5 mistakes to avoid when recognizing employees

January 18, 2011
in HR / Employee Relations

by John Schaefer

If a star employee has ever surprised you during an exit interview by saying she had been dissatisfied with her job for a long time, you’re not alone. It’s quite common to find a vast divergence between employee satisfaction and management’s take on the situation.

It’s also expensive.

Managers frequently make five big mistakes that can send your valued employees packing. Luckily, they’re easy to fix.

Mistake 1: Not being credible

All executives claim to value their people. Are employees really getting the message?

Recognition programs, incentives, bonuses and “atta-boys” are common in most companies. Too bad employees often perceive them not as real incentives, but as manipulation.

Why? There’s a fine line between the perception of true appreciation and feeling that managers are just “throwing them a bone.”

With staffing down, workloads up and everyone busier than ever, it’s easy for employees to feel their managers are just going through the motions when it comes to appreciation and recognition.

Advice: Help your managers understand how important it is to be genuine when they show their appreciation to employees.

Mistake 2: Not being organized

How many disjointed programs does your organization use to recognize and reward its people? Each program probably has its own history, function and champion, so even if they’re working individually, it’s very difficult to get them to work cohesively. Disjointed recognition and rewards programs will thwart most managers’ efforts to use them correctly and in the right order. That makes them ineffective.

Coordinate all your employee communications, training, recognition and performance processes into one organized system. That makes it easier to understand and control costs, manage and measure results and get the most for your investment in people.

Mistake 3: Not using a strategy

An organized approach is great, but the system won’t last if it’s not tied to a strategy based on the company’s core values and goals.

Strategic planning is a leadership function that allows all employees to understand where they fit into the total scheme of things and how their performance directly affects the organization. Once everyone begins to see they are all marching in the same direction for the same reasons, synergy happens and your combined recognition efforts yield much more than the sum of the individual parts.

Mistake 4: Missing boss buy-in

Your best efforts are likely to fail if you don’t have strong, honest and consistent support from the top. Employees are quick to see through signs that the company is disingenuous.

Poor upper-management involvement is the No. 1 sign that you’re using recognition as a manipulative lever, not an appreciation boost. To keep your top executives intrigued, committees must present program enhancements that show significant and measurable results, not just emotional blue sky and hype.

Mistake 5: Not following through

Any program—no matter how exciting, rich, well-organized or effectively supported—will lose momentum over time if it’s not fully integrated into your company’s performance-management culture. This is by far the most overlooked weakness in many recognition strategies.

A quality reporting system along with an empowered team prepared to manage the information is critical to keeping your programs relevant, fresh, interesting and profitable. The true test of a well-functioning recognition strategy is when you can quantitatively show your CFO that it’s turning expenses into profits over time.

All five of these mistakes are common and costly. Fortunately, they are relatively easy to avoid with some simple communications training and the ability to look at rewards and recognition programs with an open mind.


Author: John Schaefer is the author of The Vocational Shrink: An Analysis of the Ten Levels of Workplace Disillusionment and other books. Contact him at (888) 646-6670 or John@SchaeferRecognitionGroup.com.

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