Recognise This: Poorly structured recognition programmes can be more damaging than no programme 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 programme 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 programmes in which the focus is on appreciation, not competition. Incentive programmes, 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 programme in which all employee 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 organisation. 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 recognised — 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 programme in your workplace? What was your overall sense of the programme? 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 recognised?

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