How to Recognize and Reward your Employees to Build Better Performance

Your team and/or one of your employees just saved an account, showed outstanding customer service or met a critical deadline. You may be ready to move on to the next deadline, but take time to celebrate and recognize success. Your employees will notice. They’ll likely perform even better.

recognize and reward employees

Recognition matters

Recognition makes a huge difference in employee engagement. In organizations where the leader rarely shows team members appreciation and support for their contributions, only 20 percent of workers feel valued and only 30 percent feel team spirit, says Jim Kouzes, co-author of "The Leadership Challenge," citing research done by him and co-author Barry Posner. When leaders almost always show appreciation and support, 80 percent feel valued and 90 percent feel team spirit, Kouzes says. Here are some of the best ways to recognize, reward and encourage top performance.

Make it timely

“Companies should be systematic with certain things like office of the year and employee of the year,” says Trey Barnette, regional manager for Robert Half and Accountemps.

But don’t wait for your annual employee banquet to say thank you for day-to-day achievement. During a Friday team meeting you might say, “I was walking through the office yesterday and saw Jennifer, and she was helping a team member who was struggling with a task—that’s the kind of collaboration and team work we like to see in this organization,” Jim Kouzes, co-author of "The Leadership Challenge."

Calling people out for good performance encourages them to continue to excel

“It’s a mistake to wait to do recognition on a schedule, at a performance appraisal or annual meeting,” he says. “That’s the mistake a lot of managers make. Recognition is better if it’s done when a behavior occurs—not 12 months later. If you notice an employee engaging in an important behavior, I would go up and say something. People want to know you appreciate them on a daily basis.”

Give people time

Almost everyone appreciates having more hours in their day. “If you’re able to give employees back more time, it’s always key to do that,” Barnette says. His team members have weekly quotas to achieve. During the summer, if a team member hits its quota before Friday, he or she gets a half-day off on Friday. “It drives their activity on Monday and Tuesday,” he says.

Act publicly

A private pat on the back is great. But recognizing someone, even informally, in front of other workers is even better. “We’ve found that recognition goes a long way,” Barnette says. “If you put someone on a pedestal for a quick second and show the team and the office, this person has the spotlight—that goes a long way. Bragging rights are better than monetary value.”

Money whispers

Money talks—but not as loudly as you might think. Employees appreciate bonuses, of course. But verbal affirmations and tangible items that employees can keep make a more sustainable difference. “People love to receive money, but it doesn’t have lasting impact. A bonus will increase people’s attachment to the organization and sustain the desired behavior for a little while,” Kouzes says. “Regular recognition of a more informal nature keeps that performance and engagement going over time.”

Make it a reminder

A constant daily reminder helps people remember that outstanding performance matters. “Looking at my own desk, I see clocks, trophies, crystals, globes,” Kouzes says. “I don’t know what their monetary value is. That’s irrelevant. But they remind me of something I did that was exemplary. I met someone’s standards or someone appreciated what I did.”

Make it fun

At one company where Kouzes was CEO, leaders gave out a zebra-themed award. “Anybody could give it out at any time,” he says. “It could be a zebra poster, zebra tie, zebra T-shirt. People who received it felt recognized by their manager and peers. They had something to show for it, maybe sitting on their desks as a reminder.

Make it personal

Ever gotten a ho-hum gift? Happens all the time. When you want to recognize your employees, think about who they are individually. A young unmarried man with no kids and a single woman with two small children will appreciate different rewards. Tickets to a basketball game might work for the single guy while the woman might appreciate a restaurant gift card or hours of an errand or cleaning service.

Make it many

Instead of one major recognition gift, spread out the budget and the love. “The symbolism of them winning the gift card is more important than the monetary amount,” Barnette says. “I would rather do 10 $10 gift cards than one $100 gift card.”

Boost the mood

Recognize people early and often. And if you take the temperature in the office and it seems tense, that’s a good time for recognition or a contest, Barnette says. “If you know tensions are high, recognition could help subside that tension.”

Start today

If you’re open to noticing, you can catch your employees doing things right on a daily basis. Let them know, and watch the outstanding behavior build.

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