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Recognition Do's and Don'ts

October 19, 2005
Related Topics: Recognition, Featured Article, Compensation, Benefits

A recent episode of "The Office," an NBC sitcom about life in a paper company led by an inept manager, illustrates how employee recognition can go bad.

    Faced with subordinates anxious about rumored layoffs, manager Michael Scott (played by Steve Carell) unveils what he calls Operation Morale.

    Improvement: a birthday party. Because no employee has a birthday anytime soon, Scott throws an "early" party for a subordinate whose birthday is a month away.

    As the party fizzles and employees become more irritated than energized, Scott turns to the three subordinates charged with planning it. "Ladies," he says, "not your best effort."

    The TV satire takes the idea to an extreme, but developing effective employee rewards and recognition strategies isn’t a cakewalk. Here, workplace consultants and recognition practitioners share their tips on what you need to know to create effective recognition strategies.

Don’t expect a rewards and recognition strategy to succeed if the day-to-day management style is punitive. "If management pushes, pushes, pushes, pushes, pushes and can’t be happy or satisfied with anything, and then all of a sudden when you reach your goal they’re happy, it’s like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," says psychologist Aubrey Daniels, president of Aubrey Daniels International. "You’re not ready to be happy because you’re not over the beating that you just took."

Determine what you’re trying to accomplish. "Is it an improvement in quality?" Daniels asks. "Is it an improvement in productivity? Be precise."

Understand that cash isn’t king. "Cash gets confused with compensation," says John Putzier, author of Get Weird! 101 Innovative Ways to Make Your Company a Great Place to Work. "Suddenly it becomes, ‘Gee, I got that last month, but I’m not getting it this month.’ It becomes a negative."

"Employees want the recognition coming from the people who are impressed with them. Having HR impressed with you doesn’t have quite the same impact than if it’s the
CEO or the GM."
--Cindy Ventrice

Broaden what you consider to be rewards and recognition. "If you thought of it as the trophy and the plaque and the certificate, it is," says Bob Nelson, president of Nelson Motivation Inc. "But that’s a small piece of it, and that’s a shrinking piece of it. The bigger piece of it is the intangible, the interpersonal."

Ask your employees what types of recognition they prefer. "What you think employees might value can be very different from what employees really value," says Elaine Weinstein, senior vice president of human resources and chief diversity officer of energy corporation KeySpan.

Remember that timing is important. "Timeliness is so essential in recognition," says Lynne Eskil, a recognition and service award adviser for the Boeing Co.’s engineering group in Puget Sound, Washington. "If it’s delayed, people feel it’s not at all meaningful."

Set up programs so everyone who merits recognition gets it. "They say it’s an honor to be nominated, but those inverted-pyramid types of reward and recognition are in many ways counterproductive to morale," says Matt Weinstein, founding president of Playfair Inc.

Get managers involved. "Employees want the recognition coming from the people who are impressed with them," says management consultant Cindy Ventrice, founder of Potential Unlimited. "Having HR impressed with you doesn’t have quite the same impact than if it’s the CEO or the GM."

Workforce Management, October 10, 2005, p. 50 --Subscribe Now!

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