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Submitted by anish on



We are a small company of about 30 people software company. I have a direct report to me who has done a great job at a recent project. I would like to recognize his contribution in some way. From what I have read it is problematic in the log run to give people monetary awards for such contributions for the following reasons

1/ The benefits quickly ware off

2/ You have to pay a lot of money to generate an iota of goodwill in the employee

3/ The employees then start to expect monetary awards after all projects.

What I understand is that with non-monetary recognition, the goodwill generated lasts longer with less upfront investment. How many of you have been through this? What was your experience like? Do you concur? What were some of the non-monetary awards you have employed in the past which worked (and also did not work)?


Thank you.

twinsen's picture
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Paid happy hour after a project's conclusion does not work in my opinion.  

A project manager here used to do that and people still remember it.  The problem is they ask for it after they complete a 1 month project to clean up the filing room versus a 9 month business process re-engineering.  I don't know about other people's work environments but at any given point, my directs have 3 or 4 projects on the go (various phases & intensity of course) and it turns out you'll be taking directs A, C, D out one week, then next week it's B, C, D, then the week after, A, B - and of course you want to fit everyone in the project in the lunch or happy hour time so it's like a little job by itself. 

I think the best thing I did was when I wrote a personal thank you cards with a small gift card (not more than $10) to the theater or Starbucks.  These cards were pinned on their cubicle walls for months. 


ashdenver's picture

On the recipient end, the gift cards are the way to go.  I actually collect the Target gift cards I get throughout the year and wait for the After-Christmas sale and stock up on new things - for free.  It's something my husband and I look forward to each year and my company gets the goodwill nod each time.

You might do some pre-planning - if only for your own sanity - to determine the levels of gift card amounts and the locations to which you'll offer them.  Target was the go-to choice around here for a long time.  Lately though, they've branched out (Home Depot, Movies, spa, etc.) but for a small company, it's probably best to limit the selection or you'll spend a full weekend chasing down the individual cards from the various locations. 

For smaller things - like good survey results for a quarter - we might get a $15 card.  For longer-term things, like productivity for the year - we might get a $25 card.  For service anniversaries (milestones at 5 yr increments) I think we get $40 cards. 

DiSC profile: 7-2-1-5

twinsen's picture
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Does your company expense those?  I have to buy them myself.  I'm obviously underpaid ;)

Another project where a small team spent 6 months gathering requirements for a system, the team lead created a cheesy diploma certificate at the end of the 6 months calling it Deciphering Hieroglyphics.  The team members were awarded in a group meeting and they had a little cake & stuff.  It's been close to 3 years since that project launched and I still see the "diplomas" pinned at their desks.




Tom Green's picture
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In my experience, whatever the reward, a public recognition is essential.  Our HR has a program called "Bravo" awards that have $25 to $200 value, and you can redeem them from a large catalog of premium items like Omaha Steaks or visit to a spa.  We always wait to give the little envelope to the employee until we have some type of team meeting, the larger the meeting, the better.  Of course, a key to this is that all managers at the site agree to do it this way, and we are pretty good about recognizing everything worth recognizing, so everyone participates over time. 

Also, memorable trumps value.  The thank yous ever mention the $, I get thanked for the nice note that I include with the gift.  Once, for a large project, I purchased 100 custom made silk ribbons for $65 (like the blue '1st place' ribbons you get at the county fair or in boy scout pinewood derbys).  They had the name of the project and "most valuable player" as the achievement.  Everyone on the project got one (couldn't have done it without any of them), handed out at a post project team celebration meeting, one by one, with a funny anectdote about them from the project, and then a short summary of their contribution, and a thank you handshake from me, the project leader.   That was 10 years ago and those ribbons are still hanging in cubicles.   I helped a colleague do something similar, but she handed out slides from a powerpoint with specific awards like "most accurate time sheets" or "land speed record" (for someone that got a speeding ticket on the way to a project meeting and told everyone the story ad nauseum).  In both cases, what makes it memorable was the personal touch, the shared humorous experience for the team, and the obvious time spent (and believe me, those last 5 people that joined the project late took a lot of digging to recognize!). 

