Creating a Reward and Recognition Program That’s Fair

Posted on September 20, 2011.

Watching the Emmys the other night, the awards were predictable and not always deserving, at least in this armchair reviewer’s opinion. It hit me that the workplace is not unlike the Emmys, where the same people get the reward and recognition and are not always the most deserving.  Much like the Academy, it’s a trap that many managers fall in. So how do you create a more balanced and fair approach to rewards & recognition?

  1. Set goals to match job level and experience.  The first time I had to allocate my team goal to individuals, I just took the total and divided it by the number of people.  It seemed easy enough, and fair. How could anyone complain if everyone had the same goal, right? Wrong!  Within minutes, people were the first in my office with “ How could you possible give me the same goal as Peter? He’s got ten years of experience to my two and he’s a Senior Vice President and I’m not”.  Sometimes what seems fair is actually grossly unfair.
  2. Goals need to match opportunity. It would annoy me that my region had a disproportionate share of the goal, but the reality is that folks in rural Tennessee really didn’t have the same opportunities that we did in the Mid Atlantic. Not all of your employees have the same opportunity for success either because of geography, training, support, existing client base, etc. Taking these factors in account actually makes the goals fairer.
  3. Create different rewards for different efforts.  It’s always seemed odd to me that movies and miniseries are in the same category. Are they really the same thing?  In designing rewards and recognition, you need to create categories that are relevant to everyone. I’m not suggesting that you reward everyone the way kids today get trophies for showing up. But if I’m part of the finance team, don’t make all the recognition about sales.
  4. Make the reward & recognition meaningful. You know the old saying” one man’s trash is another man’s treasurer”? The same is true with rewards and recognition.  While a call from the CEO may put one person over the moon, another may feel it’s meaningless.  Find out what motivates your team and design the rewards to match.

Certainly there are top performers who will dominate every year, much like “Mad Men” at the Emmys. But if you don’t find a way to reward and recognize some of your unsung heroes, he or she will start to give up. 

What clever ideas have you developed for your teams?