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Put oomph back into workplace awards

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in Centerpiece,Leaders & Managers,People Management

Every year, employees at SurePayroll anx­­iously await for leadership to an­­nounce who won the Best New Mistake award.

Yes, the biggest mistake. Each year, employees at the $23 million online payroll-processing company nominate themselves for the honor; 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 bestow such an award?

SurePayroll president Michael Alter invented Best New Mistake to remind employees that in a culture of innovation, failure is always an option. “If you don’t encourage people to take risks, then you end up with incrementalism forever,” says Alter.

Is your awards program a creaky tra­­dition or an injection of excitement? In­­vigorate your thinking with this advice:

• Dream up unusual awards. For 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 stretch projects. The winner receives a cash prize, a neck pillow and a bag of espresso beans.

• Propel people into bigger roles through awards, rather than holding them up as objects of emulation. 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.

• Turn awards into a call to service. A company called I Love Rewards in­­ducts 10 employees into its CEO Insider’s Club every year. The group 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 up images of people doing what’s valuable to the company. “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,” says Nelson.

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

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