Strategic Rewards and Recognition

Steven Cesare, Ph.D.



A business owner from the free state of Florida called me the other day to talk about his company culture, and more specifically about how to leverage his Rewards and Recognition Program to embody the desired culture as a salient driver of employee recruitment, development, and retention. A noble undertaking by an innovative thought leader.

Unlike the Florida business owner, many companies, and most notably their so-called leadership teams, do not incorporate an authentic rewards and recognition program into their organizational culture; while still others cryptically conduct such meetings merely out of obligation and duty, rather than as a personal emblem of their passion, commitment, and vow to the company, its employees, and their collective future.

And you don’t think the employees can pick up on a synthetic, emotionally-bankrupt performance?

Yeah, right…

During our discussion, I reminded the business owner these events should be permanent fixtures on the company calendar (you mean you don’t have a company calendar?), scheduled on a quarterly basis, with an emphasis on rewards AND recognition. Ideally, these 2-3 hour paid events should include food and beverages, with field and office staff in attendance. Call it team building; call it a bonding event; call it an All-hands meeting. Call it anything you want, as long as you know it actually characterizes your company culture. Take pictures, capture videos, interview employees, and put that footage on your website, and of course, publicize it as part of your company’s social media campaign.

As a capitalist, I told the owner the distributed awards (e.g., bonuses, gift cards, plaques, and various gifts (e.g., hand tools, attire, electronics)) should be linked to either a celebrated performance goal or one of the company’s core values. I heard the light bulb come on as he raised his eyebrows over the telephone.

To emphasize that point, I suggested he outline the entire event to ensure it is well-planned and executed. Central to that outline is the actual awards ceremony. Here, I directed the owner to identify who the unsuspecting recipients were going to be, based on tenure, goal attainment, special effort, safety, or cultural alignment, etc., and develop a brief speech documenting why each honored employee was being edified.

Not staged. Prepared.

For example:

  • “In support of our company job retention goal, we are recognizing Johnny for the great work he did as a Foreman on the ABC job that produced his crew’s third consecutive job quality score of 87 and above!”
  • “In support of our core value of customer service, we are recognizing Luis for the great effort he provided when he responded to an emergency call and repaired a homeowner’s broken valve last Saturday!”
  • “In support of our core value of employee safety, we are recognizing Mateo for achieving his OSHA 10-hour certificate last month!”
  • “In support of our labor efficiency goal, we are recognizing Joe because no one on his crew has missed a day of work in the last six months!”
  • “In support of our job quality goal, we are recognizing Manuel who has come in every Saturday for the past six months to sharpen all the lawn mower blades!”
  • “In support of her commitment to the company culture, we are recognizing Mary for being a conscientious, detail-oriented, office employee for five years!”
  • “In support of our company staffing goal, we are recognizing Ricardo for bringing in four new employees (Tomas, Antonio, Jose, and Rene) to our company this calendar year!”

The take-aways from these celebrations highlight the behaviors the company cherishes, and reward those deserving employees who now are positioned as role models to their peers. Don’t think for a minute the other employees will not soon replicate those identified behaviors that will be viewed approvingly by the owner, their co-workers, and themselves.

The impact bestowed on the recipients and witnessed by the audience, characterizes your company culture.

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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 68 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.