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  • Writer's pictureEvelyn Pollard

To reward and recognise employees, or to not…..

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

It seems quite simple really – reward and recognise those who are doing great work. However what does “great work” really mean? The determination of “great work” can be quite subjective and many organisations often struggle implementing a meaningful program.

I recall one program whereby staff had to nominate another staff member. The nomination involves ticking boxes that were linked to the culture expectations. There was no real need to provide detailed information – just a short summary of where the employee went over and above their normal duties. All nominations were then signed off by the nominee’s respective manager and director before being forwarded to the HR team for processing.

The program started off positively and there were a lot of fantastic examples where staff went beyond their normal duties and contributed positively to the organisation’s culture. However, the program soon started to lose its purpose. Nominations started to come in from staff that were very loosely linked to the desired culture, however it started to become a means by which staff could achieve financial gains. The meaning of the program was lost.

I have seen other programs where staff are rewarded monetarily for their efforts to improve the organisation’s culture, and over time, the program starts to lose its intention and then slowly dissolves.

When rewards and recognition programs fail, staff then feel undervalued. Organisations then seek ideas and input from staff to implement a refreshed rewards and program. Staff often cite the initiatives such as dinner vouchers, weekends away, movie tickets, monetary contribution, the list goes on – think Google!

However, when asked to set the criteria and assessment methodology for which the reward is issued, staff often come up with suggestions that are either not measurable or are not linked to the organisation’s strategic direction.

So herein starts the dilemma for the smaller enterprises, not for profits, NGO’s and public sector.

Simon Sinek articulates in his TED Talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” the powerful model of asking “Why” that can be applied to any area of the business to inspire the best possible outcome.

There are many options that could be considered as a rewards and recognition program. However, before any organisation embarks on a reward and recognition program, they should ask “Why”. Why do you need a rewards and recognition program?

Research undertaken by Insync Surveys Pty Ltd identified that 54% of senior leadership team members of a high-performance organisation go out of their way to acknowledge and thank people for their contribution, compared to 27% for low-performance organisations. Could it be that a formal rewards and recognition program is not as effective as a simple “Thank you” from a senior leadership team member? This is certainly a question that should be asked as part of exploring the “Why”.

Once you have answered the “Why”, then you can move to engaging with the staff on the “How” – how will the program work – and then “What” – what will the program look like.

It is critical that communication of the “Why” is undertaken before engaging staff on developing the “How” and “What”.

Keep in mind that what works for one organisation may not work for your organisation. Any program needs to be tailored for the individual organisation, based on “Why” it is needed.


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