Compensation Cafe abounds with strong advice on employee recognition. But sometimes, the best lessons are learned from the failures, from the atrocities, from the "I cannot BELIEVE he just did that" stories.
Marissa Keegan over at Fistful of Talent has written a couple of great posts along these lines - the deaf guy given an iPod, the boss giving himself the first ever Employee of the Month award.
My personal latest favorite - a beautiful, very expensive, and personally engraved espresso machine given to a Mormon (who eschew caffeine).
And then there's this story from a recent Dear Prudence column:
"At my company, when a colleague does something great - secures a new account, exceeds a goal, etc. - everyone is called into the lobby. The person's supervisor announces what she did and she has to dance in front of everyone. I've heard that public speaking is the most common fear, and public dancing has to be up there, especially when you're the only one dancing and everyone is watching you. I've been with the company for three months, and I have been forced to dance three times. How can I let the company know that public humiliation is not a valid form of employee recognition? Let me take an afternoon off, get me a Starbucks gift card, or just give me a handwritten note. This forced dancing is encouraging me to fly under the radar and aim for mediocrity."
Or how about this story from the news:
"A 'motivation day' organized by one of Italy's biggest real estate agencies ended in tears and scars when nine staff had to be treated in hospital after walking barefoot on a bed of hot coals."
While my emotions ranged from amused to horrified reading these stories, the lessons are real and they should be transparent. In order of the horror stories mentioned above:
- Don't be lazy and assume everyone wants the same reward. You'll end up insulting (and driving out of your organization) at least a few of the people you're trying to recognize.
- Don't set up a recognition program just to prove to employees how great you are and then use it as a weapon to get them to "perform better."
- Don't mortify employees so that they would rather under-perform than be recognized.
- Don't put your employees in the hospital!
So what do you do? First and foremost, ask your employees. Talk with them. Have an open conversation. Start with these questions:
- I appreciate the work you do very much. I'd like to honor you for that. What would be a meaningful form of recognition for you?
- What would you particularly not welcome as a sign of our appreciation? (Many people cringe at any form of public recognition, even being mentioned in a team meeting.)
Even more importantly, take them at their word. Never assume that something you find rewarding would be received the same way by anyone else.
What are your stories of recognition gone wrong? What's your advice on how to recognize right?
As Globoforce’s CMO & Head of Strategic Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. His articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin, Montreal and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @globoforce.