Leadership

How to reward your best employees

Great employees make your life as a manager much easier.It makes sense to show that their efforts are recognized and appreciated. You might find, however, that shareholders don't always back your desires to reward your best people. Here are a few ways to work it.

Great employees make your life as a manager much easier.It makes sense to show that their efforts are recognized and appreciated. You might find, however, that shareholders don't always back your desires to reward your best people. Here are a few ways to work it.

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Great employees are very rare. When you find them, you have to do everything you can to make sure they feel valued and that their efforts are rewarded. The definition of a great employee varies significantly, but the key qualifications are (in no particular order):

  1. They make you look good
  2. They have excellent critical thinking skills, can accurately see a few moves ahead
  3. They pay attention to detail
  4. As we say in Boston, "They are wicked smaht."
  5. They work well in a team and display leadership qualities
  6. They get it done. No complaining about roadblocks with these folks.
  7. They are open to learning new ways to do things
  8. They make the customer feel good

If you have an employee who has these qualities, then she is a keeper. It is your responsibility to make sure she is rewarded appropriately. To do this, you need to understand the ins and outs of how your company rewards employees so that you can manipulate the heck out of it.

There are always little things like gift certificates to a local restaurant for an employee and his spouse or buying the employee a Playstation 3 when a project gets completed on time, within budget, and exceeds customer expectations. These little things provide immediate reinforcement for desired behavior. You must put thought into these. Know what the person likes. Who is his favorite band or sports team? Get two tickets, a limo, hotel and airfare and provide a memory that he will never forget.

These are all $500 to $800 investments that pay you back in spades. Bonuses happen once a year and can only vaguely be tied back to a killer performance during a project. Deferred gratification loses its ability to reinforce behavior the more detached it is from the time the behavior was observed.

The challenge with these rewards typically is the culture of the company. Other departments may not have as enlightened management as you and will complain to HR and others. Be aware of this before going down this path. You don't want to start something that gets canceled later on. This would have a detrimental affect. It may make you look like the hero trying to fight the good fight, but remember, that good fight is against your company.

Also, understand raises. Typically, raises are determined annually around budget time. Many companies come up with a flat percentage that will be distributed based upon performance appraisals. If the IT department gets 3%, you will need to give someone 1% to give your superstar a 5% increase. But even a 5% increase can seem paltry for your great employee. Sometimes the bonus pool works the same way. To reward your great employee this way can be difficult.

Better to promote. Great employees typically go above and beyond the job description. The help desk guy who stays late to get project work done is a good example. He is making a contribution above what he was hired to do. Look at a systems administrator role or project manager role or something along those lines where you can afford them the opportunity to be paid for the higher value work that they do. Promotions allow you to better justify a significant increase.

To do this, you also have to understand that the CFO and the CEO report to others. They report to investors, boards of directors, share holders, etc. You must be aware of these relationships when considering changing your operating budget like this. These governance bodies look down on Increases in general and administrative expenses in specific.

Your CFO and CEO typically have to fight for these changes. Good CFOs and CEOs don't mind fighting for a good cause, so make sure that the great employee has exposure to these folks and that you document how this individual contributes to the company and share it with your senior executives. Show where they are in your succession planning goals. But make sure they have to fight this fight only once.

Requesting a mid-year promotion or something along those lines is very difficult to accomplish, primarily because you are asking the CEO and the CFO to go back in the ring more often than they have to. Your job is to make it easy for them to say yes.

17 comments
A_dangerous_mind
A_dangerous_mind

How about: 1. Providing some kind of immediate reward that is neither trivial nor insensitive. This will require getting to know the employee well enough to know what is a reward. Jeff McConnell in Rapid Development has a list of rewards that work for software developers for more ideas. 2. Make sure that you do go to bat for the employee when the time for raises and promotions comes. 3. Find SOME kind of reward for extraordinary effort, even if the result may not be rewarding to the business. For instance, I was on a project where there were a number of us who put in extraordinary effort to get it done, but the project never paid business dividends because the business specified the wrong course of action. I tried to get IT management to do SOMETHING for their people, but all that I heard was the sound of crickets.

DerekIrvine
DerekIrvine

You mention other departments will get jealous of your efforts and rat you out to HR. Why not tackle this problem head-on and advocate for the implementation of a strategic recognition program that is available across all employees in all groups/divisions/departments and can be tracked, measured and reported on to corporate for the universal governance they need? Then all employees have the same opportunity to participate in recognition (either on the receiving or nominating end), fostering a culture of appreciation and productivity. I've blogged on what the CEO needs and what the Board of Directors needs in terms of recognition and reward for employees here: http://globoforce.blogspot.com/2009/01/what-ceos-need-from-hr.html http://globoforce.blogspot.com/2008/01/what-board-of-directors-wants-from-hr.html

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

failing that money is an acceptable substitute. The touchy feely stuff is just a BS excuse to avoid doing the above.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

Since there was a freeze in raises this year, I've become more lenient with comp time allocations. If someone works 8+ hours during a night or on the weekend, I'll let them have their next scheduled day off 'free of charge'. For a couple of guys on my team, this will amount to about a full week of extra vacation during the year. I do other little things, like an occasional donut/bagel + coffee run or small gift cards. But the comp time seems to be the biggest hit thus far.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Oh, wait; that's how you reward your worst employees.

