Is Your Recognition Program a Joke (Like the NFL Pro Bowl)?

Did you even notice that the NFL Pro Bowl, a massive recognition program, was played last Sunday in Hawaii? Maybe because you have been conditioned to watch football on the weekends for the last 6 months or so, and when you turned on your TV, that was the only football game played all day (all weekend, even).

The Pro Bowl has turned into such a laughing matter (see the final lop-sided score – read, NO defense) that the players are still trying to convince the commissioner that they really should continue going on all-expenses paid trips to Hawaii at the end of the season. Keep in mind these players are millionaires . . .

What about the reward and recognition programs at YOUR company? Have they turned into a joke, like the Pro Bowl? Consider these common risks.

  • Do employees perceive that management favorites win all the awards? The NFL cognoscenti find it ridiculous that so many players voted into the Pro Bowl make it on name recognition alone. Many of them have even been out injured for much of the season, but fans and coaches alike vote them in on reputation. Is it possible the same type of phenomenon takes places in your own back yard?
  • Do certain roles have a higher likelihood than others of winning, which inherently skews the outcome? Some functions provide “dial tone” type services (think payroll or Accounts Payable). Who lifts up those teams? In football, the skill positions always get the glory and media attention. Watch out you don’t fall into a similar trap for the sexy project teams.
  • Where are the consequences? The outcome of the Pro Bowl is pointless, unlike in other sports. In baseball, for example, the All-Star Game winner determines home field advantage for the World Series. What difference does it make afterwards for recognition at a high level in your organization? My friend won the highest award possible in her company and then a year later was let go because her role was no longer needed. Is this the kind of mixed message you want to send your employees? Choose wisely.

Reward and recognition programs send strong signals about company culture. Use them intentionally to reinforce the appropriate behaviors and to reflect the personality of the most senior leaders. Take them lightly at your peril, or your leader may feel Roger Goodell’s pain soon.

Betsy Winkler is Partner at People Results. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1 or on email at Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.