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May 24, 2016

Recognition strategies need big picture perspective

Employers should explore how to offer praise more frequently, but be wary about doling out new titles

By Claudine Kapel

We know employees want to be recognized and appreciated.

But while there are many good ways to provide such acknowledgement, the road to delivering recognition is not without potential potholes.

Consider the results of a recent survey by BambooHR on employee recognition preferences. The survey covered responses from 1,000 U.S. employees.

The findings include the standard fare one would expect to see about recognition preferences. But it also highlights employee desires for forms of recognition that can be more problematic, including additional vacation days and new titles.

In terms of desired forms of acknowledgement that could be encouraged in any organization, verbal recognition from a supervisor topped the list of ways respondents preferred to receive recognition for their work performance.

Other preferred means for receiving recognition included:

  • Direct recognition from a supervisor via email or text.
  • In-person verbal recognition from a peer.
  • Internally publicized recognition (via company/team-wide email, message board, etc.) from a supervisor.

These are all tried and true ways of delivering recognition — although it’s important to keep in mind that highly public acknowledgement may not work for everyone.

Similarly, the top perks employees preferred to receive as a reward for work accomplishments and performance also captured the usual suspects, and included:

  • Monetary bonus
  • Gift card from a major credit card provider
  • Extra vacation days
  • Gift card to a specific retailer/establishment
  • Brand-name consumer products (electronics, jewelry, clothing).

With the exception of extra vacation days, the items selected by survey respondents align with the types of items organizations typically offer within the context of cash and non-cash recognition.

To avoid recognition potholes, it’s important to ensure managers can distinguish between suitable forms of recognition and those that may prove problematic. That means they need to be adept at acknowledging individual employees without losing sight of the big picture.

As a general rule of thumb, recognition efforts should unfold within the context of established corporate and human resource policies. Recognition awards should not involve creating exceptions to standard operating procedures or governing principles.

Therefore, elements that should generally remain outside the scope of potential recognition fodder include:

  • Pay band assignments
  • Incentive pay eligibility or opportunity levels for target performance
  • Benefit and vacation entitlements
  • Titles
  • Cars and car allowance.

Generally speaking, these types of programs and considerations are managed within a broader corporate context to facilitate internal consistency with respect to organizational level, alignment with competitive market practice, and internal fairness.

So exceptions to the rules, while potentially desired at the individual level, tend to be disruptive at the organizational level because they can undermine program integrity and leadership credibility while fueling employee concerns about fairness.

Understanding such interdependencies is vital when making decisions around what constitutes appropriate recognition. It’s not just about satisfying an individual employee. The broader organizational context must be considered as well.

As a case in point, the BambooHR survey found some respondents would prefer to get a better title instead of a pay increase because they prefer “status or recognition above money.” Some 20 per cent of respondents indicated they would prefer to receive a promotion to a higher title without a three per cent pay increase instead of a three per cent raise without a promotion to a higher title.

Be that as it may, many organizations have clearly defined titling conventions that align titles with job accountabilities and organizational level. Such conventions ensure titles have meaning within the context of the work being done.

To that end, doling out new titles in a manner that is out of sync with the realities of job design and organizational structure represents a fast track to the creation of internal equity issues.

To ensure your organization optimizes how recognition is delivered, it can be helpful to establish a framework or guidelines to help managers reward and acknowledge employees in meaningful and consistent ways. That can include emphasizing the importance of acknowledging people in a direct and timely manner and describing the types of cash and non-cash awards that might be appropriate for different levels of achievement or contribution.

But when it comes to rewards and recognition, it is equally important to ensure managers understand the boundaries of their decision-making authority and why such boundaries are strategically important.

Fairness and consistency are hallmarks of effective recognition. But these can only be achieved when individual acknowledgement unfolds in harmony with the larger organizational context.

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