Employee of the Month program – more dangerous than helpful…?

I was asked a really good question the other day: “I would like to start an Employee of the Month program – how should I go about it?”  Excellent question!

I will  share thoughts on recognition and rewards in the future, but let me share my thoughts on an Employee of the Month program…

(shared some initial thoughts on recognition here; one of my favorite resources for recognition is the “Rewards and Recognition” section of the Achievers Employee Engagement Blog)

Here’s my take: I do not recommend adopting an Employee of the Month program.  

Wait.  WHAT?  Don’t do it at all? Why?

Because most I’ve seen are done in a way that does not build trust and engagement – rather, it is either meaningless or de-motivating.  The opposite effect of the real purpose!

I have three guiding principles that will increase effectiveness of a recognition program used instead of a traditional Employee of the Month:

  • The best programs don’t have “just one winner” 

The idea that only one person can win can be de-motivating to all others, especially if “I never win” or “I never even have a chance” or “so and so always wins”.  For some, this attitude comes out in the form of complaining and poking holes.  For most, this is a more quiet impact of frustration and annoyance; it certainly does not make them try harder to win.  Not only will you avoid a headache in responding to these complaints, you’ll avoid undermining the entire program.

My advice:  create a program where there is no constraint on the number of winners.

  • The best programs are as transparent as possible

Transparency is key, both in the criteria to win an award and the process for selection.  The biggest thing I don’t like about a small team selecting one winner is that it can be a “black box”.  No one really knows what happens or how decisions are made – hence concerns of favoritism, etc.  Once again, this becomes a frustration and annoyance to most employees and does not inspire greater performance.

My advice:  create a program where there is no approval process.

  • The best programs have specific meaning behind the recognition

Remember this simple concept:  you will get more of what you reward.  As a leader, it is very important you decide what you would like to recognize.  Basically, you will see more of whatever you reward.  If you don’t want people to recognize others for “being awesome” or “showing up on time” then you will want to set that out early on.  Describe the purpose, and what they should be looking for in others  (maybe call it a “teamwork gold star” or “collaboration gold star” if those are the behaviors you would like to reinforce…).

My advice: tie the recognition to your company values or behaviors.  

With those three guiding principles in mind, here’s where I would start if I were building something from scratch:  I like peer-to-peer awards best, giving as many as are submitted that month (yes, that’s right – no limit to the quantity).  Read off the winners publicly, thank them for what they did, with some specific details included.  If you would like to have a tangible “thing” to go with it, you could do something nominal like gold stars or a sort of internal currency.  You’ll find that the measure of the prize actually doesn’t matter quite as much as you’d think (like, a $100 prize doesn’t get tons more traction than a $10 prize).  It’s the act of thanking and recognizing that is so important.

Remember, the act of recognizing another person is actually just as valuable, if not more so, than receiving it myself…

If you want to go one step further, you can have a monthly raffle for all those who received or gave a gold star.  If you like the idea of giving something away that is a little more valuable (in terms of $$$), at least that makes it equal for all, and transparent.

There are some good starting points for your own recognition program.  Remember – the act of recognizing that thanking others is vital to an organization’s culture.  It’s a necessary skill for leaders to practice often.

What do you think?  Does this resonate with you?  …or…  Have you seen an “Employee of the Month” program that really worked well?

Please comment below!

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