Make Their Day!: Employee Recognition That Works: Proven Ways to Boost Morale, Productivity, and Profits


Companies spend billions of dollars on recognition programs each year. While recognition done right improves morale and productivity, most of the money spent is wasted because people in most organizations still dont feel recognized. Research shows employees often want something very different from the plaques and awards most companies rely on for recognizing employee contribution. In this thoroughly updated and expanded edition of Make Their Day, author Cindy Ventrice explores how managers need to adapt their ...

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Make Their Day!: Employee Recognition That Works: Proven Ways to Boost Morale, Productivity, and Profits

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Companies spend billions of dollars on recognition programs each year. While recognition done right improves morale and productivity, most of the money spent is wasted because people in most organizations still dont feel recognized. Research shows employees often want something very different from the plaques and awards most companies rely on for recognizing employee contribution. In this thoroughly updated and expanded edition of Make Their Day, author Cindy Ventrice explores how managers need to adapt their recognition strategies to deal with global, virtual, and generational realities. Additions include chapters on workplace culture, fairness, and remote communication.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781576756010
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/1/2009
  • Series: Bk Business Series
  • Edition description: 2nd Revised, Expanded ed.
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 220
  • Sales rank: 358,563
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Cindy Ventrice has consulted for a wide range of industries including technology, government, healthcare, and manufacturing. A frequent keynote speaker, she addresses audiences on issues ranging from motivating volunteers to keeping the best employees. She lives in Santa Cruz, CA.

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Read an Excerpt


By Cindy Ventrice

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2009 Cindy Ventrice
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-57675-620-1

Chapter One

Recognition That Works

"Please, not another T-shirt!"

"I resent the money that's spent to purchase doodads. It could be spent much more wisely."

"Certificates of appreciation? I hate the damn things."

I assume this isn't the reaction you expect from recognition. Yet, if you depend on your organization to fulfill your employees' need for recognition, there is a good chance that your employees would express similar opinions.

According to a former employee of one technology company:

"Our company offered the Terrific Employee Award. Everyone thought it was a cheesy name. People didn't know why they were being awarded. It became a joke. The CEO never got involved. No one but HR took it seriously. They solicited employees for nominations and got so few responses they eventually gave up and selected someone themselves. The awards were gift certificates. They were nice, but without meaning."

Missing the Mark

When you think of recognition, what comes to mind? Do you think of raises, bonuses, stock awards, gift certificates, parties, prizes, and plaques? Many managers view these things as recognition, but they are wrong. Employees see it differently.

According to employees, 57 percent of the most meaningful recognition is free!

That's right: in an international survey in 2007, I found that 57 percent of the most meaningful recognition doesn't even cost a dollar!

Like the person in the last example, employees are looking for meaning, not things. They see tangible awards as a vehicle for delivering recognition, but they don't regard the awards themselves as recognition. They're much more interested in the underlying message behind the reward.

Your employees are strong believers in the old saying "It's the thought that counts." For awards to count as recognition, your employees need to see acknowledgment of their specific accomplishments and sincere appreciation of their personal value to the organization. The following examples will illustrate why recognition often misses the mark.

There's a lot you can do that will make people feel recognized, but first you have to be clear about what recognition isn't. It isn't perks, bonuses, plaques and awards, or incentives. While these things aren't recognition, they can be a highly valued part of the recognition experience. They can serve as excellent concrete reminders of the recognition you offer.

An employee who does customer support offers the following example:

"I was given a tough customer to assist. The underlying message was 'We don't entrust really important relationships to just anybody. We believe in you. You have proven yourself.' After I was successful, they let me pick from a catalog of gifts. The opportunity was the recognition, but the mixer I selected reminds me of it—every time I walk into the kitchen."

Don't make the mistake of thinking that the awards are the recognition. If you do, you will fall into a common trap: assuming that all you need to make recognition work is a new award. Focus only on the tangible award, and recognition will most likely fail. Focus on the meaning behind the award, and employees will receive recognition that works.

This isn't to say that looking for new award ideas doesn't have value. It's always a good idea to come up with new and creative ways to show recognition. Many excellent books are filled with great recognition ideas. Two that I would recommend are 1001 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson and 301 Ways to Have Fun at Work by Dave Hemsath and Leslie Yerkes. Nothing is wrong with getting ideas. In fact, the Make Their Day website offers a free weekly tip subscription that will provide you with lots of new ideas. By all means, get creative.

