Pick Your Carrots Wisely

Chester Elton Here are a few simple rules to effective recognition: First, awards should only recognize results that are important to the organization. Second, awards should be fair in relation to awards received by equally producing coworkers and related to the significance of the achievement (creating this type of fair reward is almost impossible with cash or gift certificates, but much easier with tangible awards that have higher perceived value.) And third, awards should be items that employees really value.

That's why most strategic recognition programs we've seen use tangible awards that appeal to a basic instinct to want that which we do not have. We can picture ourselves wearing a beautiful piece of jewelry. We can imagine just where that cool new flat-screen TV will go in our home. We think of how handy that utility knife would be on the next camping trip. We'd love to have that compact camcorder for when the new grandchild arrives. We can visualize ourselves burning up the back nine with those golf clubs..

And because we can picture the award and can imagine ourselves enjoying it, we can't help but be more likely to work harder to achieve it. It's simple human nature.

That's what Goodyear discovered a few years ago when it sponsored a campaign to improve sales of tires in its North American operations. Two large employee groups were monitored: One was offered monetary rewards, the other was offered merchandise. The group receiving tangible awards outperformed the cash-awards group by nearly 50 percent.

Now, depending on the achievement, tangible recognition can take a hundred forms and variations. At times, a great leader will send a handwritten note of thanks for the completion of a routine, yet important job. When an employee stays late to deliver for a key client, the manager may send the employee and her partner to a nice dinner. And when something exceptional happens, the leader may provide a symbolic award that will be treasured for a lifetime.

A great leader may not get the formula right every time, but the secret is: they follow the three simple rules and try their hardest. And because of that, their employees would walk through fire for them. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton are the acclaimed authors of the Wall Street Journal and BusinessWeek bestseller A Carrot A Day. Want to learn more about employee motivation? Go to www.carrots.com

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