Consider this scenario: A business owner asked her employees to work long hours to complete a “rush” project for a client. As a result of their efforts, the project was completed a few hours ahead of schedule, and the client was delighted. Wanting to show her appreciation for employees’ hard work and knowing that they all had families with young children, the owner decided to provide each worker with a family pass to a local theme park. Why? The entire family would have life-long memories to share and treasure, instead of the employee’s fleeting memory of a monetary bonus.

Managers who have discovered the “secret” of an effective recognition program know just how powerful simple forms of recognition can be. Effective programs can result in outcomes such as engaged employees, increased productivity, greater creativity, and commitment to the organization’s success. An abundance of research shows that while money is an issue in terms of motivating and retaining employees, it seldom is the issue. Most people are looking for meaningful forms of recognition such autonomy, challenging work, and the ability to learn new skills.

I can make a case that employers who do not implement recognition programs are short-changing their employees and stakeholders. Such programs can be simple and low- or no-cost. However, there are some critical success factors required for the programs to be effective. For example, the recognition must:

  • Be customized for each individual (e.g., no public recognition for a person who shuns the spotlight).
  • Be linked explicitly to the desired performance or results.
  • Inspire the desired type of performance (e.g., individual recognition for individual effort).
  • Include criteria that are easy to understand and evaluate.
  • Be contingent upon results that are perceived as achievable.

There are literally hundreds of formal and informal ways that employers can recognize employees at little or no financial cost. Here are a few examples:

  • A heartfelt “thank you” delivered either in person or in a handwritten note
  • A thank you note sent to the family
  • Tickets to events (e.g., plays, movies, sports events)
  • Gift certificates for items of value to the honorees
  • Gift for spouse and/or family
  • Public recognition (IF appropriate)
  • Lunch or other personal time with the CEO or other executive
  • Executives serve lunch to employees

In short, the possibilities for recognition are limited only by one’s imagination. Given the huge ROI on recognition programs, it makes no sense for any organization to be without them. So what will you do to recognize your employees today?

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.

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