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Dear Workforce How Do We Persuade Management to Vary Our Recognition Program

I manage recognition across an employee population that spans multiple generations—some employees have more tenure with our company than other workers have been living. How do I convince top management that one size does not fit all when budgeting recognition dollars for programs, especially since these different employee groups sometimes have vastly different needs and expectations? What data are there to help me make a persuasive business case?
May 4, 2010
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Related Topics: Recognition, Reward (Recognition) and Incentive Programs, Dear Workforce, Compensation
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Dear Pigeonholed:
You have a big challenge, to state the obvious. The challenge with your boss isn't as big as you may think. The challenge is with addressing the core issue: how to create and apply a recognition program that meets the needs of a large and diverse employee population. A recognition program strategy will be supported if it is possible to implement, is reasonable and is tied to results.
To make employee recognition programs more effective, it is crucial that managers:
1. Think more strategically about how to tie awards directly to results.
2. Reward employees for great work in a much more timely manner.
3. Use a wider menu of options for employee recognition.
There are many kinds of recognition. One of the easiest and most effective—and underutilized—forms of recognition is praise. To look at it another way, it is difficult to provide too much positive feedback to deserving employees. We're not talking about superficial pats on the back here. Giving sincere praise is a skill that is developed. So be sure to list this as a key part of your strategy. Beyond that, here are a few ideas.
Create your own award certificate templates: This might involve a small investment in a professional document designer or perhaps the leveraging of your in-house creative graphic artist to develop certificate templates. But before you design the certificate, design the recognition criteria. Who gets the certificate is most important. Examples of templates might be: a Great Idea Award, Customer Service Award, Quality Award or High Performance Award. Putting the certificate in a nice frame is a plus.
Generationally sensitive awards (cash-based awards): To address your concern about the generational differences, conduct small, informal focus groups to gain a better understanding of different ideas and see the reaction (body language) of participants. When the creative juices start flowing, individual responses to ideas that come from the group, or from you, will be easy to read compared with doing a survey. Here is a range, based on investment required:
Three-day/four-night trip for two to anywhere (location must fit the time frame): I've seen too many “trips” to a specific destination be received with a rather “Oh, thanks” response. For example, there was a time I was visiting Orlando, Florida, much too often. If I had been rewarded with a trip for two to Disney World, I would have donated it to my assistant. Whether the recipients choose the wine country in Northern California or the Cayman Islands, the cost won't be very different. You can also put a top cap on the total price. Think how much fun someone of any age will have being able to choose the trip they've always wanted to take but hadn't been able to.
Local weekend package for two: Use the same concept, capping the value at whatever amount is appropriate. The recipient gets to investigate and choose/design his or her own weekend. All arrangements made by the company's concierge service (in-house or delegate it out). The idea here is to not just hand over the equal value in money.
Parking space for a month: This can be a great one for the shy person. Shy people want to be recognized, just not embarrassed. One “watch out” is to ensure the award is completely results-based and not politically based.
Dinner for four at their favorite restaurant: This isn't very expensive (even for the most expensive restaurants) when it comes to recognition programs. Same concept: Let the recipient choose; the company handles all the details. Many restaurants will go along with a direct bill to a company credit card and treat the foursome with royalty and special amenities such as the best table, guest's name on the special entrée of the night, etc. Make it for four so the recipient can “explain” (nice form of bragging—and they deserve some bragging rights) to their closest friends how they received the special gift.
Tickets to the company's reserve seats at sporting events: These are usually owned by the marketing department. Then, when the tickets can't be given away, they turn them over to HR to find someone to give them to. What if you were to reverse that? HR owns the tickets, gives them out as recognition awards, and when an employee says, “No thanks”—because it is on the worst day to go to a football game, or the team is in last place—then HR can turn them over to the marketing department to give to their best clients/customers/business partners. If you are going to give away reserved-seat tickets to sporting events as part of your recognition program, pick out the best dates and games.
Donation to a nonprofit of the recipient's choice: This one can be tricky, but with certain parameters spelled out ahead of time can be very effective. There are some people who believe strongly in a nonprofit organization's cause. By excluding religious and political organizations, you can have more confidence that the donation (amount based on the level of recognition) will go to an acceptable organization (from a company PR standpoint).
To summarize the points, keep quality a part of the recognition selection process, spell out the policy for recognition so that selection of recipients supports a “results-based” program, and build in as much flexibility and variability as possible so that the recipient has a say in the award's makeup.
SOURCE: Carl Nielson, Dallas, The Nielson Group, April 7, 2010
LEARN MORE: Cutting budgets for recognition programs during recession may be worse than keeping the funding intact.
Workforce Management Online, May 2010 -- Register Now!
The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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