As for people coming to expect it, the alternative is worse, zero recognition.  All good projects have strong internal and external PR elements, so if you're selling the project all along to the team, a lack of recognition at the end would make it feel like the project wasn't finished. 

One last thought, give everyone on the team a small gift, say $25 gift card, then give your one or two superstars some comp time off, or let them have their next off site training somewhere warm in the winter.  Make sure they know they got something special for their special effort. 

mmann's picture
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I prefer giving and getting non-monetary gifts.  I've received numerous monetary gifts over the decades and only remember two of them, (one was 5-figures... how can I forget that?  The other I turned into a watch and am wearing it now!)

I've received and/or given:

  • Airline tickets (from banked FF miles)
  • Dinner for two
  • Tickets to movies, sporting events, theater performances, comedy clubs
  • T-Shirts/polo shirts (customized for the project or effort -- keep it subtle, and professional)
  • Those acrylic blocks with a piece of paper embedded in them (usually a project charter)
  • Pens, mouse pads, paperweights, desk clocks, umbrellas, leather folders
  • Various toys (Yoyos, airplanes, tops, puzzles, Rubick's Cubes)
  • Candy (chocolates, gourmet, retro)

I think I may remember every time I received or gave one of these.  There was a time when I could get them for free from my firm, but even after they halted that policy I found it wasn't overly expensive.  I don't know if it created any good will for me, but I know I smile when I see one of them around after 10 or 12 years!



jib88's picture

The best reward I've ever gotten for great performance was the opportunity to take on bigger projects or highly visible assignments. Everyone is different though, and someone else may see this as rewarding good work with more work.

Additionally, not everyone enjoys receiving public acknowledgment in large groups. I really appreciate a kind note, but I don't need someone getting up in front of a group and calling me a superstar.  In some cultures public acknowledgment is inappropriate.

I personally don't care for various little toys or paperweights, but some people seem to collect them. I usually display them for a few weeks and then toss them.

I certainly don't mind getting monetary rewards, but they need to come with some type of thank-you. My company has a corporate rewards and recognition program that sends the award through your paycheck automatically. As if this didn't depersonalize the experience enough, on several occasions I've gotten the money in my paycheck before I received any note telling me I was nominated for an award. For one particular award I never received a note at all - and this was a $1,000 award for a supposedly significant achievement!

Whatever you do, be sincere. 



RickMeasham's picture

I don't think it matters too much what you give, but normally a token will be appreciated more than a cheque. If you give a cheque, then the recipient will either do some calculating in their heads and decide it wasn't worth all their effort for a measly whatever-you-gave, or they'll be thrilled and expect it every time. And that means they'll have 'spent' it before the next project is even complete and will be disappointed if a similar sized cheque isn't presented.

My team did some great work a few months back, so I bought a pack of 6 dinky plastic trophies from the local party supply store for all of $2.00. I printed a label for the trophy with each guy's name on it and a commendation for their part in the project.

I then pulled in the CEO (we're a small company, get someone as high-up as you can wrangle) and one of the other managers of a related department and presented these cheap trophies to each guy. The CEO shook their hand and everyone clapped. It was as corny as you can possibly imagine.

But even the most cynical team member still has his trophy on his desk in front of him today.

I wont ever use those trophys again with this team -- after all, who wants a trophy cabinet full of 33 cent trophies? The point is that it was the recognition of the effort that was important. And not just a positive-feedback type recognition, but making sure there's a VP or CEO present and making the recognition public and giving something that indicates great performance.

(Personally I'd steer clear of certificates from the inkjet. They cost you nothing at all. If you can't find anything else, then at least go buy some really nice paper for your certificate. You must make an effort when appreciating effort.)

Rick Measham

Geek Herding

anish's picture
Training Badge

Thank you all for your suggestions and feedback. I wanted to provide closure on how this panned out in my case.

What I decided to do was to get this direct and his wife a gift certificate for a romantic dinner and a night stay at a very exclusive hotel here in town. Also I included a hand written thank you note for his wife for allowing this company to monopolize his time for weeks. He was very happy. He mentioned that his wife is really excited about the upcoming "date". So all in all it turned out well.

I appreciate all the guidance this group provided.