How to make reward and recognition fun and relevant?

adaptable reward and recognition

In an earlier post, we established that there are different contexts that influence how people view reward and recognition, e.g. generation, culture, etc. So, we need a reward & recognition system that can satisfy all generations & levels. Let me share how I’ve created such an adaptable system and how that ties into performance.

At this company, after the team met over 80% of their goals, we had some fun team events. On top of that, we gave out special awards. These awards were not monetary, and they were inexpensive. Let me give you some examples.

  1. One prize was a Mickey Mouse Fantasia Hat. This prize went to the one who made the biggest impact to the team, through his ideas and solutions. That person also flew to all our global offices to help, hence the Wizard Hat! This became a well sought after prize because people thought they would get to travel all over the world!
  2. Another award was called the “Firefighter Award”. The prize was a blow up toy fire extinguisher for the person who consistently put out fires. When his team congratulated him, he said, “I actually don’t like this award. It’s tiring to be a firefighter all the time.” Guess what? The team volunteered to share the load, and that engineer trained his team on what to do. They even created a better process that the head of Engineering had always wanted to do. What an unintended consequence!
  3. There were other awards, but I think you get the idea. We had these events twice a year, so long as the team met over 80% of their goals. Other groups like Product and UX/UI wanted to participate when they heard about these awards. We only required them to come up with a creative prize (money by itself is not good enough). One of the engineers who was awarded told me, “this is one of a kind, Mun-Wai. You can’t buy it anywhere. I’ll treasure it all the time!” And he proudly displayed that in his cube with an anti-theft device so no one could steal it!
  4. BTW, HR was not involved in any of these activities.

So what was being done?

  • We tailored the awards and incentives to the team, unlike HR’s traditional go-to methods. When the team likes the awards and incentives, they realize management knows them, cares about them, and appreciates them. In turn, they work harder to “earn” those awards.
  • In the beginning, those awards were nominated by management, but later, they were nominated by anyone, even people outside of the team. You may also realize that the awards change, so there is an anticipation from the team,  “what would the awards be next time?”
  • We started in the headquarters, but team members told people in other offices because it was so much fun. Now all the offices followed suit and did their own version!
  • Word of caution: This is a different budget from the annual bonus and salary increase. So remember to include this into the next budget cycle.

What have you tried in your organization? I love to hear stories of what works and what doesn’t.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: