Driving Performance Through Recognition and Incentive Programs

Maggie Wenthe
Maggie Wenthe

Two employees interacting with their recognition program on a tablet device

Let’s say you’re managing an employee who has been doing an incredible job recently.

They’ve been putting in long hours, consistently cranking out great work and jumping at the opportunity to learn a new skill.

So, how do you let that person know they’ve done a good job? You come over, and, with minimal fanfare, present them with a certificate. (“Great job on your performance the past few weeks,” it says.)

While that certificate is no doubt a kind act—and it probably stirs some happiness in the recipient—the issue of concern here is not with the award, but with the concept of traditional recognition itself.

Driving great performance through recognition and incentive programs doesn’t stop with a certificate.

Blurring the Lines Between Recognition Programs and Incentives

What’s wrong with traditional recognition programs? In short, these kinds of programs can often be seen as reactive—not proactive—and fail to have the same cut-and-dry focus and results that others do.

If you (the boss) were in a crummy mood that week and failed to see how hard your employee was working, they might not get any recognition at all. And that’s a bummer.

Still, more and more companies are adopting formalized recognition programs. But the best among them—the companies that view recognition and incentives as investments, not as expenses—are evolving to use these programs to incent employees in a unique way.

When you use recognition programs to incent employees to exhibit future behaviors—or even performance goals—employers see the best results.

This begins to blur the lines between recognition programs and incentives.

More than that, it’s a great way to drive real business results, not just the warm, fuzzy feeling a certificate delivers. The blurred line between incentives and recognition—sometimes referred to as performance recognition—offers a balanced approach between the two:

  • Incentives that drive performance and give employees a reason to push toward a far-off goal
  • Recognition to make employees feel appreciated and valued for their work

Here are five tips on how to use recognition to drive substantial performance and see results.

Communicate Your Recognition Program

If you’re looking to build an effective performance recognition program, communication is key. The days where you could place a poster in the break room and get the majority of the company involved in your program are long gone.

When it comes to communicating their recognition and rewards program, many employers grow discouraged with the lack of response they get from their own team. Maybe they got great attendance for a kick-off pep rally, but things teetered off after that. Or the opening email didn’t get the clicks they wanted.

It can be tempting to think that the message is the issue here—the awards, the rules, etc. In reality, however, it’s more likely to be a result of your communication strategy. If you’re not investing in a dynamic marketing plan that utilizes multiple forms of communication to target key audiences, you’re missing key performance and recognition program capabilities.

Leverage ROI and VOI

You’re already familiar with return on investment (ROI). It’s the key figure that your stakeholders want to see. It’s the figure that determines whether your program sinks or swims.

Or is it? What about programs that don’t necessarily bring in bottom-line growth, but something more qualitative?

Some programs simply can’t be tied to an ROI. In these cases, such as anniversary awards or retirement-related programs, consider value on investment (VOI).

According to Sodexo, Inc., using a combination of VOI and ROI complements a consolidated employee program strategy. Being able to leverage qualitative and quantitative elements in your program—ROI and VOI—is key when it comes to balancing performance and recognition in your program.

Align Recognition Program Goals With Corporate Objectives

Your performance recognition program doesn’t exist on an island. It’s another way of reinforcing company values.

Let’s say one of your company values is collaboration. If your programs don’t acknowledge or reward collaboration—or, worse yet, discourages collaboration—you’ll run into issues.

Gather Recognition Program Data

If a performance recognition program runs, but there’s no data collected, does it really happen?

A huge part of the effectiveness of performance recognition programs is the data gleaned from them. Who is participating, how they got involved in the program, their average contribution—and countless other facets—are things that can be tracked.

With that data, program administrators can tweak and optimize their program to get the most out of their spend.

For example, if you had a sales person that previously focused on zone #1 but had switched to zone #2, you can use historical data to structure a new goal for performance recognition


Above all else, performance recognition is a way of honoring team members for work they’ve done and encouraging them to keep climbing the mountain.

And the best way to do that: celebrate! Consider announcing winners and overall goal achievement throughout your company. Or, if participants prefer to be recognized in a personal way, give managers and coworkers the ability to reward top performers for performance, career, wellness, social and community goals.

When you inspire participants to reach for next year’s ambitious goal—while staying motivated and engaged—you build powerful performance recognition.

So make employee recognition worth it, for you and for your people. Learn how you can get the results you’re shooting for by simply giving them what they want—and deserve—in our post, How to Recognize Employees Meaningfully.

Maggie Wenthe

Maggie Wenthe

Maggie strives to help the world understand the power behind personalized motivation that aligns people with business goals to drive powerful results. As the leader of Marketing Strategy at ITA Group, she analyzes market trends to develop world-class solutions that help Fortune 1000 companies motivate and engage their employees, channel partners and customers. She is certified through the Incentive Marketing Association, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, as well as Pragmatic Marketing Level VI. Between marketing and three little boys, Maggie doesn't have free time. But when she can find a few minutes, she loves listening to audiobooks on marketing, business and sci fi thrillers.