Recognition Do's and Don'ts
Follow the best practice guidelines listed below to help you as you design a highly meaningful and fully integrated recognition program for your organization.


  • Don't just recognize top performers and superhuman efforts. Eighty percent of your people aren't shining stars, but their solid day-to-day performance keeps your team and organization alive. Even small increases in their energy and enthusiasm will have a dramatic cumulative effect. Develop the habit of looking for incremental performance or improvements that deserve to be recognized. Make this part of your personal improvement plan to strengthen this vital leadership habit.
  • Don't compare or contrast teams or individuals.
  • Don't use money to try and shape behavior or boost performance. It rarely works. If you think it has in the past, what happened when you took the carrot away? No doubt, performance slipped and you were left with stimulus-dependent people looking for progressively bigger carrots. Unless people feel compensation and bonus systems are a major block, leave them alone.
  • Don't set up competitions for limited rewards — unless teamwork isn't important to you. Fear of failure and losing doesn't create energy. Find ways to meaningfully recognize and energize as many people as possible.
  • Avoid suggestion systems. They reward people for lobbing ideas at others to implement. They work best in a paternalistic culture where they reinforce traditional management control rather than shared or self-management.
  • Don't use promotions as a reward. People should only be put into larger leadership roles because they have demonstrated the capacity, vision, values, skills and so on for ever higher levels of leadership. Using promotions as rewards puts an unhealthy focus (and competition) on position, rank, and titles as a means of measuring worth. It also sets the promoted up for resentment and failure in his or her new position.


  • Replace appraisals with frequent performance discussions and coaching based on 360 degree feedback.
  • Develop the habit of pointing out the positive at home, with friends, neighbors, at social activities, and so on. Sincere recognition skills and genuine appreciation habits aren't turned on at work and turned off when you go home (flattery and manipulation can be).
  • Show appreciation for good tries, pilots, and mistakes that advance organization learning, especially if that experience is shared openly and widely for all to benefit from and build upon.
  • Lead the applause for anyone or team who makes a presentation to your team.
  • Recognize people in public or in front of others.
  • Always deal with performance problems in private.
  • Always say "thank you." It is that easy.
  • As with communications, use every recognition channel you can — public and private, oral and written — to reinforce and support success, accomplishments, and progress.
  • When reviewing or adjusting financial rewards, get the people you're compensating involved. They should give you feedback on your current approach and improvement ideas. Ideally, they would design and own the compensation system.
  • Get clear about what is to be rewarded and recognized and by whom. Move management out of the role of deciding who gets rewarded and recognized for what behaviors.
  • Work with your partners to blend customer/partner input with your team or organization's vision, values, purpose, strategic imperatives, and improvement goals. Set up systems, programs, training, and provide a personal leadership example that gets customers and partners involved in giving frequent recognition and appreciation to each other.
  • Make sure there's a good balance between rewarding and recognizing both current performance and improvements. People who do well today but aren't improving won't help your team or organization get better. Anyone who's not continually improving will become a liability.
  • Separate compensation and performance discussions. They serve two different (and often opposing) purposes. Over 85 percent of the factors affecting individual performance are in the system, process, or structure of the organization.
  • Build jobs around people. Align good people with what they like to do and what needs doing. Helping people to grow, expand, and move to new challenges and opportunities are some of the best ways to show sincere recognition and genuine appreciation for their improvement efforts.
  • Keep measurements, improvement progress, and recognition highly visible. Use scoreboards, bulletin boards, voice mail, electronic or printed announcements and the like.
  • Recognize and reward both individuals and teams.
  • Use a wide variety of constantly changing ways to recognize and appreciate contributions.

Recognition programs should be simple, direct, and easily understood. Jim Clemmer, Keynote Speaker, Author, and Management Team Developer, says

[Recognition programs] should also see a direct connection between what they or their team does to serve customers or partners and their compensation. That argues for shared or self-managed teams operating in a decentralized structure. We've found that simple three-tiered compensation systems work well: (1) personal, (2) team, division, or plant, and (3) corporate profit sharing. Base the rewards on an open-ended percentage of earnings, not performance to a budget or projections (that just invites game-playing at budget time).

The bottom-line is simple: when established correctly, recognition programs can help your managers and employees become more productive. Follow the best practice guidelines provided in this article to help you design a highly meaningful and fully integrated recognition program for your organization. 


Clemmer , J. (2005). Growing the distance: Timeless principles for personal, career, and family success. TCG Press.

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