The Employee Engagement Network

Money is tight in today's economy, but you shouldn't be draining the bank account to get peak performance even when it's plentiful. As I've written recently, pay-for-performance schemes can be demoralizing and demotivating and are likely to have unexpected consequences. Still, employees are not machines. They're human beings and need to be motivated. However, some non-financial rewards can end up costing money.

I've been asked about ways to motivate staff and reward top performers without busting the budget. Here are a few tried-and-true ideas that you might have overlooked:

Advancement Opportunities
One of the most motivating rewards is a promotion and a new challenge. If there is an opportunity available in your organization, consider filling it with a star from a lower rung in the business hierarchy. Sure, it'll be tough for the employee's current team to lose a top performer, but it would be even tougher if that employee seeks challenges at another company. Be sure the person has the required skills for the new job or is offered training. You don't want to set your best employees up for failure.

Official Letter of Appreciation
A job well done deserves official recognition in writing. Don't just send the letter or email to the employee; distribute copies to senior management and place one in the employee's personnel file. Also, be sure the top performer is aware of these extra distribution points. The employee will be impressed that you thought enough of his or her performance to share your appreciation with senior management.

Certificates
Certificates won't cost much money, but they will buy a lot of motivation. Consider awarding them at staff meetings so that everyone can see who is being appreciated and for what. Your top performers will feel valued, and everyone else will be motivated. Certificates can be handed out for any goal reached, whether it's the successful completion of a project, meeting a sales target or exceeding a production quota. Be sure to pay special attention to what you say as you're awarding certificates. Your comments will be appreciated as much as the certificate itself.

Paid Time Off
Who wouldn't like more time with family and friends? Paid time off is an excellent reward that's not only enjoyed but also indicates how much you, as a manager, understand the importance of work-life balance. This reward is especially appropriate for employees who put in extra hours to meet a goal.

Lunch with the Boss
Lunch is usually a humdrum affair for everyone. Why not make it a special event by inviting an employee to go out with you (on your dime) to celebrate a special achievement? It will be an opportunity for you to get to know the employee better - and for him or her to know you. For a bigger reward, consider arranging a lunch with yourself, a senior manager and the employee. It will be an unforgettable experience for everyone.

Team Lunch or Dinner
A meal shared with a winning team (at the company's expense) is a great way to reward success, celebrate victories, show appreciation and build even more camaraderie. Team lunches or dinners also give you and your team members a chance to get to know each other outside the heat of the project.

Public Photo Display
Dedicate some wall space to photos of your top employees. Include a brief description of their achievements with each picture so that all employees will know why the stars are being highlighted. Don't go overboard. Too many photos will diminish the impact for everyone whose picture is displayed.

Handwritten Notes of Thanks
Handwritten thank you notes are not just good manners, they're an excellent management tool. A note penned by a manager's own hand adds to the sincerity and seriousness of the compliment. The recipient will also appreciate the personal nature of the note, not to mention the spontaneity of the gesture.

What rewards will work best in your organization? If you're not sure, ask your employees their opinion. You'll quickly find out what ideas are worthwhile - and those that would be considered a waste of energy or, worse, another example of management penny-pinching. My next post will list even more ideas. All these ideas can be fine-tuned for your organization. They also can be combined. What rewards have you tried at your business? Please share here what has worked and what has not.

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Tags: employee, program, recognition, reward

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