When surveyed, employees consistently will ask for cash, but research shows that it’s the least effective form of recognition – How come?  Steve is a loyal employee who enjoys his work, is productive and reliable – the model employee.  He was surprised when his 10 year service award package offered him cash and a selection of Gift Cards as options to honor his service to his employer.  It wasn’t like he couldn’t use a few extra bucks, but the fact that his employer was able to put a price tag on ten years of his life, left him feeling a little cold and confused.

Why is it that when the company offered the very thing that employee’s seemed to want, that it fell short of carrying the important message – “we care about you and are glad you’re on our team”?  Maybe it has something to do with the question? Asking employees what they want tends to imply that you don’t know and really don’t care all that much.  The moment they think that you are using recognition more out of obligation than desire, they will emotionally disengage, feel a bit insulted, and give you the answer they think you want to hear – “ . . . Aw, what the heck, just give me a gift card!”

It actually has to do a lot more with perception than logic.  Employees want so much to be genuinely appreciated, that the minute you give them the smallest hint that you’re attempting to manipulate them with carrots and sticks, you lose.

It’s really just about doing a few very basic things right and in the correct order.  This requires training supervisors to understand some straight forward principles, realize that it’s to their personal benefit to make recognition a powerful management tool (appeal to their natural self-interests – in a good way!) and communicate more effectively, so their people believe they mean it.

Once honest emotional engagement is achieved, you’ll be amazed at how quickly financial incentives can take you and your firm to another level of measurable, bankable ROI that will have everybody wanting more.  It’s an educational challenge that too many companies ignore, but are paying for over and over again.

Here are three thoughts to consider:

  1. No one disagrees that cash is important. The reality, however, is that you owe it to yourself and your stockholders to do what’s best with the company’s money.  The data overwhelmingly supports the fact that well-designed incentives will out-perform cash by more than 2 to 1, as well as carry far lower tax consequences.  We’re also dealing with a time in our history where all kinds of Gift Cards are hanging at the check-out lanes in every grocery store in town. Supervisors will embrace more personal and engaging tools when they understand their value, see what’s in it for them, and have a clean, well-defined path to run on.  You can give a gift valued at 1% of an employee’s salary, and if done enthusiastically, they’ll feel the love.  But, give them a gift card, bonus or raise valued at 1% of their pay and they’re looking at the classifieds.  Same dollars, totally different result . . . it’s all about perception!


  1. Most companies use a variety of disjointed programs to recognize and reward their people. Even if the programs are working, it’s impossible to determine the level of participation and financial return.  Imagine if you orchestrated all of your employee touchpoints from Hire to Retire, so they could be properly measured, kept relevant to company goals and you could easily teach your supervisors the proper way to implement them. The benefits are numerous, however, there can be potential challenges involved in transitioning your organization to this approach. Here are the three steps you should be willing to take to consider implementing an Umbrella Strategy:
  • You need to have upper management support.  Only then will you be able to get all of the program owners to open up and provide the information needed to analyze the current situation and begin to see opportunities for improvement.
  • Your team has to be open to new ideas and be willing to brainstorm all viable options.  We like to start with a Recognition Inventory to gather a list of program initiatives and budget currently in place, but being handled in disjointed ways.  Then, we look at other recognition and incentive initiatives that are not being done, but could yield significant savings or growth.
  • The goal of your team needs to focus on developing the greatest ROI on your recognition investments, not protectionism or departmental isolationism.  A macro view of the situation, where everyone is considering program initiatives from a broad perspective based on company culture, mission and long term objectives is the secret to getting the best overall program and the ROI you deserve.


  1. As you begin to evaluate your current recognition programs, you’ll be surprised at both the amount of money leaking out of the organization in various ways and why there may be inherent confusion from the employees’ perspective.

We suggest your look at Recognition using Four Pillars:

  • Foundational Service Awards
    Foundational Service Award Programs lay the groundwork for a comprehensive strategy. Best practices include a “hire to retire” approach, providing the opportunity to create meaningful moments throughout the length of an employee’s career with your organization.
  • Automated Recognition
    Create an environment of celebration and appreciation with Automated Recognitions. Commemorate newly hired employees, annual service anniversaries, birthdays, holiday, employee appreciation days, and other occasions with an efficient automated recognition system.
  • Discretionary Recognition
    Discretionary Recognition initiatives provide your employees with tools to promote appreciation and encouragement through touchpoint programs like eCards, Peer to Peer & Social Recognition, Nomination, Manager Recognition, Spot Recognition, and Above & Beyond Behavior Recognition.
  • Performance-Based Recognition
    Utilize recognition that aligns with your unique business goals. Recognize performance standards like Sales, Productivity, Customer Satisfaction, Wellness, Community Involvement and Departmental Goals to contribute to the satisfaction of your employees, and the success of your organization.

Then, take a Four Cornerstones approach to Design, Implementation, Measurement and Analysis: 

  • Communications – People need to see where they fit in the overall
    scheme of things.  Every employee wants to know the direction of the organization and the plan to get there.  Communication addresses the “what to do” and provides a professional, well organized theme.
  • Training – Managers need to know how to give recognition rather than
    just presenting awards.  Training focuses on the “how to do” and is an important element to Performance Improvement.  Effective training avoids your best intentions being seen as nothing more than “throwing ‘em a bone”.
  • Reinforcement – Recognition is not an event, it’s a process.  Employees need to “want to”, but how do we achieve this emotional engagement?  It’s done by validating.  Employees must feel important and appreciated when they go the extra mile.
  • Measurements – Things that are measured tend to improve.  Measurements address the “how are we doing”.  With the vision and strategy in place, the objectives and responsibilities of each employee to support the strategy must be determined.  This is the most overlooked part of performance improvement programs, because it requires responsibility and can often be uncomfortable.  Outstanding employees want to be measured and ineffective employees want to remain invisible.

 There’s a lot more to recognition than just handing out awards and gifts, but therein lies the opportunity to turn accepted expenses into significant profits.  Companies that take on the challenge of embracing this new view of employee engagement are seeing impressive improvements in productivity, profitability, morale and teamwork along with significant reductions in the turnover, recruiting and safety related costs.

Here are some questions to ask about your company to get started:

  1. What programs, awards, rewards and measurable initiatives do we have in place right now?
  1. What measurable behaviors and performance improvements are not currently included in our programs, but would help us save money, improve productivity or increase engagement?
  1. How well do we currently earn and maintain employee trust? Do our employees believe that leadership cares about them as human beings and that recognition is done in a genuine, honest and meaningful way?
  1. What about our existing Culture, Mission, Vision, Values and Purpose could a well-organized, comprehensive recognition strategy support and grow?
  1. Is my top leadership open to and willing to support and fund a program that will engage both employees and managers, as well as support company success over time?