Rewards can be powerful management tools, but only if you implement them effectively. In this installment of the Management Chronicles, discover how the right timing and getting to know your employees better can improve the impact of your recognition method.
A smile formed on Eleanor's face as she saw me approach her doorway.
She and I were meeting to discuss her views on recognizing and rewarding employees. She had been my manager for three years when I worked as a developer. A skillful manager, her recognition and rewards had brought out the best in me and my teammates.
I am now a manager in the testing organization. Although I recognize and reward the members of my team as best I can, I know that Eleanor's recognition and rewards are more effective than mine. I knew what she did, but I knew little about the thought process behind her actions.
I wanted to learn about the thoughts that shaped her actions, because I suspected they could help me.
As I entered, Eleanor moved around her desk, extended her hand, and said, "Trevor, it's great to see you. How is Ginny's first semester at the U going?"
Typical Eleanor. Although we hadn't talked in months, she remembered that my daughter Ginny had started at the university two months ago. How did she remember details like that?
"She's doing well," I answered, reaching out to shake her hand. "Although I think she may be a little homesick. Thank you for asking."
"Sit down," Eleanor said, motioning to a chair that I had sat in many times. She moved to the other side of the small, circular conference table and sat down.
"How can I help?" she asked.
"I want to learn the secrets you use to recognize and reward employees," I replied.
"Secrets?" Eleanor's forehead crinkled as she started to laugh. "I don't have any secrets."
"Your methods may not seem like a secret to you," I said, returning her laughter, "but I don't see any other managers rewarding the members of their teams as effectively as you. For instance, I recall your giving Fredericko soccer tickets as a reward for the work he did on the Tahoma project. He told me how thrilled he was to receive them. Other managers give their people trinkets, such as pens and USB flash drives."
"Oh, I hope taking the time to know people well enough to reward them with something that will please them isn't a secret," she said. "But you're right. Some managers do reward people with trinkets. I don't believe in that."
I probed, "Why?"
She looked up for a few seconds, then slowly leveled her eyes with mine and said, "I suppose my behavior follows directly from a story my mentor told me years ago about a reward he received. At the banquet for the program he led, his manager gave him a gold watch."
"A gold watch sounds like a great reward to me."
"It did to me, too," Eleanor said slowly. "But it turns out my mentor is allergic to metal. It causes him to break out in hives. Although he never said anything to his manager, he told me he felt insulted by being given something that he could never use. He thought his manager should have known him well enough to give him something he would enjoy."
"The look of hurt on my mentor's face still drives me to this day to learn enough about each member of my team to know the rewards that would please them."
Eleanor continued, "You may be surprised, though, to find out that some people tell me that they don't like receiving awards. They feel like they're being bribed."
"What do you do for them?" I asked.
Eleanor leaned back in her chair and said, "I explain to them that receiving a