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The Five Biggest Mistakes Managers Make in Recognizing Their Employees

Jennifer was at the end of her rope. It was time for a new job, one that would let her use all of her talent, creativity, and experience. The exit interview was uneventful, and then she was finally free!  Her manager Roberta was baffled.  How could Jennifer leave?  She was on the fast track, with great potential, and numerous promotion opportunities. What went wrong? 

Does the situation sound familiar?

A recent study confirms that this vast divergence between employee satisfaction and management appraisal is quite common, as well as confusing and expensive to organizations today.  How could an employee be so unhappy while management is thinking everything is hunky dory? There are five big mistakes that will reduce unnecessary turnover and immediately improve morale, productivity, and motivation when addressed properly. With some minor changes in management’s communication style, your employees will want to bring their “A Game” to work every day.

Mistake #1—Not Being Believable!

All executives claim to value their people but are employees getting the message? Recognition programs, incentives, and bonuses are common in most companies but are often seen as manipulative by the very employees for whom they’re meant. Why? There’s a fine line between the perception of true appreciation and that feeling that you’re just “throwing them a bone.” 

Unfortunately with staffing down, work loads up, and everyone busier than ever, it’s easy for a manager’s recognition efforts to be perceived as just going through the motions, not coming from the heart. When your managers understand what’s in it for them and begin to “Make it Real,” their interactions will be seen as genuine, with the employee in mind, not as leverage that benefits the company and leaves workers feeling like nothing more than a piece of meat.

Mistake #2—Not Being Organized

Too often, companies set up disjointed programs to recognize and reward their people.  Because each program has its own sponsor, location, and history, even if it is working, there is no way for either employees or managers to tell. Worse, too often, executives and managers are poorly trained in how to use these programs and in the right order, so effectiveness suffers.

By coordinating all of your employee communications, training, recognition, and performance processes into one organized system, you will see real results. Further, you will be able to understand and control costs, manage and rate results, and get the most for your investment in people.

 Mistake #3—Not Using a Strategy

An organized approach is great, but the system won’t last if it’s not tied into a strategy based on the company’s core values and goals.  Strategic planning is a leadership function that allows all employees to understand where they fit into the total scheme of things and how their performance directly effects the organization. 

Once everyone begins to see that they are all on the same team, marching in the same direction for the same reasons, synergy happens and your combined recognition efforts yield much more than the sum of the individual parts.

 Mistake #4—Not Having Management Buy-in

Even if you solve Mistakes #1, #2, and #3 completely, your best efforts are likely to fail, if you don’t have strong, honest, and consistent support from the top. Companies could use a professionally produced video featuring a top executive(s) not only to launch any new program but also to continue to demonstrate their passion and dedication to the goals and objectives over time.  Employees are very quick to see through any signs of the company being disingenuous. 

Poor upper management involvement is the number one sign that you’re using recognition as a manipulative lever, not an appreciation boost.To keep your top executives intrigued, committees must present program enhancements that show significant and measurable results, not just emotional blue sky and hype. 

 Mistake #5 – Not Following Through

Any program, no matter how exciting, rich, well organized, or effectively supported will lose its momentum over time if it’s not fully integrated into your company’s performance management culture. This is by far the most overlooked weakness in many recognition strategies and it’s very disappointing after you’ve done so much right. A quality reporting system along with an empowered team prepared to manage the information is critical to keeping your programs relevant, fresh, interesting, and profitable.  The true test of a well functioning recognition strategy is when you can quantitatively prove to your CFO that it’s turning expenses into profits over time.

These five mistakes are quite common, extremely costly, but relatively easy to avoid with some simple communications training and the ability to look at entitlement programs with an open mind.  Yes, they are called “entitlements,” because that’s what your awards programs become if they are left alone for very long.  It’s nobody’s fault, so don’t point fingers.  Just decide to address each mistake in order from #1 to #5, gain support, and then develop a measurable set of initiatives that will make the best use of your company’s dollars.  The good news is that today’s tools and technology solutions make it easy to develop measure and analyze an effective recognition strategy.


About the Author(s)

John Schaefer is a consultant with more than 20 years of experience helping companies realize and react to what he calls the Employer/Employee Disconnect. Schaefer is the author of The Vocational Shrink—An Analysis of the Ten Levels of Workplace Disillusionment. For more information, visit: www.VocationalShrink.com