Reward & Recognition: Saying Thank-You Well

By now, many of you will have returned to work. Perhaps the time away gave you perspective and clarity, an opportunity to mull over new creative strategies to improve your business. As you work to inspire your team to give their best this year, I encourage you to focus on your efforts to effectively reward and recognise their contributions. While some people are undoubtedly motivated by money, in my experience it’s the thanks and appreciation that people receive that is most likely to encourage commitment and effort than the monetary value of the rewards that they receive. Today’s Karen Gately blog looks a little closer at rewards, and delivering genuine recognition.

While often used interchangeably, I find there is a distinction between reward and recognition. Rewards include the benefits people receive in the form of compensation that has a monetary value. Remuneration including salary and superannuation, short and long term incentive schemes, real or shadow equity programs in addition to professional benefits such as memberships and subscriptions all form part of someone’s total reward package.

Recognition on the other hand includes acknowledgement, appreciation, credit and ultimately thanks which are demonstrated or expressed.

To understand what you should be working to reward and/or recognise it is important to think broadly and take into account not only the contributions of each individual but how groups work together to achieve shared objectives. Standards of performance, depth of capabilities and the behaviours that people bring to their work should all be part of your focus in rewarding and recognising staff.


To effectively reward and recognise performance, focus should be placed not only on achievement of individual goals but also on the superior standards of performance that are achieved in the role overall. Equally important is recognising an individual or team’s ability to reach milestones along the way. While the achievements of individuals and teams are important, in my experience well-designed reward and recognition programs have a balanced focus on what each individual brings as well as the success of the business as a whole.


In establishing appropriate levels of reward, consideration must be given to the depth of knowledge, skills and experience someone offers. While standards of performance are crucial, your ability to attract and retain talented staff, and reward/ recognize the depth of their individual capabilities matters.


The development of any business culture is strongly influenced by the behaviours which are not only expected, but crucially those which are rewarded and recognised. To support your goal to get the best from both the individual and the group, it is important to demonstrate an appreciation of discretionary effort, positive impact on the spirit of the team and the extent to which someone’s behaviours are aligned with your business values.

To be effective, performance management must be focused equally on rewarding what people achieve as well as how they go about it.  Never reward performance or capabilities in the absence of acceptable behaviours. It doesn’t matter how clever someone is or how much they get done – if they are not a healthy influence on your team or the clients, partners and service providers they engage with, their contributions should not be rewarded.  I have written a number of blogs on the impact of behaviour on individual, team and business performance, so I won’t elaborate further here.

Maximising Impact and Value

The extent to which your reward and recognition efforts have a positive impact on the spirit and engagement of your team depends on a number of key factors.  First and foremost, people need to feel that you are sincere and that your thanks are genuine.

Accuracy also matters. That is, confidence that the reward given for is based on outcomes that are a true reflection of contribution standards. In other words – reward decisions should be credible and transparent, easily reflected in the criteria and process for determining outcomes. An important influencer of trust in the reward process is a leader’s ability to be fair and consistent. Rewards should be given in a manner considered equitable with a uniform application of criteria and outcomes.  Transparency in your decision making process will help people realise that outcomes are considered, just, objective and unbiased.

Wherever possible, work to leverage the impact that is created from taking a personalised approach.  While understandably many programs provide standard rewards or forms of recognition, personal meaning or value of rewards can improve the effectiveness of your efforts.  One example I have observed work well is an organisation that provides a token of their appreciation for service loyalty upon three years of employment in the form of a book.  The organisation personalizes the gift by asking managers to purchase the book and to select one they believe aligned with the personal interests of the individual. This in turn encouraged managers to learn more about their team members which at times involved asking friends and colleagues for suggestions.  Feedback was very positive and many appreciated the effort invested and personal nature of the reward more than the book itself.

The timing of reward and recognition is important to ensure you maximise the impact of your message.  If you want someone to fully appreciate why a specific effort is valued, it’s important they clearly recall the contribution made.  While annual incentive programs are typically rolled out at specific times of the year, leaders need to take the opportunity to give thanks ‘ in the moment’.

To optimise the impact of the rewards and recognition you provide, make sure your approach is sincere, considered and focused on the things you value which ultimately drive the success of your team and business.


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