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It’s Flawed!

Posted on in Retention Strategy

As I was doing some research for this week’s blog post, something hit me. I was talking with friends, family, and a few clients, as well as reflecting on my own employment experiences, about the concept of reward and recognition. I was hoping to uncover a trend or two that would support a few basic methods of rewarding and recognizing teams that might be a little different than the typical suggestions of handwritten thank you notes, giving people an extra day off, or some other less-than-brilliant nugget you typically find online.

What ended up happening was something completely different.

What I ended up uncovering is that all rewards systems are inherently flawed and can have a negative effect on the performance of your organization and the retention of your people.

Many “experts” will tell you to create a rewards and recognition program that is aligned to your company values. I may have been one of those. Heck, I would’ve even helped you build one!  But in action, I realized that I’ve seen this approach fail, and fail miserably, over and over and over again. Let me give you an example.

A former client of mine has a brilliantly articulated company vision, mission, and values system and they’ve done an outstanding job of aligning their operational and people processes and decisions accordingly. So, in this environment, it would seem that a recognition and rewards program that is also aligned to the values would not only be successful, but continue to motivate and reinforce those guiding principles throughout the organization. And for the first few years, it did.

It started out where once a year, the entire company would cast a vote for one individual who most aptly displayed a specific company value. The votes were tallied and the winners were announced at a companywide event. It was an element of the meeting that everyone looked forward to and when the winners were announced, there was a genuine enthusiasm and excitement for them. True story.

But then within just a few years of the program launch, the unimaginable happened…it turned political. What was once the “perfect” recognition and rewards program was now tarnished when one employee launched an email campaign to a restricted group of people in the organization requesting their support of a specific person. The campaign was successful as they were able to sway the votes in that person’s favor. Unfortunately, it was one of the most counter culture people in the entire organization.

When the winner was announced, the air was sucked out of the room. What?  How could this be?  This left much of the team disillusioned. And when people become disillusioned, they start questioning why they are putting forth discretionary effort to achieve a company goal…especially now that they may start questioning everything the company stands for. Slowly but surely, confidence and trust erodes. When that happens, people will become disengaged, ultimately impacting the success of your organization and leading them to seek new employers who walk the talk in every way.

Now, you are thinking…..over one program?  Yes!  While the story above is only one example, I gathered countless personal stories over the last few weeks that would make the “when good programs go bad” highlight reel.

So, what’s the point of this? I do believe in rewarding and recognizing people, and I also believe most companies could do more of it. But you need to make sure that what you put in place doesn’t have unintended consequences. Is that even possible?  Honestly, after the discussions I’ve had, I’m not sure. Likely the best you can do is to find a way to remove as much subjectivity as possible since people are, by nature, flawed beings and their influence could make a successful recognition program turn into something out of a bad high school movie. What do you think?

Tell us about the ways you’ve seen recognition and reward programs go well, or not so well.

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