Stop Giving Yourselves Awards

Your work sucks. Stop congratulating each other for it.

Here is an interesting statistic — a bit dated, but useful for conversation purposes nevertheless. Writing at Forbes, Josh Bersin notes that as of 2012, companies spent $46 billion per year on employee recognition awards. While the outlay was almost nothing (1–2% of payroll), it was a total waste of money strategy-wise: 87% of programs reward someone for simply being able to “hang in there.”

Rewarding people for their ability to stick around is not just unproductive, of course. It’s counterproductive. It tells people that their greatest contribution to the enterprise is the ability to “go along and get along,” even if they contribute nothing to the bottom line and even subtract from it — complaining, wasting people’s time in meetings, or creating make-work to keep themselves employed.

Bersin offers a number of alternative approaches to employee rewards that are more profitable. Basically they focus on rewarding performance, not longevity — noticing and calling out behaviors that have a positive impact on the bottom line. Having peers recognize each other, rather than only executives recognizing staff. Storytelling. Building recognition into the system. And linking it to the achievement of company goals.

But there is a larger problem here: For one thing, rewards and recognition are nice, but when they rise to front and center of the employment experience, something is very “off.” They are icing on the cake, not the cake itself, and in the rush to recruit mad talent the distinction can easily get lost.

A separate problem has to do with the dismantling of the value experience for the customer. By that I mean that “employee awards” has grown into this monstrous complex of Hollywood awards, industry awards, government “patting ourselves on the back” awards, nonprofit awards, on and on and on and on and on and on ad nauseam. Not only are these awards frequently questionable in terms of the achievements they’re celebrating (like who exactly decides which movie gets to be “the best of the year,”) but often they stand in marked contradistinction to what the customer actually wants and buys.

In a world where people can simply “decide” on their own reality — including the idea that awful work is actually good — maybe we should consider a refocus on what the customer wants and needs. And get away from giving so many awards to ourselves.

Copyright 2018 by Dr. Dannielle Blumenthal. This post is hereby released into the public domain. Creative Commons image via Pixabay.


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