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Recognition & Rewards: Inspire, Engage, Retain

By Katherine Craig


If you want to gather honey, don't kick over the beehive.
- Dale Carnegie

Over the past months we've explored strategies that take your leadership practices from good to great, and we've touched on the concept of rewards and recognition and their role in the engagement and retention of your workforce. With a new year fast approaching, this is the perfect time to examine more closely the ways in which you can develop and implement a solid R&R program that will benefit both your team and your company. Whether your employee is a new hire or a lifer, a Boomer or Gen X'er, there are steps you can take to motivate your staff and inspire greater performance.

It's important to first understand the distinction and interplay between the terms recognition and reward: recognition is the acknowledgement of success or achievement, i.e. praise; a reward is a form of currency in that transaction, but it's not the only one. A reward - be it a gift, perk or bonus - will lack resonance and meaning if it isn't preceded by meaningful recognition. Your staff will appreciate the token, but it will not cultivate a culture of success if they lack an understanding of why they're being rewarded. In order to motivate your team and inspire greater achievement you must create a consistent program that provides both praise and perks.

Pass the Praise
There are four ways to deliver recognition: personally, in written form, electronically or publicly. As I've said before, the most powerful forms of praise will come with a personal touch: a handwritten note or a face-to-face encounter will carry greater value in the eyes of your employees than an email. However, if electronic messages are an ingrained part of your company culture, the message they contain will net the desired sense of accomplishment for a job well done, especially if you copy your boss, clients or the rest of the team. A company newsletter or post on a bulletin board are excellent means of public recognition; in fact, pinning words of praise on a bulletin board will generate an "echo effect" - positive feelings are reinforced by repeated exposure to the positive message.

Regularly scheduled conferences and retreats are also a powerful venue for public recognition on two levels: first, you have the opportunity to present awards of accomplishment and service at a formal ceremony; second, you have the opportunity to set your staff the task of listing one another's accomplishments and successes. This spontaneous peer recognition is a remarkable tool, drawing your team together by acknowledging their mutual achievements.

Clarity is Bliss
When designing your recognition program, it's important to keep a few simple guidelines in mind. First, ensure that the performance targets you've set are achievable and transparent. Nothing will frustrate your staff more than having the bar set so high it's completely out of reach or, worse yet, having the bar moved mid-year. Explaining your expectations in clear, objective language and then maintaining those expectations through to the performance review will motivate your staff. Ideally, you will be measuring and rewarding actions that help produce useful business results: practical performance targets will certainly have more relevance for your team than goals that bear no tangible benefit in day-to-day operations.

By extension, set sensible rewards that are not only logical motivators, but also appropriate for the functioning of your office. For example, your staff won't be motivated by the prospect of extra days off if they have to wait until your busy season has passed to take advantage of the holiday. The recognition and/or reward must be provided in a timely fashion, otherwise the impact is diminished, so be sure to offer perks that can be enjoyed by your staff in the immediate future.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Like any marketing endeavour, it's important to know your audience when planning an R&R program. We've talked about on-boarding in the past: the first three months are a critical time for a new employee, a time for you to be generous with praise, to acknowledge not only success, but effort, as well. Beyond that challenging transition time, the program you put in place should reflect the generational expectations of your staff: Traditionalists (born before 1945) want to be respected for their wisdom; they'll derive great satisfaction from having their project listed in the company's best practices manual, or having their work published in a newsletter. Boomers (1946-1964) want their work to be fun and tied to achievement; an office party to recognize their success will have a positive, lasting impact. Generation X (1965-1980) wants to feel a sense of community and needs opportunities to grow; they'll appreciate the chance to get out and volunteer for a local charity, or take a leadership role on an interoffice committee. Generation Y (1981-2000) wants their opinions to be heard, and needs a sense of community and connection to derive satisfaction from their job; like their Gen X predecessors they thrive on volunteerism, so give them a platform and make them feel like they're making a difference.

You can take the guesswork out of your R&R strategy by simply asking your staff what motivates them. A questionnaire exploring the nature of feedback your employees expect and appreciate will give you firsthand knowledge of their preferences, and send a signal that you're a conscientious employer. We've examined the concept of branding in the past: setting up your culture of achievement and recognition is a manifestation of your management brand. You can create a positive, can-do culture if you strive to be a deliberately thoughtful leader. But this won't happen by accident, only by design. Take some time to examine the demographics and dynamics of your team, acknowledge their individual expectations and set about celebrating their success in ways that are meaningful and motivating.



Katherine Craig is the founder & CEO of Spearhead Executive Coaching, a dynamic organization dedicated to helping individuals and companies achieve greater success through the delivery of high-performance coaching programs, workshops and retreats. She welcomes your comments: katherine@spearheadexecutivecoaching.com.