Motivate Your Team with Recognition and Rewards

Reinforcing desired behaviors makes people feel good and leads to more of the same.

Karl Wiegers
The Startup
Published in
7 min readJul 14, 2019

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A blackboard with “Well Done” written on it.
Image from Pixabay

When I managed a small software group long ago I initiated a simple (and slightly corny) recognition program. When someone reached a minor milestone or helped someone else solve a problem, I gave him a package of M&M candies with a tag attached expressing my congratulations or thanks. Larger achievements generated bigger bags of M&Ms or something more substantial. It wasn’t much, but it was more than we were used to.

The chocolate always disappeared immediately, but several people put the message tags up around their desks. To them, the important thing was the words indicating that their manager noticed and valued the progress. They enjoyed — and appreciated — the recognition of even small achievements.

We also gave such micro-recognition awards to people outside the group who helped us in some way. It brought smiles to their faces and goodwill to our relationships. M&Ms worked with our team; other social recognition techniques might work better for yours.

However you choose to do it, appropriate praising and commendation helps to build the culture of teamwork and achievement we all want. Use rewards and recognition to reinforce the desired values and behavior that align with the team culture you’re trying to build. Recognition can motivate your team members to do an even better job in the future, since they know you appreciate their efforts. We all enjoy compliments from team leaders, senior managers, customers, and our professional colleagues.

Recognition and reward activities are a visible sign of an organization’s culture. If managers believe employees are lucky just to have jobs, they likely won’t offer even small gestures of appreciation. However, in a marketplace with competitive hiring and high staff turnover, an effective recognition program can help retain talented team members. M&Ms won’t make up for low salaries or unpleasant working conditions, but simple recognition is a step in the right direction.

Recognition Recommendations

Praise for a job well done should be timely, direct, personal, and specific. Don’t wait until…

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Karl Wiegers
The Startup

Author of 14 books, mostly on software. PhD in organic chemistry. Guitars, wine, and military history fill the voids. karlwiegers.com and processimpact.com