Tips for Approaching Rewards and Recognition

By: Rob Toon

Rewards and recognition are key to making any change stick. They provide the reinforcement that the change is positive and reinforce the action to get involved with a positive outcome. They give people, on the simplest of levels, a reason to get involved. 

The approach to rewards and recognition is often neglected or misused, as it’s seen as being an afterthought. Organizations would rather get the strategy up and running and moving forward, and then think about it at a later date. However, rewards and recognition need to be a fundamental part of the strategy, not a result of it.  This is an important step that must be taken early and must be taken decisively.  

In this blog, I want to provide some tips as to how to successfully plan your rewards and recognition strategy and how this can and should be tied into your innovation strategy. These are just some high levels thoughts (don’t worry there is no mention of Maslow or any hierarchy of needs here) and there is so much more to explore. I will ask a series of questions that I hope will provoke some thought and assist you on your journey. 

What do you already have? 

Depending on your knowledge of your business, this may be an easy or complex question but, regardless, it’s a very important one to ask yourself before you get going. 

Reward and recognition schemes for innovation are difficult to create and get moving, so save yourself the legwork and tap into something your organization already has. As well as saving time and effort, chances are your people will already understand this existing scheme and will have some form of emotional attachment to it. 

So, spend some time finding out what it is, how it works, and how you can leverage it. Any gaps this scheme has or that don’t fully align with what you want to achieve, you can fill with your strategy. But use what is already in place and build on this. 

What is the culture around praise? 

Now you have found your baseline, you need to understand what works and what doesn’t – in particular, you need to understand your organization’s approach and feeling to praise. 

Some industries really struggle with the concept of celebrating achievements. I’ve worked in industries that are, if anything, self-conscious and don’t want anyone to know what it is that they are doing. In these industries, a lavish reward and recognition scheme that shows off and is loud won’t sit well. In cases like this, a more understating method of celebrating people could be using simple thank you cards rather than huge awards ceremonies. 

Your industry and business may be different so don’t let my reservedness sway you, but you need to keep this at the back of your mind.  

There may also be a need to do some work on the culture of rewards within your business so also bear this in mind as you pull together. Think about the impact that any rewards and recognition scheme will have on the business and what behaviors you are promoting – this will have an undoubted effect on your company culture. 

How well do you know your people? 

This links nicely into the above point around impacts on company culture. You really need to understand your business on all levels before you bring in any rewards and recognition scheme. 

You need to know the different people within your business. Their background, their ethnicity, their standing within the organization, their religion, everything! Your scheme needs to fit into this mold and cater to all of the different types of people within your organization. 

To achieve this, you need to show empathy and understanding around your people. You need to show that you get them and that you’re rewarding them based on their achievements in the context of their work, not in the context of the business. 

Gaining this understanding is incredibly important as it gives your scheme a more personal touch. It shows you are listening to your people and that in turn will increase engagement and buy-in to your strategy. 

Which rewards are the best rewards? 

Well… this depends on all of the other factors but one thing is, whatever you do, make sure it is memorable and makes an impression. 

You have brought in your rewards scheme to reward a certain action or behavior in order to make your strategy more impactful and lasting within the organization, so make sure the actual rewards you give do exactly that.  

Make them personal. Make them memorable. Have fun around the theme of your strategy. Use the reward to provoke an emotion in the recipient that will get them telling their peers and get them to buy into your strategy with more enthusiasm. 

You need your rewards to benefit the growth of your strategy, so ensure you tie into those emotions that enable you to do that. 

How much is too much? 

You need to ensure your people are getting involved for the right reasons, not just the reward. This is where a sense of balance needs to be applied to what it is you are doing. 

You need to balance the size and frequency of the reward with what you want the cultural shift to be. Too much rewarding and your people will just get involved for the reward, not the feeling of self-actualization they get from being involved. 

This is difficult to get right so I would recommend taking time to review the other questions raised in this blog, in particular, the ‘knowing your people’ piece before you decide on the type and frequency of award. 

As you assess your business, you may actually find that – due to the different cultures and backgrounds within the business – you have to have more than one type of reward and that is absolutely ok. Just make sure any selection is promoting the right behaviors from your people. Know what provokes the desired reaction in each person and act upon this. 

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