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  • Ingeborg van Harten

Creative Ways of Rewarding

How do you teach a dog a new trick? Reward them with a treat! 🦴 How do you get people to buy more stuff? Reward them with points or air miles. ⭐️ How do you get a kid to finish their meal? Reward them with a desert. Rewarding works - and rewards enhance productivity. True story. It’s the oldest trick in the book.

Employees who are praised and rewarded for great work will be motivated and driven to do better on their future projects. Additionally, they spend less time procrastinating and are more focused. Rewards boost engagement and increase productivity throughout the workplace at all levels. So, it’s a total no-brainer to have a decent rewards program. How interesting that most companies do not actually have this!


Who still gets excited by their monthly paycheck?

 Ok, for a few minutes maybe, especially when it’s a day early. But when you count on money, it won’t make you go the extra mile. We pay people for the work they do, but pay itself is rarely enough to get people excited. The annual bonus (if you even get one) is almost the same story. If you expect it, you take it for granted. There is even a big chance it leads to disappointment (by not getting the full bonus) instead of it being a motivator. So we can’t rely on the paycheck to do magic for engagement and have to get more creative.

When did you last get excited about something you received from work? 

This answer will be different for everyone. If you are lucky, your company is already creative, if not - it’s time to step up your game 😅. Personal recognition is a really effective way to motivate people, but for each and every person the right type of recognition is different. You might prefer having an extra monetary incentive, but your colleague might grow and glow from a new learning opportunity and I might be happy with a nice lunch as a thank you. Feeling that you matter, you are valued and your efforts make a difference to the organization, that makes people spark. ✨

How to be creative with rewarding? 

So many people with so many different wishes and needs, and such different organizations. The key is to embrace personalisation. We’re not saying each and every individual should get personalised gifts (actually, quite a nice idea) but there should be options.

Here are some of our favourites:

🎯 Spot Awards

We like to call them ‘Spot On’ awards. Because they are given when someone truly excels, goes the extra mile or has achieved something big. The key here is to instantly recognise them. This can be monetary like a (small) bonus, or a gift.

Best practice states that it should be transparent, and used as an example towards the rest of the organisation. Not sure if this is true, as only some team members will enjoy being recognized in the spotlight. We recommend managers have a budget that they can use as they see fit to distribute spot awards throughout the year. Testgorilla wrote a nice blog on this topic.

📚 Learning as a Reward

One of the best ways to recognise performance is to motivate the person or team to become even better. Dedicated learning time and learning budgets are still scarce, which is strange because the value is so much higher than money. We keep seeing learning budgets being cut when finance departments look for savings across the business. Not. a. smart. move. If you want a high-performing culture and retain your key players, you should be investing in these people.

One of our clients implemented ‘Learning as Reward’. They want to really create a learning environment, and their values revolve around teamwork. Now, if the team meets its quarterly OKR, they collectively receive a budget they can spend on a (democratically chosen) learning activity. Win-win, because the learning experience is teambuilding at the same time.

The teams can also decide to team up with other departments if they need a bigger learning budget. They can align learning goals, and maximise the budget that way. Top performers are rewarded with additional learning budget, which also leads to better retention rates. If you are not specific (yet) about allocating time and resources to learning, this can be a really quick win.

📣 Shout-outs

Don’t underestimate what you can do without a budget. It’s the thought that counts, and more than anything we encourage you to start small.

Make sure you have a special shout-out place where you recognize good behaviour. This can be a Slack or Teams channel, or even during your monthly All-Hands. Who are the champions of your values, who has gone above and beyond?

Define what good behaviour looks like, and define what extra special behaviour is. Make sure the managers and leaders of the organization highlight this behaviour when their team members show it. Let them describe specific behaviour they are thankful for. 🫶🏽

TOP TIP: Driving peer-to-peer praise

Praise and recognition from a manager is great, but peer-to-peer can be even more powerful. So ensure to set the example, and drive a culture of recognition between all levels in the company.

🕰️ Time off or Money in return for Time

Time vs Money. Some people will value a few extra days off a LOT. Time off also contributes to wellbeing, and is relatively low cost. Giving a team member or a whole team/company a few extra days when you hit milestones will certainly make you popular.

At the same time, some employees will prefer money for the extra time they invest. Consider offering both!

Some people never take all their annual leave (you know who they are), and are chased by HR departments to take their leave. They might appreciate money in return for their time. Consider allowing people to work extra hours and pay these on top of their salary. Nice way to make extra money when you need it. You can also consider allowing employees to trade in a number of annual leave days per year for money.

FYI: We personally don’t believe in the ‘unlimited vacation days’ hype, because in reality, it’s not actually unlimited. You might not feel comfortable enjoying your time off and these policies don’t always result in people being more engaged. Flexible and generous policies beat unlimited.

💌 Create a Loyalty Program.

Corporate loyalty programs are offered by retailers and companies as a way to attract and retain customers. Rewards, discounts and other special incentives are designed as a reward for a customer's repeat business. They work! This is exactly how we should think of employee rewards and recognition. Like an ‘Employee Loyalty Program’. To keep your people engaged, repeatedly delivering great work, and encouraging best behaviour - they participate in your loyalty program. Fun to design this with your team and think of how people can earn points, and which rewards you’ll offer!

Happy rewarding!


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