by Phil Gerbyshak
Date Published - Last Updated February 25, 2016

Do you feel you reward and/or recognize your team frequently enough? Do you feel you are rewarded and recognized enough?

For most people, there’s a big disconnect. So what can we do to reestablish the disconnection?

One big reason is that we don’t know how often people want to be recognized (or if they want to be recognized at all), what they want as a reward, and in what other ways they might like to be recognized or rewarded. We worry about rewarding and recognizing people too frequently, but at the same time we don’t put rewards and recognition on our calendars. Another challenge is that we feel we can’t afford to reward and recognize people in the ways we want to.

Let’s break down some of these myths and create a rewards-and-recognition program that works. First, three assumptions:

  1. Your team members are paid a fair wage. 
  2. You (or someone on the leadership/executive team) sees your team in action. 
  3. You care about your team.

As long as these three things are true, you can make rewards and recognition work for your organization and it doesn’t need to cost a lot.

Step 1: The rewards and recognition must be meaningful—and filled with meaning.

At the end of Dan Wilson’s term as the HDI Member Advisory Board chair, Sophie Klossner, then the director of membership, gave him a rock. It was just a rock, but it was one of the best awards Dan ever received; it’s still on his desk at home, and he looks at it every day.

How can a rock be a meaningful reward for a job well done? Simple: You pour meaning into the giving of the rock.

During her presentation, Sophie shared some of the great things Dan had done for the HDI local chapter officer community and connected that work to the success of the organization as a whole. Dan, she said, was the rock of our foundation. By the time she was done, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Dan even cried a little—and Dan never cries.

Meaningful rewards and recognition cost you nothing, but they can mean everything to those you serve as a manager.

Step 2: The reward and recognition must be unique to the recipient.

When I was a manager, I started a brand-new rewards and recognition program for my team. I gave out one award each month, for analyst of the month, and each winner got a gift card for coffee. I thought I was doing it right, because I love coffee—a lot!

As it turned out, my team didn’t share my enthusiasm for coffee: only one other person on my team even drank coffee! My mistake was assuming that the reward I wanted would be the reward they wanted. I was wrong, but there was a simple solution: give the winner a gift card to wherever they wanted (grocery store, gas station,, etc.).

Tailoring the reward to the recipient costs you no more money or effort than you’re already spending. Just be sure to take the time to find out what your team members really want.

Step 3: Rewards and recognition must be specific to the recipient.

A C-level executive I used to work with would take ninety minutes each week to walk around the IT department and say, “Thanks for all you do. You’re doing a good job. Keep it up.” Now, my team (and the rest of the IT department) knew he had no idea what they did, how they did what they did, or even how long they’d been part of the team. He had the best intentions, but the execution was poor, and it was demoralizing for many on my team.

The solution was so simple: We scheduled multiple shorter visits where we would prep the executive with praise points for each member of a specific team or project. We saw the executive more often and people actually looked forward to talking to him, instead of running and hiding in the bathroom or worrying he was coming to talk about layoffs or other bad news. Specific praise for or about someone’s unique contribution costs you nothing, but it means a lot to those on the receiving end.

Step 4: Rewards and recognition should be timely.

Most companies recognize their employees annually, meaning they might be recognized in December for work they did in March or April. But most of us can’t remember what we did six days ago, let alone six months ago. Why do the rewards and recognition come so long after the work is done?

Again, the solution was simple: We created a spot reward and recognition program called the “Big Fish” (based on the FISH! Philosophy), which allowed team members to recognize each other and offer meaningful, unique, specific, and timely recognition. We also got approval to award recipients with an extra-comfortable chair, a half-day of PTO, a chair massage, or a free beverage at the coffee shop (that also served noncoffee drinks). It cost us nothing but it earned us amazing good will.

We kept our year-end company-wide programs, but by adding timely rewards and recognition, we increased employee satisfaction in meaningful ways. Timely rewards make for happier employees, and they help keep employees connected to the company’s mission and vision.

Getting Started

First, block out sixty minutes on your calendar this week: thirty minutes to pay attention to all the good stuff your team does and thirty minutes to walk around and thank them for the work they do. Then, block out thirty minutes with your direct supervisor to discuss spot rewards for jobs well done. Start with your team and then expand to the rest of the department. Finally, take five minutes to pat yourself on the back. You’re recognizing your team in a meaningful, unique, specific, and timely fashion—and that means you’re doing it right. Congratulations on a job well done!


Phil Gerbyshak, a fifteen-year veteran of the IT industry, is the founder of the Make It Great Institute, where he works with organizations to increase employee and customer engagement by using social media to create and build relationships. Phil is a prolific author and presenter who’s passionate about helping you get more of what you want…and less of what you don’t.

Tag(s): employee satisfaction, leadership, workforce enablement


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