4 Important Reasons Why Recognition Comes Before Rewards

When you think strategically about recognition and rewards or with trying to implement them, do you have a logical order in how you think about them or practice them?

Yes, I have a bias in that I am foremost a recognition strategist before thinking about rewards. But I completely understand the place for rewards and know the value they play in both recognition and reward strategies.

However, I think there is a psychological and practical reason for prioritizing recognition before rewards.

Consider the following reasons.

1.  Recognition comes first because it is a more personal experience. Human interaction comes before any exchanging of goods and services delivered personally or by technology via programs. You want to create the best employee experience and that doesn’t happen by just transacting rewards.

Employee experience is described as the totality of all perceptions and experiences employees encounter on the job. Expressing recognition, care, and appreciation, and valuing people for who they are and what they do, is a great employee experience. 

In contrast, rewards are an expected exchange in return for some achievement or level of performance. Rewards can include experiences, yes, but rewards are part of the compensation and benefits package, different from recognition.

Recognition keeps things on a personal level.

2. Recognition comes before rewards for an effective strategy. Strategically recognition practices should always come before any recognition programs, let alone using rewards. 

If you look at a pyramid and place everyday recognition at the foundation, then everyday recognition always comes before informal or formal recognition, with the latter often including monetary or non-monetary rewards.

Ironically, most organizations tend to put most of their resources of time, money, and effort into formal recognition, along with all the tangibles. They forget to invest in the education and communications needed to teach people how to give effective recognition and continually reinforce the expectation for everyone to give it.

Unfortunately, too many employees complain more about not feeling recognized and appreciated than they do with not receiving sufficient rewards.

Recognition is a great strategic unifier.

3. Attitudinally, use the primacy effect of putting recognition first. Be mindful of the semantics and attitudes around putting recognition before rewards when combining the two words in any program listings, accounts, or descriptions. 

You’ll often see “rewards and recognition” listed when identifying budget line accounts or even on organizational websites. The trouble is, when you put rewards in first position, people will focus there. Mentally this creates an expectation and entitlement for rewards. 

By putting recognition in first place—such as “recognition and rewards”—people will see that as the primary strategy and action expected of them, and they will see rewards as secondary. Putting recognition in first position reduces the idea that any recognition must lead to rewards. That’s the perception when rewards come first—when you give anyone recognition they automatically think, “Where are my rewards?”

Recognition should always be top of mind.

4. Recognition in practice happens first naturally and sequentially. When you look at when you give recognition versus rewards, people always give recognition first as a progressive acknowledgement of positive actions or behaviors.

For example, when a positive behavior from an individual occurs once, and has a limited impact on others or on performance results, it only merits being recognized. If the positive action is something that consistently happens and has a major impact on people and results that will probably merit giving them a reward and recognition.

Recognition naturally occurs first.

Hopefully, these ideas give you something to think about as you review your recognition and reward practices and programs.

Recognition Reflection: Why do you feel that recognition should come before rewards?

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