behaviors when you recognize employees. When employees are doing the right things desired results will be the outcome.
  2. If you have a large number of employees to recognize, provide them with options to choose from.  In my example, if the company had provided a handful of trip options as well as non-trip options, they would have appealed to a broader number of people’s motivators.
  3. Cash rewards are not a long-term motivator and are impersonal. Remember those checks you got from Aunt Betty for you birthday? You don’t, do you? Instead switch to a point system.  Points can then be used to purchase items that are more significant to the employee.
  4. Eliminate “Employee of the Month”. If you want to have a monthly recognition, all employees whose behaviors and results that stood out as exceptional should be recognized.
  5. Set aside resources for spot awards that recognize a team or individual for things unexpected results like completing a project significantly under budget and on time
  6. Managers need to be “looking” for opportunities to praise individuals who are behaving in ways that align with corporate values. And the praise should be timely. Provide managers with training on how to praise and recognize employees effectively.
  1. Just like rewards, recognition needs to be tailored to the individual. There are those of us who get a kick out of being in the spot light while there are those who prefer to be praised quietly without the fireworks and parade. Use the right techniques for recognizing individual employees.
  2. Overdone recognition becomes meaningless. It should be deserved based on both behaviors and results. Ultimately the high achievers will start to disengage if people are receiving undeserved praise. The workplace is not grade school where everyone gets a star.
  3. Review your program regularly by asking employees for their feedback.  This is often integrated as part of an employee engagement survey. And make necessary adjustments.

So as we near the end of the year, it’s a great time to take a look at your current rewards and recognition program.

How can you improve it so that employees will continue to be engaged because they are being recognized appropriately and reward for the right behaviors and results?

Beth Armknecht Miller is a Certified Managerial Coach and CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. Her latest book, “Are You Talent Obsessed?: Unlocking the secrets to a workplace team of raving high-performers is available on Amazon.