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Stop Turning Rewards into an April Fools Prank

Submitted by  on April 4th, 2011

Recognize This: Poorly structured recognition programs can be more damaging than no program at all.

Dan McCarthy, author of the Great Leadership blog and a person I respect, recently blogged “Without Integrity and Trust, Rewards and Recognition are Meaningless.”

Dan points out that poor program design allows for participants to “game the system” and “do whatever it takes to gain the advantage and win at all costs.”

And the money quote from Dan: “Rewards and recognition are supposed to motivate, inspire, and not create cynicism and mistrust.

That’s why we so strongly advocate strategic recognition programs in which the focus is on appreciation, not competition. Incentive programs in which people compete against each other for a prize can have their place, but far more prevalent in the culture should be an employee recognition program in which all employees are encouraged to notice and appreciate the good work of their colleagues.

The key to structuring recognition and rewards to avoid “gaming the system” lies in creating a common “language” of recognition that is understood by all employees, regardless of where in the world they may work, job duties, or level within the organization. That’s why we recommend the company values (and demonstration of them in daily work) as reasons for recognition and reward — then publicizing that (as appropriate) through internal social recognition mechanisms.

This helps all employees understand what it takes to be recognized — especially if a detailed message is included describing precisely why the employee deserved recognition — and prevents such gaming.

Have you participated in a recognition, rewards or incentive program in your workplace? What was your overall sense of the program? One that could be “gamed” to the advantage of the highly competitive? Or one that allowed all employees to demonstrate their excellent capabilities and achievement, for which they would be recognized?

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