Cheap and meaningful better than expensive and forgettable

While money is important, what motivates employees to perform — and to perform at higher levels — is the thoughtful, personal kind of recognition that signifies true appreciation for a job well done.

The motivation is even stronger if you follow these simple guidelines:

1. Match the reward to the person. Start with the individual’s personal preferences. Reward her in ways she truly finds rewarding.

2. Match the reward to the achievement. Effective reinforcement should be customized to take into account the significance of the achievement. An employee who completes a two-year project should be rewarded in a more substantial way than one who simply does a favour for you.

3. Be timely and specific. To be effective, rewards have to be given as soon as possible after the desired behaviour or achievement. Rewards that come weeks or months later do little to motivate employees to repeat their actions. And, you should always say why the reward is being given — that is, provide a context for the achievement.

While the types of rewards you may give are only limited by your creativity, here is a simple rule of thumb: for every four informal rewards (for example, a thank-you note), there should be a more formal acknowledgement (a day off from work), and for every four of those, there should be still a more formal reward (a plaque or formal praise at a company meeting), leading ultimately to such rewards as raises, promotions and special assignments.

Remember, the more creative, the better. After all, spending $1 on something clever and unique is often better and more meaningful than spending $50 on something ordinary and forgettable. Here is a list of rewards and recognition ideas that might work in your organization:

•post a thank-you note on the employee’s office door or bulletin board;
•volunteer to do another person’s least desirable work task for a day;
•have the employee’s car washed in the parking lot during lunch;
•name a continuing recognition reward after an outstanding employee;
•make a photo collage about a successful project that shows people who worked on it, its stages of development, its completion and the reward presentation;
•create a “Hall of Fame Wall” with photos of outstanding employees;
•when paycheques go out, write a note on the envelope recognizing an employee’s accomplishment;
•develop a “Behind the Scenes Award” specifically for those whose actions are not usually in the limelight;
•arrange for the employee to have lunch with the company president;
•authorize managers to walk around with lunch coupons they can hand out on the spot;
•cover the employee’s desk with balloons;
•inscribe a favourite book as a gift;
•rent a sports car for the employee to drive for a week;
•invite employees to your home for a special celebration and recognize them in front of their colleagues and spouses;
•send birthday cards to your employees’ homes — have the cards signed by the CEO;
•give the employee a two-hour lunch and pay for dessert;
•give spontaneous time off for specific accomplishments;
•send a $20, $50 or $100 bill to a spouse with a thank-you note for his or her support during the employee’s overtime;
•pay for a house-cleaning service for an employee’s home;
•hand out award coupons redeemable for a gift of the employee’s choice;
•provide tickets to a sporting, musical or cultural event depending on the employee’s preference;
•let employees take a “Dream Day” to go to the beach and contemplate job, life and future;
•send employees to special seminars, workshops and meetings outside the company that cover topics they are interested in;
•allow an employee to choose his next work assignment; or
•make a donation in the name of an employee to the charity of her choice.

As this list shows, meaningful recognition can truly be created out of thin air. Innovative ideas can be found around every corner. To make these ideas most effective, remember that recognition should be timely, personal, and specific. After all, everyone likes to be appreciated for their efforts. A pat on the back goes a very long way.

Bob Nelson is author of the best-selling books 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, 1001 Ways to Energize Employees, 1001 Ways to Take Initiative at Work, and Managing For Dummies and Consulting For Dummies. He can be reached at (858) 673-0690 or [email protected].

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