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Put more meaning into workplace awards

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in Leaders & Managers,People Management

Imagine you’re up for an award at work ... for Best New Mistake. That might not sound too appealing, but at SurePayroll, a $23 million online payroll-processing company, the award is coveted.

Employees nominate themselves for the honor, and management receives about 40 submissions each year. The winners (gold, silver and bronze) each receive a prize, with $400 going to the winner—twice as much as any of the other company awards.

Why do they do it? To encourage employees to try new things—even if it means sometimes failing or making a mistake.

If you’re involved in helping management give out annual awards to employees, offer these ideas to help update the usual lineup of Best Customer Service or Leadership awards:

√ Give awards that help people step into new roles. For example, says Bob Nelson, author of 1001 Ways to Reward Employees, if you’re giving an Innovator Award, give the person a budget to develop one of his ideas. If it’s a Leadership Award, say, “part of the honor is to become a mentor.”

√   Hand out unusual awards, such as Best New Mistake. Another example: The Disruption Award, given by marketing firm ADG Creative, goes to the person whose personal life was most disrupted by work that year. The goal is to recognize people who volunteer for ambitious projects that really make them stretch. The winner receives a cash prize, a neck pillow and a bag of espresso beans.

√  Customize prizes to recipients. ADG Creative managers discreetly find out winners’ preferences—money, time off or something else—in advance. “We want to make sure we give them something they actually want,” says ADG founder, Jeff Antkowiak.

√   Turn awards into a call to serv­ice. For example, a company called I Love Rewards inducts about 10 em­­ployees into its CEO Insider’s Club every year. The group, which includes staff at every level, meets quarterly to help the CEO evaluate big questions.

√ Tie awards to the company’s mission or strategic goals. Awards should conjure images of people doing what’s valuable to the company. Says Nelson, “The CEO should state what that person did and tie it back to the mission and strategic goals. Now, at least people are learning from it.”

— Adapted from “Rethinking Employee Awards,” Leigh Buchanan, Inc.

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