Revitalizing your recognition program

By Adrian Gostick
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/10/2001

You say you’re the outdoors type? Then imagine yourself flying through the hills on a lightweight 18-speed Trek mountain bike.

Or maybe your home is your castle. Then imagine the peaceful chime of a beautiful Howard Miller mantle clock echoing softly through your living room.

From camcorders to watches, from treadmills to jewelry, and even inflatable kayaks, awards capture the imagination. And study after study shows that an appealing, tangible award is much more effective than cash as a motivator of employees.

According to a recently released 30-year study on workplace satisfaction issued by The Gallup Organization, it’s not high salaries and benefits that make great companies. First and foremost, people want a work environment that recognizes their unique contributions.

In short, recognition and awards help build great organizations.

Recognition opens communication channels, enhances personal worth, and builds relationships between management and employees. And, if done strategically, recognition can focus employees’ commitment toward the things that matter most to an organization — key business goals.

Awards are a vital part of an effective recognition program. Awards that consider lifestyles and personal tastes spur staff on toward greater achievements. Additional power is added when awards are coupled with a tasteful symbol of achievement.

Get recognition and awards right, and the better chance your company has of long-term success.

That’s what Goodyear first discovered in 1994 when it sponsored a campaign to improve sales of tires in its North American operations. Two large employee groups were monitored: One was offered monetary rewards, the other was offered awards. The group receiving lifestyle awards outperformed the cash awards group by nearly 50 per cent.


Because cash is unemotional — is never enough and is quickly forgotten — it has been proven to have little power to motivate. Yes, many employees may say, “Show me the money.” But according to a recent survey by American Express, the majority of people will use cash gifts to pay bills. Another large group will not even remember where they spend the money. Cash is not a solution for a company hoping to build a long-term bond with its employees.

Awards, however, have lasting value. And merchandise awards that fit unique lifestyles and personal tastes appeal to a basic instinct to want that which one does not have. We can picture ourselves wearing that contemporary Tag Heuer watch. We’d love to have that compact Sony camcorder for when the new baby arrives. We’d enjoy that Swiss Army knife on our next camping trip. We can imagine ourselves burning up the back nine with those new Callaway golf clubs.

Because we can picture the award, and we can imagine ourselves enjoying it, we’re more likely to work hard to achieve it. And every time we use the award, it will remind us of our achievement.

Take the example of The Tranzonic Companies, a manufacturing firm based in Ohio, which recently expanded its award offerings.

“We recently added ‘non-traditional’ items to our program and stayed within our strict budgetary guidelines,” said Aimee Levan, human resources associate. “The employees are really excited about these new items. The selection and quality of the items is great, and our employees are thrilled to be able to choose something they can use on a day-to-day basis. The new selections have rejuvenated our entire service award program.”

Mark’s Work Wearhouse, headquartered in Calgary, had a similar reaction when it began offering uniquely Canadian items — such as Inuit soapstone art, wildlife sculptures and Robert Bateman paintings — in its recognition program.

“Our employees have responded to us through their excitement and determination to continue to earn these valued keepsakes,” said Linda Mathiesen, Mark’s Work Wearhouse vice-president of human resources and customer service.

Johnson & Johnson has had similar success offering a variety of unique awards for its employee recognition efforts. And the consumer giant also discovered the importance of tastefully including company symbolism as part of the award, helping establish long-term meaning by reinforcing the achievement.

“We notice that almost everyone orders the Johnson & Johnson logo on their award,” said Ghislaine Lavigne, who co-ordinates employee recognition at J&J’s Montreal headquarters. “That shows us that they’re proud of the company they work for.”

Donna Oldenburg, publisher of Incentive magazine, stated “An award should reinforce the identity of the giver and have a connection to the company’s message, products or an important event. The award should continually remind the person of the recognition event and have lasting value.”

Even the best awards can have added impact when presented effectively.

At KFC, service awards have a tremendous potential for positive impact on employees and co-workers because they are presented well.

“It’s all in the presentation,” said Debbie Riggs, who heads up employee recognition at the world’s largest fast-food chicken company. “You have to have fun with it. If an employee receives an award in the mail, or somebody flings it on the desk, the award will have little meaning. The presentation gives us a chance to say, ‘Thanks. You’ve done a great job for five years or 10 years.’”

And the best way to personalize your employee recognition program is to teach your managers and supervisors to make presentations with sincerity and meaning — effectively celebrating the employee’s achievements and tying those accomplishments to the company’s goals.

Presentation training should include the basics, like making sure the manager knows an employee’s preferred name and how to say it correctly, asking co-workers before the presentation to share some comments, and teaching managers how to tell a story linking employee accomplishments to company objectives. Training should also help your leaders stay out of legal trouble by teaching them what not to say, like promising continuing employment, or making discriminatory remarks, or telling off-color jokes.

With all the right elements in place, a recognition program helps an organization improve morale and achieve business success.

Adrian Gostick is the director of marketing and corporate communication at the O.C. Tanner Recognition Company. For more information, contact 1-877-818-3999 or

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