Why It Is Okay To Have Manager Approvals for Rewards

You and I know that recognition and reward programs have to be designed with the right business rules to make their use fair and equitable.

This is especially the case where performance-based recognition and reward programs exist. Such programs have their own rules for who is eligible to give and receive rewards. 

Reward programs where peers nominate someone to receive a reward may even require that a manager approve of whether the desired recipient should receive the reward. 

And yet there are some organizations who say they don’t want a manager’s approval at all. This takes too much time to approve a reward nomination. How will it look to employees? 

However, I am here to tell you it is okay to have managers approve reward nominations. 

Pandora’s Box with Rewards 

With using rewards in a recognition and rewards program, you must make sure there are clear guidelines and controls to prevent the abuse of rewards.

I have always valued Steve Kerr’s advice from his book, Reward Systems: Does Yours Measure Up. To help leaders realign their reward systems, he recommends:

1. Define performance in actionable terms.

2. Measure the right things and use the right measures.

3. Reward the right things and use the right rewards. 

Without creating effective criteria to determine what rewards to give for the right reasons, you can open up a floodgate of reward problems, such as: 

  • Tit-for-tat rewards being given. One person gives a peer a reward for some task. Then the recipient responds by making up a reason to reward the giver back.
  • Supervisors and managers give out rewards for any reason at all. The focus should be on recognizing positive behaviors without giving a reward. You only reward people for outstanding results.
  • Sometimes I have seen it where people give rewards out because there was no room for giving bonuses in pay. It is important to separate out rewards used to reinforce performance results from that of pure compensation.

Open Wallet Scenario

You have probably read how I recommend people calling their programs recognition and reward programs versus reward and recognition programs. 

Recognition precedes rewards. You recognize positive behaviors, and you don’t have to give people a reward for doing the right thing well. 

Recognition grows into rewards when someone has produced amazing results or achieved an outstanding goal. And even then, you must accompany the reward with recognition so that it doesn’t just become a transaction. 

I have seen organizations where they wanted their employees to give peers rewards for fairly ordinary actions. As a recognition and reward vendor, my colleagues and I would caution them that this could cause people to give rewards to everyone. We always warn program owners that this is when they should install the feature of having a manager approval process.

Inevitably, when there are no manager approvals in place, we see the reward budget spend skyrocket, and sometimes these programs get shut down. Other organizations see the wisdom in what we advised and install a managerial approval process after the fact. 

Managerial Approval Process 

Remember, the first area to manage and control is establishing criteria that specifies the value of a reward to give an employee. Individuals submit a nomination, showing what an employee did that the nominator feels merits receiving an award.

You set up a reward criteria matrix to help determine the value amount or level of the reward to be given. You can use a scale of measures that look at the level of impact of the person’s actions. Consider whether if this is a single occurrence versus consistent and ongoing performance. Perhaps you might think about the number of people affected or the organizational impact. 

These variables you could score on a high, medium, or low level to determine the correct reward amount level to give an employee. Of course, your organization’s budget amounts, and the criteria are customized to meet your needs and objectives.

This process creates a level of objectivity that makes it easier when a manager receives the reward nomination notification. They, too, can review the wording of the nomination and better understand the selection of the specific reward level. 

The benefits of a managerial approval process are to help review the reward nominations being made. Allowing this helps oversee the reward level spend within a team, department, or division. Having managerial oversight makes employees more accountable to the process to be followed. In addition, should a manager not approve a nomination, they can teach staff the reasons and teach them how to make the reward level more acceptable. 

It has been our experience that building in managerial approval for rewards is a good thing. This helps make the recognition and performance feedback known to others. The manager also can add further recognition to the reward experience of a peer. 

Recognition Reflection: Do you have a managerial approval process within your programs for giving rewards to staff? 

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