Recognition & Rewards: Do They Really Produce Big Results?

Most leaders question the value and impact of recognition and rewards in producing desired performance results. This skeptical view of recognition often arises from poorly designed use of recognition and rewards.

Also, semantic barriers can devalue the effects of recognition and rewards. So, let’s first define recognition and rewards.

Recognition is the tangible or intangible expression of acknowledgement for an individual’s contribution, achievement, or observed behavior. It is usually an unexpected, after-the-fact occurrence. It can include verbal thanks, an electronic or written acknowledgment, or a token of appreciation. It is more relational, happens frequently (daily/weekly), can impact nearly 80 to 100 percent of employees, and has low to no cost. It is personable in delivery, is mostly intangible, and focuses on people’s intrinsic motivation.

Rewards are something given or done in return for meeting pre-determined goals, merit, service or achievement and may be monetary. While rewards happen after the behavior or results are achieved, recipients essentially contract to obtain the reward—they know it is coming if results are achieved.

Most rewards happen frequently (monthly/quarterly), can impact 30 to 50 percent of employees, and have a moderate value. Rewards follow a more transactional approach (if you do “x” then you will get “y”), are more impersonal in delivery, and tend to be tangible in nature with a focus on a person’s extrinsic motivation.

Recognition Programs vs. Recognition Practices

To get the full impact of R&R, you need to separate programs from practices.

  • Programs. Recognition programs are typically online, web-based tools that notify individuals in sending and receiving automated recognition and awards and which can transact various rewards and incentives. A recognition program often includes rewards as well. Programs can also be manually run administered procedures for nominating, adjudicating and presenting formal awards.
  • Practices. Recognition practices are the individual, personally delivered expressions of appreciation (intangible and/or tangible) and positive feedback by managers, supervisors and peers to employees and don’t necessarily require the use of a program. Recognition practices can also be the cultural and customary ways an organization has of showing people they and their contributions are valued.

When leaders rely on Recognition Programs for results without addressing Recognition Practices first, they’ll be disappointed with the outcomes.

Proof of Power

Here are just three proof points of the power recognition and rewards can have on results:

Example 1: In their research with college students, Adam Grant and Francesca Gino discovered that simply adding the words, “Thank you so much”! and “I am really gratefull” doubled the response for a request for help. So, when making requests of those you work with, sincerely thank people and express gratitude! Intangible rewards or recognition have a greater impact on employee engagement than financial rewards.

Example 2: Scott Jeffrey from Monmouth University found when you ask people what they want for a reward, they mostly say, cash. However, when you ask them what they’ll work hardest for, the response differs—performance improves more using tangible rewards over cash rewards!

Example 3: Frank Giancola compared one group of employees who receive only incremental monetary rewards for achieving certain behaviors versus another group who receive social reinforcement of positive feedback as well as visually displayed charts of performance results. The results show social reinforcement exceeds monetary rewards.

Recognition and rewards really can impact performance and results. The key is educating and training leaders and managers to know the power of both and how to use them properly.

 Question: What concrete results have you observed with using recognition or rewards?

Roy is no longer writing new content for this site (he has retired!), but you can subscribe to Engage2Excel’s blog as Engage2Excel will be taking Roy’s place writing about similar topics on employee recognition and retention, leadership and strategy.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.