By David H. Martin

Some hard-driving bosses overlook the importance of consistently and regularly recognizing and rewarding outstanding employee performance, not just at Christmas or on birthdays. Whether you’re a five-person shop or a multi-unit company, you should seriously work to recognize your people regularly with sincerity and some creativity. Successful companies create a culture of recognition that is genuine and sincere. Once you determine that you want to recognize employees for their success, engagement or length of service, you need to commit to doing it right.

Recognizing millennials is a new and different challenge these days. Some companies are offering recognition and rewards that fit the healthier lifestyles millennials like to practice. Rewards might include simple exercise equipment (such as yoga/exercise mats) and gym memberships. There is a trend away from team or group awards, toward those focused on individualized, more personal rewards. Until the baby boomers are totally transitioned out of the workforce, however, rewards like weekend getaways and traditional brand-name rewards should remain a constant in most employee recognition programs.

On-the-spot rewards
While most rewards programs are based on year-long contributions of employees, consider adding on-the-spot recognition for employees going over and above their normal work responsibilities. Have you ever considered rewarding a worker for picking up a fellow employee and driving them to work due to an injury or auto breakdown? Rewards for this type of program are commonly in the range of $10 to $25 and might include gift cards for quick meals, fancy coffee drinks, movies, gas, etc.

Gift cards instead of cash
The cash controversy is nearly as old as the incentive industry itself. Studies have supported (and incentive businesses have been founded on) the belief that cash is not an effective sales motivator, that it lacks trophy value, that if used too often, it can be seen as an entitlement like any other form of compensation. Yet sales people everywhere continue to clamor for cash. In a recent incentive industry survey, more than 60 percent of respondents admitted that, if asked, most employees would rather receive cash than other types of incentives.

Gift cards offer a middle ground between cash awards and merchandise or travel awards. Sometimes called branded cash because of the company or store identification on the stored-value plastic card, these types of awards downplay the dollar value of the card, focusing instead on the freedom of choice the card provides. All company-sponsored gift cards recognize achievement while ensuring employees are able to choose a reward they want. While plaques and merchandise work in some situations, monetary awards work every time.

The majority of gift cards given by employers to their employees are for performance recognition, sales incentives and length-of-service rewards. The one-size-fits-all aspect of branded cash may work well for recognition programs but may not have the desired effect in existing performance improvement programs. This new generation of monetary rewards requires tighter program structures and more enthusiastic promotional support if they are to overcome the well-documented pitfalls of relying on cash as a motivator.

Stretch your budget with thanks. With little money for employee recognition programs, you need to show appreciation for their efforts in other ways. Learn to express a sincere thanks to sales people at every opportunity. And consider sending a small gift to the top sales person every month.

Share ideas regularly. Regular idea-sharing sessions with sales and even service people have the effect of a support group. And the simple act of swapping can have a powerful team-building effect.

Give them flextime. Offer employees a little personal time off. After all, time is the one thing you can always afford to give. It’s a positive morale builder and the gesture will not be forgotten.

Offer extra training. One sure way to encourage loyalty to your company and to the industry is to offer additional professional training and, if possible,training with WQA certification. While you can’t always change what your sales people make, you can increase how much they’re worth. What’s more, it will identify employees who are committed for the long term.

Be a servant. Personally check in on your sales people every two days. Listen to their problems and customer problems. Then cut through red tape if necessary to address problems promptly. Serve your sales people and they will work harder for you. (Be your company’s Chief Executive Servant.)

What to recognize
What are some typical behaviors you might consider for recognition?

  • Length of service
  • Sales success
  • Goal achievement
  • Cost-saving ideas
  • Best team player
  • Attendance
  • Safety
  • On-the-spot rewards

Whatever you decide, remember more isn’t more. In some cases, more is less. Unlimited award options tend to dilute the perceived value of the rewards.

Recognize employees with a big-splash presentation
While a pat on the back is nice, you might also want to treat outstanding performers like stars once a year in a special group presentation. We all know how important recognition and reward is, but how you show that recognition is just as important. Music, lights, cameras! It’s become a lost art. Putting together a first-class production doesn’t have to cost a lot. You can put one together for less than you think. Below are some ideas for creating a memorable event:

  • Get the names and some information about each person being recognized: what they achieved, their title and some past achievements. Create a three-to-five sentence paragraph in a PowerPoint slide presentation. Scan in their picture so that each slide has a person’s image along with their bio.
  • Find a place to do the presentation that offers space, with no distractions (phone ringing or work in progress) and a respectable climate. A properly decorated space in the office could suffice but it’s recommended you go to a local hotel and rent a seminar room. Decorate the area with a stage of some sort and a podium, with a center isle so people can easily walk to the stage.
  • Don’t forget music. Use something upbeat. You will want walk-in music as everyone gathers to take his or her seat. Play recorded music with a strong beat and have it make some noise. A hotel can hook a player into the house system to get the effect you’re after.
  • Preparing for the big event:
  1.  Send out an agenda with a listing of the awards that will be given out. Make sure the people receiving awards will be there.
  2. Designate a photographer to take crowd shots, casual shots, as well as stage shots.
  • On the big day:
  1. Go through your set up, slides and any rehearsals an hour before the event.
  2. Five minutes before the event, begin playing the music, loud!
  3. Don’t let people into the room until you see a crowd start to develop. This generates excitement and the feeling they’re going somewhere special.
  4. Open the doors and get people to fill in the seats up front.
  5. A presenter should come up after everyone is seated, say a few words of welcome, then begin the presentation. As a name is called, the person’s slide with picture and bio should come on the screen; you could also play some music that fits the award (i.e., Taking Care of Business or We Are The Champions). Don’t play the same song over and over. Mix it up.
  6. Make sure the photographer gets a good picture of every award winner.
  • Post the event, create a flyer or newsletter with the photos on it of the people up on stage as well as photos of the crowd and any interesting shots. Make sure you put captions in place and title the flyer or newsletter. Give one to everyone who attended as a keepsake and probably a few to the people being recognized.

Just a little planning and a few added details (like music and a slide show) can turn a so-so event into the Academy Awards for your people. This little extra effort will excite others and make those being rewarded feel even more special.

Employee appreciation can be as simple as heart-felt thanks, a little time off or the gift of additional career training. Stored-value gift cards, though, are universally appreciated, as they give the recipient a semblance of choice in their reward.

Martin_David_mugAbout the author
David H. Martin is President of Lenzi Martin Marketing, Oak Park, IL, a firm specializing in water improvement and environmental marketing that integrates old and new media. He can be reached at (708) 848-8404 or by email at [email protected]


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