How important is it to reward an employee?

Last Updated : 28 September 2010, 13:32 IST
Last Updated : 28 September 2010, 13:32 IST

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I remember the day when my teacher gave me an important task to perform. For a brief period, I was the centre of envy for a few of my classmates. This envy, on the face of it, defied logic. Here I was given work to do while others were spared and still I became the centre of envy!

I had a similar experience when I commenced my career. I had the most fortunate experience of having a great boss who singled me for several organisational assignments. Apart from my regular work, I invested several extra hours and weekends to complete those projects. I still think of him as my guide.

These experiences - joy and pride of being selected by my teacher or by my manager for specific tasks have remained with me. These people who chose me became my positive role models and I was committed to them during my tenure with them.

Some years ago, I was called to construct a Reward & Recognition Programme (R&R Programme). I was taken aback. Some questions that crossed my mind were: Why should one have an R&R programme?, Does the organisation not reward its people with extra increments and promotions?, How will people who do not get recognised react towards those who get recognised and towards the organisation?, Will the programme really motivate or will it become one more area of benefits entitlement?

I asked our leaders as to why did they needed this program. Their submission was that people who go out of their way for the organisation must be recognised. In order to keep them motivated, we should implement an R&R programme.

Their submission did seem fair and rational. My team and I immediately commenced collation of best practices from some great employers.

Our research generated diverse great practices. They ranged from manager’s spot appreciation letters to CEO’s certificates of appreciation, from team celebration cakes to swanky dinners with the top leadership, from token gift items to one time cash bonuses, thank you notes to the family to organisation wide recognition. And then there were some organisations which had no R&R programmes. We discussed the implementation and the impact of the R&R programmes with the organisations that we had surveyed.

The responses too were as diverse as the practices. In some organisations, the practices were greatly valued by the employees and some other organisations, they made scant impact. This got us to dig further till we discovered the heart of the R&R programmes. We discovered that R&R programmes were not just good things for organisations to have. R&R programmes communicate to the relevant world (most often - the organisation and the family) appreciation for the employee’s contribution. They also reinforce the organisation’s values, desired behaviours and actions and most of all, if implemented well, they motivate people to achieve high levels of performance thus fuelling organisation’s success. We concluded that the key for successful programmes was not great ideas, but ideas that had great implementation.

Most of the successful programmes had high implementation rigor in the following areas:

1. Coverage: All employees were eligible to earn the rewards; there were no differentiation or exclusions for eligibility.

2. Focus: Exemplary demonstration of organisations values and desired behaviours was recognised.

3. Consistency: All people who demonstrated similar commitment to values or desired behaviours were rewarded uniformly.

4. Timing: The recognition was communicated immediately on observance of the commitment towards organisation’s values or behaviours.

5. Communication: The individual as well as the relevant society was communicated the specific reason for the recognition and reward.

We also learnt that where organisation did not indicate the specific reason for reward, the people lost faith in the recognition process. We observed a similar effect where people were selected by committees for recognition as it fuelled perception of favouritism. Some more observations were:

*Predictability of the outcome dampens the significance. An extreme example was a person demanding a cash voucher in lieu of the organisation’s branded gift as he felt that he was “entitled” to the value.

*Recognition was not limited to demonstration of values and behaviours only at work - but it extended to demonstration of the same at any time. We came across a very positive feeling amongst people when they shared an instance of an employee being rewarded for exemplary contribution towards a social cause.

*Focused time with the leadership was a very highly valued reward; though much undermined by several leaders.

*Recognition from seniors / leaders was certainly valuable, but equally valuable was recognition from peers and juniors. Simple “Thank You” cards or messages had a high potential to motivate.

*R&R Programme is not policy, but must be constantly reinvented or it loses motivational value as predictability sets in, leading to entitlement mentality.

*R&R Programmes are great tools of change. If implemented correctly, they can accelerate the pace of change.

So, what about those organisations who did not have R&R Programme?

We observed that absence of R&R did not disqualify the organisations from enhancing their employees’ motivation - it merely forced them to adopt the traditional methods.
The traditional methods of recognition centre on treating an individual as an individual instead of a cog in the wheel. Some actions that motivate are:

*A simple and honest “thank you”
* A pat on the back amongst colleagues
* Constructive feedback to support achievement of goals
* Inclusion in significant organisational projects
* Inclusion in meetings with the leaders (if he/she is involved in the project)
* Discussion and guidance to develop a career plan
* Coaching / Mentoring
* A personal consideration during an exigency

Impact of the formal Rewards and Recognition Programmes and the traditional methods of recognition seemed to have the same effect. On realising this I understood how my teacher and my first boss motivated me; they had invested their trust in me which in turn I reciprocated. And therefore I affirm that the heart of the R&R Programme must constitute of a possibility of making the individual feel cared for.

(The writer is Chief People Officer, Deloitte in India.)*Views expressed are personal. 

Published 28 September 2010, 13:31 IST

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