Five Manager Mistakes Around Recognition

Minor changes in management’s communication style will boost morale, productivity.

The story of a talented, experienced employee unexpectedly leaving a company is all too familiar. How could a worker be so unhappy while management thinks everything is hunky dory? The vast divergence between employee satisfaction and management appraisal is quite common, as well as confusing and expensive to organizations, according to a 2008 study by the International Personnel Management Association.

There are five big mistakes that, when addressed properly, will reduce unnecessary turnover and improve morale, productivity and profits. With some minor changes in management’s communication style, employees will want to bring their “A game” to work everyday.


All executives claim to value their people but recognition programs, incentives, bonuses and pats on the back are often seen as manipulative. There’s a fine line between true appreciation and the feeling you’re just being thrown a bone.

Unfortunately, with staffing down, workloads up and everyone busier than ever, it’s easy for a manager’s recognition efforts to be perceived as just going through the motions and not coming from the heart. When managers understand what’s in it for them and begin to “make it real,” their interactions are seen as genuine, with the employee in mind, not as leverage that benefits only the company, not the employee.


Once employees start to believe you truly care about them, the next mistake relates to the number of disjointed programs companies use to recognize and reward people. Each has its own history, function, author and responsible party, so even if they’re working, there’s no easy way to tell. And it’s impossible to properly train a management team about how to use the programs correctly and in the right order, so effectiveness suffers.

By co-ordinating all the employee communications, training, recognition and performance processes into one organized system, you will be able to understand and control costs, manage and rate results and get the most from your investment in people.


An organized approach is great but the system won’t last if it’s not tied into a strategy based on a company’s core values and goals. Strategic planning is a leadership function that allows all employees to understand where they fit into the total scheme of things and how their performance directly affects the organization.

Once everyone begins to see they are all on the same team, marching in the same direction for the same reasons, synergy happens and combined recognition efforts yield more than the sum of the individual parts.


Best efforts are likely to fail without strong, honest and consistent support from the top. Companies can use a professionally produced video featuring top executives to launch a new program and show their continued passion and dedication to the goals and objectives. Employees are quick to see through any signs of a company being disingenuous.

Poor upper management involvement is the number one sign recognition is being used as a manipulative lever, not an appreciation boost. To keep top executives invested, committees must present program enhancements that show significant and measurable results, not just emotional blue sky and hype.


Any program, no matter how exciting, rich, well-organized or effectively supported, will lose momentum if it’s not fully integrated into a company’s performance management culture. This is by far the most overlooked weakness in many recognition strategies. A quality reporting system, along with an empowered team prepared to manage the information, are critical to keeping programs relevant, fresh, interesting and profitable. The true test of a well-functioning recognition strategy is quantitative proof it’s turning expenses into profits over time.

These five mistakes are quite common and extremely costly but relatively easy to avoid with simple communications training and the ability to look at entitlement programs with an open mind. They are called “entitlements” because that’s what an awards program becomes if it is left alone for very long.

It’s nobody’s fault, so don’t point fingers. Just address each mistake in order, gain support and then develop a measurable set of initiatives that will make the best use of the company’s dollars. Tools and technology solutions make it easy to develop, measure and analyze an effective recognition strategy.

Reprinted with permission from John Schaefer. Schaefer is a Glendale, Arizona-based consultant and author of The Vocational Shrink – An Analysis of the Ten Levels of Workplace Disillusionment.