Question – Subjectivity in Employee Recognition

A reader asks:

We are in the process of re-vamping our recognition program.  We have a nomination process for work that is above and beyond the employee’s normal job duties.  There are five different levels of awards brochures presented to the employee by the nominator – different levels given at the discretion of the nominator and the manager of the employee being nominated. 

We have surveyed a random sampling of employees and have found that employees feel there is too much subjectivity in the levels and who receives the recognition award. 

We have now decided to move in a different direction with our program.  We  want to still use a nomination process, but want to move to verbal recognition from a higher level in the organization, eliminating the award brochures. 

How do we go about moving from a program where we gave out “awards” to now going to a verbal recognition?  How do we come up with specific guidelines for what qualifies as above and beyond performance?

Here are my thoughts:

Awards, as this reader knows, aren’t meaningful recognition. At best they are reminders. They also serve to amplify any perceived unfairness.  With that said, simply removing the award from the program will be seen as unfair. It may also be unnecessary. Employees have asked for guidelines to remove subjectivity. Providing great guidelines could be all it takes to turn this into a great program.

If the awards are going to be eliminated, my preference would be to completely drop the existing program as soon as possible. Communicate that you have listened to feedback and acknowledge that the program isn’t working appropriately. Let employees know that you are working on new programs that will be better suited to the organization. Then begin to work on your new program, with far more explicit guidelines. When you roll it out, roll it out as new rather than improved.

 As for guidelines, above and beyond is tricky. Employees will have a better sense of what is expected if you target an award to a specific area of performance: cost-savings, customer experience, product innovation, etc. Don’t be afraid to have multiple awards categories. Make sure you have enough options that everyone can, potentially, be successful.  Also, provide specific examples of what is award worthy. Corporate legends can be very helpful in illustrating what is expected.

A final thought: if you ask people to describe what the person has done as part of the nomination process you will have a better sense of whether the person being awarded is actually meeting performance standards. It will also become a source of future stories!

What do you think reader? What would you do if you were revamping this program?


My name is Cindy Ventrice. I am the author of the best-selling book Make Their Day! Employee Recognition That Works and the companion guide Recognition Strategies That Work.

My work has been quoted in The New York Times, Alaska Airlines Magazine, Workforce Magazine, and Tim Sanders' book The Likeability Factor.

Visit my website today!

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