KSoniat
KSoniat

I don't manage people - but I've watched my husband personally buy gift cards, bake a cake or drag in our grill and cook hamburgers for lunch to show his appreciation to his people. Even in meetings for a larger group - he'll put a gift card under a front row seat to reward being brave enough to sit up front. The next time everyone sits in the front row he rewards the person who asks the first question. His people love him - and they feel appreciated.

Paymeister
Paymeister

Mr. Hopkinson is absolutely right. When the new timekeeping program wouldn't talk to the check-writing company I saved the company's bacon. It took a couple of months for IT to write the code to fix it, and at one point union organizers were in the parking lot (10,000+ hourlies would not have received checks had I not done my magic). The Senior VP sent me an email with a quick "thanks", saying I had something coming in the mailbag. Imagine my reaction when I found a $25 gift certificate to a big discount store nearby, and $5 of hamburger coupons from a local fast food joint. A thousand dollars would not have been out of order for the grief I saved the company. I would have also been thrilled with just a handwritten, thoughtful note from the SVP. But $30 at Target and Burger King was kind of insulting for the magnitude of what I did. My direct supervisor, however, is an absolute gem: she is kind, appreciative, and understands me and my motivations. She gives me interesting tasks and decent tools to work with, and is clearly recognizes my efforts and results (and gives me credit in meetings rather than taking it herself). She's sincere and heartfelt without being maudlin or socially out-of-place (helps, I suppose, that she's across the country). Her kind words are as motivating to me as a pat on the head is to a border collie! Sure, more cash would be great, but I will follow my boss to hell and back if need be based on who she is and how she treats me.

MumpsGuy
MumpsGuy

I once worked at a company where the boss wanted to let people know that the hard work they did was noticed. But how could she? The budget line item for this type of activity was slashed because of hard times. Ah the office supplies line item was still there and more importantly still had money. Rewards of expensive pens for a job well done where often handed out at department meetings. I still have mine, and it still reminds me of how management rewarded us even though there was no money in the budget.

james.a.bingham
james.a.bingham

The problem with comp time is that you are unable to take the time off when you want to because the timing is wrong, or there are things going on, and when you are allowed to take it, it is on the business' schedule, not when you want it. Not exactly fair, is it.

Paymeister
Paymeister

Dear Palmetto, I read your post a few minutes ago, and it is only just now that the tears of mirth have abated somewhat permitting me to type this reply. I haven't had as good a laugh for years! Absolutely hilarious, and quite astute politically on several fronts. Thanks so much...

james.a.bingham
james.a.bingham

Doesn't matter, whether you are the best worker or the worst, if you work for the government, eveyone gets a bonus. So where is the incentive to do your job better? None, except if you take personal pride in your job, and that is all the reward you will get working for the government.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

After all, they did manage to find a way to bring billions into their companies in a time of declining revenue streams. I wonder what tips and tricks all those campaign contributions bought!

Geek3001
Geek3001

The same thing applies to some Boards of Directors. No government intervention is necessary.

LazloHollyfeld
LazloHollyfeld

your people have to know you genuinely appreciate them, and that you also don't try to resolve every issue by expecting them to give up something...especially if it means sacrificing for little or nothing.

Geek3001
Geek3001

Flexible schedules for employees with hobbies that involve travel can be a boon, especially in those areas with major traffic problems. Being able to leave work at noon on a Friday, by using a half day of vacation, can cut transportation time by hours and allow the employee to get to their destination relaxed and ready to play.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Money and free lunches are a good way to reward employees for work above and beyond a job description but we've found a better way that seems to be a bit more pleasing. The boss reviews the work load for the recipient and gives him a surprise day off, usually during a production meeting and it is quite pleasing to see the look on their face and gets applause from the rest of those present. Now this is a paid day off and is more along the lines of comp time but nontheless a real delight for all who are present and even more so for those lucky enough to be honored. As yet no one has gone home to find his wife with someone else or had any adverse results from this so it has worked out very well.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

I've done jobs where the savig were estimated at a ?100,000 a year. Admittedly someone else vaguely competent could have done them, but they didn't I did... Needless to say I didn't see a lot of that money, after all I was just doing my job, up unitil the point they decided I was too expensive to keep...... I never expect anything from management, and I'm rarely disappointed.

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