Remember, 57 percent of surveyed employees said the most meaningful recognition was free! Eighty-eight percent said it cost under $100. What makes recognition meaningful isn't the award; it is the meaning behind the award.

What Makes Recognition Work

Simple, thoughtful gestures are what employees tell me make their day. Here are some examples:

  •   A souvenir from your vacation
  •   Remembering the details of an employee's project
  •   A thank-you e-mail
  •   A handwritten note

The hundreds of stories that I've heard confirm that recognition doesn't have to be big and splashy to be memorable and meaningful. What stands out in employees' minds is recognition that is memorable because of the consistency and regularity with which it is offered, sometimes because it is clever and unique, but most often because it sends a strong message that they are valued.

rec·og·ni·tion (reke'g-nish'en) n. 1. the act of seeing or identifying. 2. the perception of something as existing or true. 3. the acknowledgment of something as valid or entitled to consideration.

Look up recognize and recognition in any dictionary, and you will find definitions that use words like see, identify, and acknowledge. These words are at the core of how employees define recognition. One man told me, "I'd be happy if I thought anyone here even knew I existed." Most employees don't feel anywhere near this level of dissatisfaction, but his comment does show the extreme of what it means to feel completely unrecognized.

Another told me about how much more productive she was when she had the cubicle outside her manager's office. She emphasized that she wasn't intimidated, just visible.

Employees want to be seen—sometimes literally. When anyone higher up the organizational ladder greets an employee by name in the hallway, typically that employee will view the greeting as a form of recognition. Why? Because these are the people who employees most want to be seen by because they have the most influence over their careers.

Employees also want their accomplishments identified and acknowledged. When coworkers, internal customers, managers,

and supervisors provide specific details about the value of an employee's contribution, they provide recognition that works at its most fundamental level.

The Elements of Recognition

Recognition that works has four basic elements: praise, thanks, opportunity, and respect. Every successful gesture of recognition includes at least one of these four basic elements and is typically a combination of more than one. If you don't include at least one of the elements, you aren't giving recognition. You're giving an incentive, prize, gift, or plaque, but not recognition that works. Let's look at each element separately.


Employees want to hear you say, "Hey, you accomplished something important." They want you to acknowledge their progress. They want you to notice what they do right.

You can praise employees publicly or privately. Be aware that while every employee wants praise, not all employees want public praise. It's up to you to learn each employee's preference. For more on this topic, see Chapter 12.


A sincere thank-you is a highly valued form of recognition that works. Some managers think there is no need to thank a person who is doing his or her job. It's true that you don't have to thank each employee, but if someone's efforts make your job easier, then thank that person. Everyone responds to heartfelt appreciation. Employees will work many times harder for managers who express their gratitude. Offer a sincere thank-you, and you will make significant progress in improving morale and productivity.

To make sure that your thank-you has the desired effect, describe why the person is being thanked. Be specific, accurate, clear, and concise.

Remember: the simplest and frequently most desired form of recognition is a simple expression of gratitude.

Put It in Writing

While you're at it, think about providing your praise and appreciation in the form of a handwritten note. People tell me they hang on to these for years and pull them out when they need a boost. Talk about a great return on the time you have to invest in writing the note!


At first glance, opportunity doesn't appear to be an element of recognition, but it's actually a very important element of recognition that works. Over half of the examples of meaningful recognition that I have heard include this element. Give your employees new opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way and learn new skills, provide them with more freedom in how the work gets done, and they will be committed to you and your department's success.

The results will be happy, productive employees who never want to leave!


Respect is an often overlooked element of recognition. In reality, it is the most crucial element. You've heard the phrase "You must be present to win." Well, respect must be present for recognition to take place.

Consider employee needs as you make decisions, and you recognize employee value. Stop and listen, make allowances for personal crises, get to know something about each person who works with you, and you show respect.

Focusing on respect along with praise, thanks, and opportunity means that you'll be offering meaningful, memorable recognition that boosts morale and productivity.


Here are a few things you can do to ensure that you offer recognition that works:

• Make sure employees feel like you are seeing and acknowledging them. Look for ways to simplify. You don't have to be clever—just sincere.

