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Make Reward Recognition Work, Part 2

Diversity is good, but diversity also makes it challenging to find ways to do or say something that is appreciated by so many differing perspectives.

This is part two of a two-part piece. Part one can be found here.

By Alan Nicol, Executive Member, AlanNicolSolutions

On Ways to Make a Positive Impact

I’ll mention a few ideas in particular because I feel they encompass those elements listed above regarding our common human desires or behavioral responses. The following is not a comprehensive list, but should give some ideas from which to build.

The first thing to consider is how the recipients will respond to public or private recognition. Many of us will appreciate it either way, or any way we can get it. Some of us prefer not to be made into a public spectacle, while others thrive on public recognition. Consider the personalities of your individuals or teams, and the culture of your organization.

In many cases, a subdued, but meaningful public announcement is warranted because it tells your entire organization about the right behavior or the important accomplishment. This is an important part of successful Reward and Recognition. If your recipients aren’t likely to respond positively to the spotlight, just name them and the accomplishment and keep the discussion focused on the significance of the accomplishment, rather than making a big deal about the person.

When the recipient prefers not to be a public celebrity, we must follow up with a reward or some recognition that is more personal. The trick to a more personal recognition is to consider the relationship between the individual and the leader. If the relationship encompasses conversations beyond the minimum necessary to communicate professionally and include personal interests, taking the individual to lunch or dinner or other similar, more social opportunities can be meaningful. Also, a thank-you card or a letter with details and earnest and honest language can be impactful.

If the relationship between the leader and the recipient is purely professional, social rewards might seem more like punishment, especially to the bashful introvert. Instead, consider gift cards, dinner with a guest of the recipient’s choice to a nice restaurant, paid by the company, or other tangible rewards that don’t involve forced socialization with the workplace can be more meaningful. Try to pick something that is of interest specific to the individual.

Not everyone cares for the same reward. One individual might prize a fine dinner while another might prefer a gift card to the local superstore. Find out their hobbies or interests. If they hunt or do other outdoor hobbies, get a gift card to a sporting goods store, for example. The key to making tangible rewards genuinely rewarding is to demonstrate that they are specific to the individual and not just a random token because the program policy made you.

Recognition in front of team members with whom individuals have a strong relationship or bond can leverage elements of both the public and private recognition. Recognizing someone in front of an intimate group can be very potent. Generally speaking, we value the attention of our friends much more than we care about the opinions of strangers.

Taking a cue from a sports coach, take the whole team out to lunch or, if they don’t respond particularly to the leader, send the whole team out to the arcade or pool hall, but let everyone know that an individual’s particular accomplishment or effort won the prize for the whole team. Such gestures can be very impactful to everyone involved.

The theme of the previous few paragraphs is relationships. Understand recipients’ relationships and provide reward and recognition that is appropriate to those relationships.

I recently received recognition for some volunteer work I did. I received a certificate in front of a big crowd while a list of my work and accomplishments were read to the gathering. That would not have been a big deal to me. However, the event was a dinner, and the leader invited my entire family, my parents too, to the event. The fact that my spouse, my children, and my parents (which must have required some string pulling and some above-and-beyond coordination on the leader’s part) were there to see me get my award makes it the only one I have felt compelled to hang on my wall. Relationships should absolutely be part of the process.

Don’t use Reward and Recognition to try to build relationships. It’s, in my opinion, too much like bribery, and it builds the relationship on a poor foundation.

Whether it is for public recognition or private reward, look to an emotional stirring metaphor as a means to communicate the importance of the accomplishment or action, and give importance to the reward. It’s not a big deal when someone hands you a certificate and shakes your hand. It can be if it is accompanied by a fancy dinner, a big celebration, or if it’s the company president in front of the entire business unit.

But, again, the spectacle isn’t appreciated the same way by everyone, and while it may be a big deal to the recipient; it may just be a boring obligation for those in attendance. To make the message hit home for both the recipient and the crowd, match it with a meaningful story or example. Take a lesson from history, a fable, or simply take the time to explain why the accomplishment is important to the organization. The more stirring a story is, the more memorable the recognition and the greater the impact.

The same goes for the simple thank-you card or hand-written letter. Saying thanks is fine, but saying thanks with a stirring story or by likening the recipient to a famous personality or even an unknown figure that did something meaningful can make a big difference.

Also, the metaphor can be entertaining, as long as it’s pointed. One recognition that I gave out and that received much comment was simple. One of my team members attacked and resolved a problem process that no one wanted to touch. I went to a hobby store and bought an inexpensive die cast model of a WWII Japanese Zero fighter plane, and presented him with the “Kamikaze” award. Of course there was no such thing – I made it up for the occasion.

I gave it to him in front of a small collection of his peers whom he was mentoring through some process improvement methodologies and some of those who helped him with his project. It was somewhat humorous, but it was also clear that my teammate was recognized for having the courage to take on a challenge everyone else thought was “suicide.”

After the meeting, he received a great deal of concurrence from his peers concerning the validity of the “award” and many of them complemented me for recognizing his persistence and confidence. Here’s the reason I keep that one in my mental box of successes. Everyone in that room got a message. Everyone in that room learned to second-guess whether a process problem was really too difficult to solve and not to doubt if the methods work.

That example brings up one final point. Don’t underestimate the power of ceremony. Ceremony doesn’t need to be big and elaborate, with extraordinary preparation and a large crowd, though it certainly can be. Ceremony can be simple and subdued, but it should always be memorable.

Incorporate metaphor, invite the right relationships, and do more than just give a certificate and a gift card. Conduct some form of ceremony that incorporates and represents the message you want everyone in the room to receive. Ceremony makes it memorable, and if that ceremony is particularly specific to the individuals and the accomplishment it will have more impact.

Let’s sum up. Reward and Recognition is part of how we human beings are all programmed. Therefore, Reward and Recognition is an important aspect of driving behavioral change that enables significant performance improvement.

Our strategy for successful Reward and Recognition must include on-the-spot acknowledgement of desired behavior and outcomes, prompt communication of achievements, consistent in recognition of the same achievements, but personal in how success and behavior is rewarded. To make the recognition a positive and memorable experience for both recipients and observers, be sensitive to preferences for public or private recognition. Include the best relationships in the recognition event, and choose tangible rewards that are specific to the recipients’ personal interests or needs. Use metaphor to impart meaning and significance, and don’t discount the impact of ceremony.

Take some time this week and write down some ideas and thoughts for improving your organization’s Reward and Recognition practices. At least consider your own habits and methods. The more you put into your Reward and Recognition, the more powerfully you can drive or sustain the culture you desire and need.

Stay wise, friends.

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