Writen by Donna Cutting

Recently, I was asked the following question: "How do I set up a recognition program for employees without having them coming to expect the rewards?"

This is a great question, especially if you are setting up a centralized and structured program of recognition for your employees. If you set up a precedent that when an employee achieves such and such, then he or she receives a tangible reward, other staff members may expect the same reward for the same result. Then your recognition program actually becomes an incentive program. This may not be a bad thing, if the incentives are creating the desired results in your business. However, it can become expensive.

Furthermore, if you give all employees the same reward, at the same time of the year, it will become an expected treat. An example of this might be the holiday turkey or a holiday bonus.

To truly be effective, employee appreciation must be more than a special event or an incentive program. It must be part of the culture. You can acknowledge the efforts of your staff members without "creating a monster" whereby they expect a tangible treats just for showing up and doing a great job. (Other than their paychecks of course!)

For the record, it is my opinion that all people who do a great job at work have the right to expect appreciation and acknowledgement from their bosses and their co-workers. While employees must be held to the standard of the company, they also have the right to be treated with understanding and respect.

Yes, your employees should expect to work for someone who cares enough to create a company culture where they are valued as human beings and recognized for the contribution they make to the workplace. This can involve both tangible and intangible rewards.

The best way to make employees feel appreciated, without setting up the expectation of constant tangible rewards, is to start at the grass roots level.

Although it is important that the corporate office and human resources set the stage for a caring workplace, the most meaningful recognition comes from a person's own supervisor. Here are a few steps to setting up a successful recognition program.

TRAIN YOUR SUPERVISORS in employee relation and recognition techniques. I can't say it enough!! A corporate incentive and rewards program will not make a dent if your staff members don't feel respected by their own boss. Too often a person is promoted to supervisory status because they excel in their own job. However, their supervisory skills are sorely lacking. To keep morale up and employee turnover down, you must have supervisors who know how to treat their team members well and show their gratitude for a job well done. This step is too often skipped, and it's why many centralized recognition programs don't work!

WALK THE FLOOR and start to look for reasons to thank your employees. Ken Blanchard, author of The One Minute Manager, said it best when he reminded us to "Catch Them Doing Something Right!" When you do "catch" them, sometimes a simple thank you is all that is needed. A "way to go!" or a "you're just terrific!" can go a long way. Will your staff members come to expect that you're a boss who cherishes his/her employees? Probably! What's wrong with that?

Sometimes, you'll find that more tangible rewards are deserved. If you notice someone has gone above and beyond, you may want to send a note to their family, give them a gift certificate or day off. You may want to empower the supervisors under your leadership to do the same for their team members. Yes, you can do this without creating the anticipation of a steady stream of tangible rewards.

SURPRISE THEM! Dawn Winder was the name of my boss when I worked for Parkview Retirement Home in Clearwater, FL. (Actually, although she's no longer my boss, her name is still Dawn Winder!) She was absolutely one of my favorite bosses. In fact, she inspired loyalty in every one of the staff members that work for her directly. We would do just about anything for her, because she was fun, understanding and acknowledge us when we did a great job. We would often pitch in to help other departments, or stay longer hours for special events, without too much griping. We did this, not because of any tangible rewards, but because we knew our contribution was valued. However, occasionally, Dawn would surprise us with thank you gifts such as a certificate to a favorite restaurant or store. The key words are occasionally and surprise! We did NOT look for gifts of appreciation, because they came to us spontaneously, individually and unexpectedly. When you give tangible rewards on an individual and spur-of-the-moment basis, you are more likely to inspire loyalty than greed.

BE SPECIFIC! When you give a reward for a job well done, be specific about why you are sending the gift. What did the person do to merit a reward? The words "You handled that customer complaint with poise and respect" are much more meaningful than simply "Great Job." Perhaps you want to give a simple thank you for every day good work, and something more tangible when someone truly goes above and beyond. Be sure that the behavior being recognized merits the size of the reward given. My colleague, Dave Timmons of Six String Leadership puts it this way. "As a former senior manager, I always reserved the right to reward specific, non-recurring behaviors that were clearly "over and beyond". I never worried about creating a monster although I hoped for one." BE SPECIFIC with your tangible rewards! A gift card to your employee's favorite store says a lot more than a generic token from the recognition closet. Can you give to one employee and not another? Yes and No. Although sometimes it's appropriate to recognize the entire team, it's also important to acknowledge the work of an individual. The key is to acknowledge EACH individual for their SPECIFIC contributions at different times.

BE SINCERE! Don't have a recognition program just because it's the "thing to do!" Truly look for the good things your employees are doing right. Try to catch each of them individually! Be sincerely thankful. If you design a recognition program without heart behind it, you will NOT produce the desired results of a positive workplace with high morale and low turnover. If you can't find something in EACH of your employees to be grateful for, than perhaps you need to take a look at your hiring process. Either you aren't looking closely enough, or you have the wrong employees in the wrong positions.

ENCOURAGE PEER TO PEER RECOGNITION! Give your team members a vehicle to appreciate their co-workers. Perhaps you could give them space in the employee newsletter or bulletin board for warm fuzzies, or support the formation of a staff spirit team. Regardless of what it is, encouraging gratitude among co-workers will give your staff members reasons to look for what is RIGHT in your workplace.

Finally, ask yourself the following question.

Would you rather have employees that expect to come to work and be disrespected, undervalued and unnoticed or would you rather they expect to be appreciated, acknowledged and championed??

If the recognition your employees receive has heart behind it, the "monster" you create may be happier, more productive and less likely to leave! The choice is yours.

©2005, Donna Cutting, St. Petersburg, FL. You may reproduce this article in it's entirety in your publication if you include the byline at the end, including the web address and telephone number. If you would like a photo to accompany the article, email us at rachel@donnacutting.com. We would appreciate a copy of the issue in which the article appears. Please send a copy to ShowStopping Solutions, PO Box 76461, St. Petersburg, FL 33734.

Donna Cutting is a speaker, author and consultant who helps leaders create places where employees get Standing Ovations and customers receive a Celebrity Experience. She can be reached at 727-525-5818 or via her website at http://www.donnacutting.com/

Companies and Associations across the United States enjoy her presentations filled with immediately applicable ACTION steps delivered in a FUN, upbeat and interactive style. She is otherwise known as Gal Morale!


In fact as an HR manager even i had a similar query in mind. While giving off rewards at the drop of a hat can increase employee expectation, not recognising their efforts would again lead to demotivation. Your article has given me a good direction. Meanwhile we have a reward program in place that gives out gifts to employees on a performance basis. In fact we feel that the reward should also be such that it urges them to compete against each other. That's why for the last few months we've been giving out the iPods with a personalised mesage embossed on it. We booked it at http://ipodyourlife.co.in/make_it.aspx at a discounted price. After introducing the program we've noticed a renewed vigour among the employees, which i think is a positive sign. Can you suggest me any other way of motivating employees?

December 23, 2008 at 2:08 AM  

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