Last week we looked at various attributes of recognition done well. This week will be a few examples of what recognition is not.

First up, Paul Hebert over at Incentive Intelligence and the i2i blog recently posted a couple of interesting ideas on this topic. First, in a post on the differences between incentives and recognition, Paul made this point:

“Incentive programs do NOT provide motivation. Incentive programs provide direction. Incentive programs provide employees with clues to what you as the sponsor think they should be working on/toward.”

This is an important distinction. Well designed incentives programs can certainly provide clarity for those participating in them on precisely what their short-term goal is. Conversely, after-the-fact recognition can provide direction on long-term objectives by reinforcing those actions or behaviors that help achieve strategic objectives. In this way, recognition can also be a motivator by acknowledging mastery of skills along the way.

In another post on why some programs fail, Paul accurately identifies program design as at fault, not the audience. Just two of the reasons for failure he points out are:

Energized Chaos: Lack of alignment – if there are ten incentives all pushing in different directions your audience can’t figure out which to do first or which to do at all.

Energized Greed: If the program structure is too rich for the behavior required you will get huge effort but many unintended consequences – don’t give people too much incentive for something – they will do it – any way they can.”

As I pointed out in a comment to that post, these are also key differentiators of truly strategic recognition efforts. When you do recognition right, you align employee behaviors and actions with your objectives, but only within the context of your company values. Otherwise, you end up with an Enron situation – people certainly achieving and surpassing goals for company success, but definitely outside of the stated company values (in Enron’s case, the value of Integrity).

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