How To Decide Whether To Give Recognition Or Rewards

If you have online recognition programs, you’ll likely have your organizational leaders asking you for guidance on when they should give recognition with no monetary reward attached and when should they give a reward.

The point you may have heard me expound upon before is that when you give recognition, you don’t have to give a reward. But whenever you give a person a reward, you must always accompany it with recognition.

Too often people equate recognition as rewards such that when you’re talking about recognition, they only see cash or some reward in their mind. Or if you only give people a written or verbal expression of appreciation, they’re wondering where the reward is.  

It’s a shame when employees think like this, but they didn’t come to this idea on their own. If you set up your programs the wrong way in the first place, they can generate a strong dependence on using rewards versus recognition. 

This still leaves us with the question, how do you decide whether to give recognition to someone or give a reward? Let’s find out what you can do. 

First Think About Recognizing Behaviors

A simple mantra to guide you is to think about recognizing behaviors and rewarding results. 

Take the definition of what recognition is to gain greater clarity on how you use it.  

Recognition is mostly an intangible expression of acknowledgement and valuing of an individual or team, for their positive behaviours, their personal effort or contributions they have made. 

Notice it is mostly an intangible expression of acknowledgment and valuing the individual. Sometimes you might include a token of appreciation, but mostly it is a verbal, written, text-based, audio- or video expression of acknowledgment. 

And what do you give recognition for? Behaviors. Positive behaviors, of course, along with personal effort they are doing, and for some positive contribution. All because of positive actions and attitudes displayed.  

You use recognition behaviors to acknowledge positive workplace behaviors. 

Recognition is most often a surprise, and you never know when you are going to receive it.

Then Think About Rewarding Results 

In contrast, rewards are tangible, monetary or experiential items given to a person or team, in return for reaching pre-set goals, reaching a significant achievement, or special service performed. 

Are you seeing a pattern here?  

1.    Rewards are tangible, monetary, or experiential items. It’s not a behavior. It’s an actual, touchable, experiential item.

2.   You give rewards for reaching goals, so people know if you do X performance you get Y reward. Outcome for outcome.

3.    Rewards are for significant achievements. These performance results or project task completions are significant, they are important, momentous, and above and beyond. They merit something beyond just recognition.

4.    You also give rewards for special service or work performed. 

You give something tangible in return for someone producing a tangible outcome.

For the most part, people know if they produce the performance result requested of them, they will get the designated reward. 

Summary of Recognition and Rewards 

With wanting people to do positive behaviors, you either have to encourage people to try their best or recognize them for displaying the desired positive behaviors. 

When you want people to achieve specific outcomes and go above and beyond you use rewards to reinforce those results and compensate them in a small way for their achievements. 

Recognition Reflection: Do you differentiate recognition and rewards sufficiently in your organization so that people know how to use each of them the right way?

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