Recognise This! – If you’re going to invest in employee recognition and rewards, make sure your rewards measure up to your recognition.

My team of consultants and I regularly engage with clients to help them assess and analyse their employee recognition and reward programmes. We do this on many fronts, from sheer uncovering of recognition activities happening in facilities around the world to budget investment to benchmarking and best practice recommendations.

We analyse everything from how recognition takes place, how deeply its embedded into the culture, who’s encouraged to participate as both nominators of others for recognition as well as potential recipients, and process elements including frequency, timeliness, presentation, etc.

A part of this, of course, is the reward mechanism used. In this blog I tend to emphasise the recognition part of the recognition and reward equation because getting recognition right is the foundation to proactive culture management, crowdsourced performance and so much more. But we cannot ignore the rewards. Rewards are more than the icing on the cake. They are the “trophy value” for employees – the long-lasting reminder of how much the company values and appreciates the employee and their contributions.

Don’t Neglect Rewards in Effective, Strategic Employee Recognition Programmes

That’s why offering a wide range of rewards is critical. Employees must be able to choose from a vast selection of rewards that are personally meaningful and culturally relevant for them – especially in global organisations. Offering hundreds of rewards options to US-based employees and only a dozen options to China-based employees is lazy at best and insulting to the employee at worst.

More to the point is being sure the recipient of recognition is the one choosing their reward, not the giver (whether that be a peer or a manager). Case in point – just last week my team shared amongst ourselves some reward practices we’ve uncovered in these analysis projects. One in particular stuck out to me. Managers always selected the reward for the recipient, and they could only choose from two reward options – chocolates or wine.

What if the recipient is a diabetic teetotaler, or merely allergic to wine (or chocolate)? What if the person is on a diet? Now the well-intended reward is received as a useless slap in the face.

Let the Recipient Choose

While an extreme example, it highlights the importance of letting the recipient choose their own reward. I’ve shared before stories of why manager “goodie drawers” are a bad idea (giving a gift card to a steakhouse to a vegan employee; giving tickets to a local theatre production to an employee with kids for whom the securing and paying for childcare makes the night out not worth it; the iPod given to a deaf employee).

The bottom line: Let the employee choose their own reward from millions of options, in their own neighborhood or anywhere around the world.

What’s the most insulting “reward” or gift you’ve been given?