Designing Recognition Programs That Motivate Behavior

Whether you’re in charge of designing a rewards and recognition for your organization, or putting an awards program together for your industry, the question to ask yourself is: what behaviors are we trying to motivate? Teamwork? Employee retention? An above-and-beyond work ethic? Awareness? And the million dollar question: Is our current recognition program doing the job?

A few years back, JJ&W was conducting an internal communication study for an airline client. One of the objectives was to get feedback from employees on how they felt about the client’s recognition program. Amazingly, one anecdote came up consistently in the 25 focus groups we conducted. It concerned one of the airline’s toughest financial years. At the holidays, the CEO sent a letter recognizing everyone’s hard work, along with two cookies, to each employee. Here’s what we heard from employees: “If you want to motivate us, don’t give us two $3 cookies in a $6 box…bring in lunch for our crew when we’ve been working 24/7 during a tough weather stretch!” If you don’t know how employees want to be recognized and rewarded …ask! A little research can go a long way in helping you to design an effective recognition program. Note: as a result of the research JJ&W conducted, the recognition program was revamped to include both individual and team awards, given that teamwork at an airline is a must-have behavioral goal. After all, we all want those pilots, gate agents and baggage handlers working together to deliver customer delight!

A few tips on designing a strategic rewards and recognition program:

1. Evaluate your program…is it driving your behavioral goals? The Yankee Chapter of PRSA gives an award, originally known as the Yankee Award, but renamed for JJ&W’s founder and now called the Patrick Jackson Award. The Chapter asks its members to nominate professionals who are not in the public relations field but who successfully use public relations principles to benefit their organization and society, while demonstrating a track record of building public relationships that earn trust. Last year, Van Mcleod, former NH Commissioner of the Arts, won the award posthumously and joined a list of NH heavy hitters including Governor Walter Peterson, Bishop Gene Robinson and former NH Charitable Foundation president Lew Feldstein. The whole idea behind the award is to educate those outside our profession about what PR is and what it looks like when it is done well. The award has been in place since the 90’s, and rather than just keep giving the award, there is a committee in place to evaluate its effectiveness – are we getting the behavioral outcomes we want? Are we educating NH’s senior leaders about the value of PR by giving this award?

2. Consider filling a niche that doesn’t exist. Think about scholarships – there are many schools with awards for financial need and sky-high GPAs. When my high school scholarship committee got together to design the criteria for our class scholarship, we decided to go for a new niche and reward the “slow starter that finished strong”. When we are screening applications, we’re looking for the person who turned the corner in the latter half of their high school career, balancing GPA with work, outside interests and public service.

3. Design an industry award that gives back to the profession in some way. At our 35th anniversary (over 30 years ago!), Jackson Jackson & Wagner established the JJ&W Behavioral Science prize with a donation of $35,000 to the PRSA Foundation. The intent was to honor an individual behavioral science researcher whose scholarly work enhances the understanding of the concepts and theories that contribute to the effectiveness of the public relations practitioner. Since JJ&W’s focus is behavior change, this research is an important foundation to the work we do for clients. Pat Jackson coined this type of giving “enlightened self-interest” — you do good for others but it reflects positively on your organization as well. The winner is honored at PRSA International Conference, with the idea they will conduct a professional development session based on their work, so conference attendees can all benefit. Note: the award is not given every year; just when the awards committee finds a deserving candidate.

Similarly, PRSA established the Silver Anvil awards back in 1945 to recognize the best public relations campaigns in our industry – these are all catalogued on PRSA’s website, www.prsa.org, for the benefit of all members. Last year, NASA was recognized with the Best of Silver Anvil awards for their “Year in Space: Communicating NASA’s Historic One-Year Mission from Space to Ground” program. Click here to view: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iTaEyl1Mcg

A final thought: if you’re on the receiving end of a prestigious award or recognition, don’t stop at issuing a press release to announce it – go direct to the audiences that matter most. When I earned my APR back in 1991, JJ&W notified our clients directly, and I got some wonderful hand-written notes of congratulations from fellow PR practitioners and friends acknowledging this accomplishment. As a measure of how much those meant to me … I still have them in my possession today, all these years later.

Robin Schell, APR, Fellow PRSA is senior counsel and partner for Jackson Jackson & Wagner, a behavioral public relations and management consulting firm. For more information about Jackson Jackson & Wagner, visit our website at www.jjwpr.com.