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How to Handle Employee Performance and Recognition Programs

Providing recognition for employee performance is a powerful way to manage talent, but it can also be a difficult process for managers and human resources professionals to navigate. Too little recognition can result in low morale, but too much recognition can cause positive reinforcement to lose its impact. Many companies choose ineffective recognition methods that waste resources and provide few benefits.

Managers and HR professionals can use the following strategies for walking the fine line of giving productive employee recognition that leads to increased performance levels and greater employee satisfaction.

Determine What Merits Recognition

Many business leaders lack a clear sense of exactly which workplace achievements to recognize. To start out, managers and HR professionals should ensure that they’re rewarding conduct as well as performance measures. For example, managers might give sales team members a reward for reaching a projected performance level, while the customer service professionals would be better served with a reward for positive conduct. Addressing desired behaviors as well as excellent performance measures gives employees in all departments and job functions the opportunity to receive recognition.

Managers and HR professionals should also focus on rewarding achievements they truly value, rather than defaulting to measures that are outdated or unhelpful. For example, some companies continue to provide awards for loyalty and longevity, even though these are largely irrelevant in today’s business climate, where employees frequently change companies.

A good strategy involves linking recognition efforts to an organization’s current goals, values, and objectives. If all rewards are tied to earnings, it sends a clear message to employees that earnings are the only measure of success. Instead, if recognition is linked to earnings, workplace safety, customer service, and corporate responsibility, employees will understand that these are all top of mind for the company’s leadership.

Balance Rewards and Appreciation

Offering rewards and appreciation are two of the most effective ways to provide recognition. A reward can be something tangible and valuable- such as money, enhanced benefits, a free lunch or a company-sponsored trip- or intangible- such as a special, high importance project that will give the employee visibility by executive leadership. The sense of accomplishment and achievement when that project is completed could be as valuable, or possibly more, than a tangible reward.

Appreciation simply involves thanking employees. A show of appreciation can happen on a one-on-one basis or through recognition in front of a professional’s peers. Appreciation has the advantage of being a flexible, low cost measure that’s easy to implement and that truly makes employees feel valued by leadership.

Every professional will respond differently to each type of recognition, so HR teams should aim for a good balance of rewards and appreciation in order to make the greatest impact.

Make Recognition Programs Meaningful

Even with the best intentions from management, some attempts at recognizing good employee behavior and results fall flat. To make a recognition program more impactful, HR professionals and managers should always aim for a level playing field. Every employee should feel confident that he or she has the opportunity to receive recognition.

To start, companies should eliminate manager selection processes, in which favoritism could be a real or perceived issue. Instead, managers and HR professionals can use a variety of concrete measurements- such as sales figures, number of units processed, or positive customer ratings to determine whether someone deserves recognition.

Another strategy is to request employee nominations from all members of the company. Drawing feedback from a number of professionals at different levels gives a reward more weight and encourages increased participation.

To enhance impact of a recognition program, managers should always recognize employees as close as possible to the time of the behavior or achievement. While most professionals will still find value in a reward received six months later, it won’t have as great of a positive effect as a reward garnered a week after the achievement.

Keep Employees Engaged and Motivated

Even the most carefully planned recognition programs can lose their effectiveness over time. Achievements that were significant 30 years ago- or even 10 years ago- might not have much impact on today’s companies. Organizations may also go through periods during which they need to place more focus on certain goals. For example, a company that received negative attention for a social media post might choose to reward cultural sensitivity and positive PR interactions over the next quarter.

For these reasons, HR professionals and leaders should always review and revamp recognition programs. Leadership should also regularly survey employees to learn which behaviors and performance measures they would like to see recognized, as well as what rewards they find meaningful. Management can change reward offerings periodically so employees have new incentives- and recharged motivation- for trying to obtain these prizes.

If all recognition efforts focus on individual achievements and behavior, leadership can boost engagement by introducing opportunities for teams and departments to reach goals and earn rewards. This strategy may give certain employees their first “win,” motivating them to work toward earning more individual and group rewards. Group recognition opportunities are also excellent ways to foster teamwork throughout the organization.

Finally, one of the best methods for maintaining a recognition program’s effectiveness is to create an element of surprise. If employees receive a day off every time they reach their sales goals, this reward can quickly turn into an entitlement. By continually changing the recognition employees receive and introducing surprises- such as unexpected free lunch or gift cards- company leaders can keep the entire team excited to aim for greater achievements.

Although there are many options available for recognition programs, the main focus should be on keeping your employees happy and engaged in their work. Those enrolled in an online HRM degree program will learn best practices for employee recognition programs, and will be able to utilize that knowledge in their future HR positions.