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Give everyone a fair shot at being recognized

Attraction and retention are top of mind for company leaders. As unemployment falls, new opportunities present themselves to an organization’s best and brightest. One way your company can ignite new enthusiasm in the workplace is through an employee recognition program. But employers need to be mindful of the process they use to highlight the beacons of their workplace, or they risk a backlash in what could be perceived as subjective favoritism.

I saw this happen to a vice president of human resources once in a company that was rapidly globalizing. Through initiative, a willingness to uproot her family and the luck of being in the right place at the right time, a corporate training specialist landed a plumb assignment at one of the company’s newly acquired foreign locations. The performance of this individual exceeded the expectations of the site manager as well as corporate executives, allowing her to develop the experience to be a trusted resource and land another plumb assignment at the next newly acquired foreign facility.

In organizational newsletters, the vice president of HR consistently called out this person’s performance because he wanted other members of his staff to recognize and emulate the behaviors that made this trainer a success. After the third consecutive recognition of the trainer’s performance, feedback started to trickle in about the resentment of other members of the team who felt they were not given similar opportunities.

As one person explained, “It’s not that I don’t think ‘Emily’ is doing a great job – she is and I’m happy for her – but when she left, my team took on her responsibilities and have reduced costs 15 percent. I’d like my folks to get some of that recognition.”

The vice president listened carefully to this feedback and realized an oversight in his strategy. In the flurry of providing resources quickly to new foreign locations, the VP and HR leadership failed to identify a long-term strategy to provide other team members similar opportunities. And because of the narrow focus on international activity, there was very little appreciation for the men and women at home keeping the core functions operating at greater efficiency.

Recognition programs can indeed be powerful, but only when they are perceived as fair. All employees need to be equally eligible for recognition, and they need to know the specific behaviors that will be rewarded. Recognition programs also don’t have to be expensive or complicated. In many employee satisfaction surveys, employees say attention and sincere interest in their performance by their supervisors are some of the most satisfying forms of appreciation for their work.

It’s also important to remember that although public recognition may be a great motivator for some, others may be less comfortable in the spotlight. So, while a mention in the employee newsletter may be flattering, being asked to give an acceptance speech could be viewed as more of a punishment than a reward.

One telecom company views public recognition as a key in keeping customer service representatives motivated. It carefully communicates the metrics employees will be measured on and conducts training to help enhance their performance. Each month, those who are top in their statistics are eligible for a drawing for prizes such as Blu-ray players or gift certificates to local restaurants, and their names are published in email announcements and bulletin boards.

Bottom line: Employee recognition is a powerful communication tool to help enforce desired workplace behaviors by demonstrating a sincere appreciation for the people working hard to make a company successful every day. But in order to ensure your organization benefits from such programs, you need to ensure employees understand how they are being considered for the recognition and that everyone gets a fair shot at being rewarded.

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Michelle Hicks, a senior professional in human resources, is a director in the communication practice of Buck Consultants, a Xerox company. 

About Michelle Hicks