Let Me Explain Recognition and Rewards One More Time

What do you do when you want to recognize people? What’s the right reward for employees when you feel they need one?

Recognition, as I have shared before, is mostly an intangible expression of acknowledgment and valuing of a person’s positive behaviors, personal effort, and the great contributions they have made. Recognition is your personal communication and feedback stating how you admire and appreciate someone for what they are doing. Recognition is a gift, not a right.

A Little Recognition, Please!

I say recognition is “mostly” intangible because you might accompany your spoken or written expression of recognition with a small token of appreciation—a little something special to that individual.

These are the everyday recognition moments that require the giver of recognition to know the preferences of the receiver and to act accordingly. You must give recognition as immediately as possible after you observed the action. 

Remember to appreciate people for who they are and recognize them for what they do.

Take a look at these recognition ideas:

  • Verbally expressed recognition, face-to-face, showing specifically what the person is recognizing you for and explaining the impact or difference your actions have made on others.
  • You can convey similar messages through written thank you note or other note cards, or through online social recognition programs and shared collaborative online tools.
  • Giving a high five, fist bump, or pat on the back where appropriate.
  • The level of the positive action might warrant a letter from the manager on company letterhead with a copy sent to the leader above the manager.
  • It might be the sincere wording of gratitude shared via a short and sincere email. 
  • You could acknowledge the individual or team among their peers, if all are okay with public recognition, and give each person a certificate, plaque, or a trophy for the team.
  • It’s a quick phone call congratulating or thanking an employee after hours and having it as a saved voicemail message.

The small token of appreciation must be within a specific currency range to guide managers to know what freedom and flexibility they have. When the amounts are small, the manager might purchase an individual’s preferred carbonated beverage or a sweet treat that the employee enjoys, and you leave the item with a brief note or card at their workstation or desk. 

Looking at Rewards Carefully

Rewards come in to play when people have reached specific performance targets and goals; contributed significantly; or have done outstanding service. You give rewards only when someone has gone above and beyond and moved the dial on some performance metric. You reward results. Receiving rewards are a right.

Always accompany rewards you give with some form of expression of recognition—verbally or in writing. That way you humanize the reward beyond the mere transaction of rewarding them. You connect the reward with the impact they have made.

This is when you move up a notch to the more informal level of recognition and rewards. It is where you see the positive actions or behaviors are more consistent than a one-off thing, and the action had a greater impact than a onetime occurrence — that’s when you look at the rewards available to you that fit within your rewards budget, like:

  • You might take the employee out to lunch, if that is acceptable.
  • If it was a team effort then purchasing a lunch of pizza, sandwiches, or whatever lunchtime food or treat the majority will like, is a suitable reward to use.
  • Give tickets or passes might for local sports events or to the cinema/theatre.
  • When extra effort and late nights affected family, include their significant other in the reward by giving a restaurant gift card for a meal for two.
  • An easy tangible to give someone for going above and beyond is a corporate branded giftware or clothing item like a T-shirt or sweatshirt or other wearables, or perhaps a mug, water bottle, etc. with organizational logo and motivational message on the item.  
  • Some organizations have online reward and recognition programs that allow managers to approve a monetary reward amount or a near-cash value reward, such as points of a certain value, or a plastic/online gift card.

And don’t forget to use paid time off for an individual to attend to family or other personal needs, or a day off for a significant achievement after they’ve worked many late evenings to complete an important task.

The key is defining the criteria of what deserves recognition independent of any reward. Similarly, figure out the levels of criteria for what qualifies as above and beyond performance that to be rewarded and at what value.

One of my subscribers wrote to me and said, “I see that by recognition you create emotions rather than bank account changes.” And while not rewards are financial, such as tangible and experiential rewards, all rewards have a monetary equivalent.

Recognition Reflection: How have you explained the differences of recognition and rewards to your employees?

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