Don showed up at 11:40, on the dot. No surprise there. "Ready?" he asked. Staring intently at her screen, Pat replied, "Yeah, just have to save this, one sec." She did, and then threw on her jacket and off they went to lunch. Lunch seemed so inadequate, she thought, after Don had basically saved the company from a horrible end. She'd been over this in her mind for weeks, finally hitting on lunch. What else could she do? Give him one of those $50 Amazon gift certificates that the guidelines allowed? That would have been demoralizing for them both.
Perhaps you've been there. Some people in your organization have done really outstanding work. You want to recognize that work, but the budget is so small or the guidelines so miserly that anything you could do would be insulting. What can you do when people do really outstanding work? Express your genuine appreciation and trust — person-to-person, heart-to-heart. Remarking on outstanding performance is the basis of other public recognitions, such as the Oscars or military medals.
Paradoxically, a big budget for rewards is a liability — it tempts you to reward with money or resources, which can depress performance. This happens, in part, because rewards of evident value carry with them two messages that you cannot control.Rewards of evident value
of their values.
We can't help but
make a meaning of
the size of the reward.
- Personal barriers
- The expression "please accept this token of our esteem" is so worn that we barely grasp its literal meaning. Instead of your esteem, you're offering a token — a placeholder, a barrier between yourself and the recipient.
- The value of the reward is significant
- Rewards of evident value invite comparisons of their values. We can't help but make a meaning of the size of the reward, usually related to the depth of the appreciation. Unless each reward is greater than the last, you risk being seen as less appreciative than you really are.
As an alternative, consider honoring the outstanding performance by expressing your appreciation and offering your trust. Express your appreciation and gratitude publicly at a ceremony with everyone in attendance.
Offer your trust by offering more responsibility and greater challenges. For example, Pat can say, "Don, I really appreciate what you did on the Metronome project — the whole company does. You did such great work, I wonder if you would want to consider taking on Daffodil."
By giving the outstanding performer an opportunity — a choice — to demonstrate further outstanding performance, you give both the performer and the organization opportunities to achieve together.
By expressing publicly your appreciation and gratitude, you give a reward that no one else can give. And you give yourself a gift too — the knowledge that the success of your organization is due not only to your own abilities, but to the achievements of everyone in it. Top Next Issue
The article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More
For an extensive study of the depressive effects of rewards, see Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. Order from Amazon.com.
For more about Trust, see "Creating Trust," Point Lookout for January 21, 2009, "TINOs: Teams in Name Only," Point Lookout for March 19, 2008 and "The High Cost of Low Trust: I," Point Lookout for April 19, 2006.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
- And on December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
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