Employee Recognition: How NOT To Do It
"Flattery is from the teeth out. Sincere appreciation is from the heart out."
Just as there are guidelines that can improve the effectiveness of an employee recognition program (see our article "Employee Recognition: How To Do It"), there are also some very important pitfalls to avoid that can sabotage an employee recognition program. Here are several of the more common problems and some recommendations on how to overcome them:
- Failing to set employee expectations -if an employee recognition program is poorly designed, constructed or communicated, it should not come as a surprise when employees don't know what to expect from the program. We've seen examples where a bonus program is a complete "black box" - employees had no idea how their bonuses were calculated. The answer is to make your program very clear and unambiguous and ensure that employees know how it works.
- Unnecessary rules - in some cases, a recognition program can be so full of rules and regulations that employees simply view it another example of organizational bureaucracy. The solution? Keep your program simple and easy to follow.
- Lack of follow-up - nothing is more likely to demotivate employees than to expect to receive a reward or positive recognition but then not get it. Too often, employee recognition programs make promises that can't be kept, at least not in a reasonable timeframe. The answer is to design a program that promises only what it can deliver and then delivers on those promises, rather than setting expectations that cannot be met.
- Constant change - when employees see that the "rules of the game" of your recognition program can be changed arbitrarily, they often get discouraged with the program. We've seen cases where employees believe that program changes are only intended to benefit the organization, such as making it more difficult for employees to meet the current recognition levels. When you change your program, always make an effort to improve it, such as adding new recognition opportunities. If you do need to address "recognition inflation," consult with employees first on how best to revamp your program and then clearly explain why you are making the change.
- Unfair implementation - if employees believe that your recognition program is unfair, your entire program is probably in serious jeopardy. If recognition criteria vary substantially between divisions or departments, your employees likely know that. Sometimes, the same people are always being recognized or only employees in certain positions, such as sales, can earn rewards because the program is inherently unfair. To address this weakness, keep fairness and equality top-of-mind when designing the program and ask yourself if your rewards and recognition are available to all of your employees.
- Hypocrisy - many recognition initiatives have been sabotaged by major inconsistencies between "talking the talk" and "walking the walk." Be extremely wary of any indications that your recognition program is nothing more than part of a 'good ole boys' network or that employees get recognized more because of who they know than what they do. There is no quick fix to this kind of hypocrisy but the solution has to start with realization of the problem.
- Rewarding poor performance - recognition programs that let poor performers be recognized will quickly lose credibility. Employee recognition should always be earned and never taken for granted.
- Lack of management participation - too often, senior management are visible during the initial launch of the recognition program but then disappear and never become active participants. This makes employees believe that the program is not really important to the organization and, as result, not deserving of their efforts or attention. Keeping a recognition program vital requires continual management visibility. Senior management should have specific roles to play so that they remain an integral part of it.
If you have concerns about the efficiency and value of your recognition program - such as low satisfaction with employee reward and recognition on your latest employee survey -- look for signs of these problems and make a commitment to address the weaknesses head on.
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