• Assess all tangible awards for recognition potential. Just because the incentives, perks, and celebrations aren't in and of themselves recognition doesn't mean you can't add an element of recognition to make them more meaningful.

• Continue reading for more ways to make their day!

Chapter Two

Finding Recognition Everywhere

I am making a difference. My company invests in my development. I receive challenging assignments. I am proud of where I work. My supervisor trusts me to do my best.

When employees make statements such as these, they are describing recognition that comes from the work and the workplace. They feel valued without being told they are valuable. This is inherent recognition.

Every day employees everywhere look for proof they are valued. Not only do they want their managers to tell them they are important, but they also want them to show it. They want to work for a manager who builds recognition into everyday occurrences. They want to work where recognition is inherent in the way they are treated and in the work they do. Let's look at how you can do that.

Plante & Moran

Company recruiters visit college campuses every year. They want to lure the best and the brightest to their organizations. They paint an appealing picture of what awaits these college graduates. Recruiters tell these potential hires that they will be a valuable part of their team if only they will choose to work for them. Once hired, these new employees often find the situation a little different from what the recruiters described. Only a small percentage of organizations demonstrate, in any meaningful way, that they really believe the positive things their recruiters say to lure new hires.

Plante & Moran, a Midwest-based midsized accounting firm, is an exception. Its new hires know from the moment they arrive that they're valued. On their first day of work, new recruits receive business cards, manuals that will help them do their jobs well, and their own office with their name outside the door. They're assigned two people: one a supervising partner, and the other an experienced coworker called a "buddy." These two people help them adapt to work life and excel in their new careers. Plante & Moran provides concrete recognition of the value of new employees from the moment they are hired.

Employees see recognition in small gestures like receiving a nameplate on their first day and in bigger gestures like having a partner assigned to help them thrive and excel. The Plante & Moran new-hire process addresses the need for both respect and opportunity, two of the four elements of recognition. Employees there know they are valued. They know they are part of an organization where management wants to help them succeed. It takes planning, preparation, and follow-through to make recognition part of the environment itself. The new-hire orientation at Plante & Moran is one example of how an organization does this. As a manager, you can learn from Plante & Moran's success. Make a fuss over new hires:

  •   Send "welcome to our team" cards to their homes.
  •   Provide all the resources they need to get started.
  •   Take the team to lunch on new employees' first days.
  •   Assign "buddies" to orient them to the workplace.
  •   Connect often to see how you can assist them.

More examples in this chapter describe how you can create inherent recognition. First let's take a brief look at motivation theory and how it impacts your ability to recognize employees. Understanding the Motivation Connection Motivation can be intrinsic, extrinsic, or some combination of the two. Extrinsic motivation comes from outside the individual. Extrinsic motivators are the incentives that you can offer: the promise of a bonus if certain criteria are met, the prize in a contest, and the lure of a raise if a project is completed on time. Used properly, these types of incentives can work well, but there isn't much recognition built into them.

Used improperly, incentives damage motivation. One seminar participant told me, "I have a supervisor who complains about employees in our unit and then gives them a cash award in hopes that they will improve. What she should be doing is working to get rid of them." This supervisor has damaged employee trust and is no longer respected. Employees in her department are less likely to feel motivated to perform.

In contrast to extrinsic motivation, intrinsic motivation comes from within. Individuals motivate themselves based on their own personal needs and expectations. Intrinsic motivation varies from person to person, with each individual being motivated by something slightly different from anyone else. A model of intrinsic motivation developed by David McClelland says that what motivates us falls into three basic categories:

• Achievement. People motivated by achievement want to do something important or create something of value. They want to be valued for what they do.

• Affiliation. People motivated by affiliation want to belong. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be valued for who they are and the company they keep.

• Power/control. People motivated by power and control want to have an impact on others or the environment. They want to be valued for how they change the world.

What effective recognition does best is acknowledge and support people's intrinsic motivators, and inherent recognition— recognition that comes from the work and workplace—often does this best. For instance, the biotech scientist in the example above would see additional funding for her research as a valuable form of recognition because it validates the importance of her work. Her manager's efforts to get project funding, whether successful or not, recognize her potential to achieve and her ability to make a difference. The primary purpose of securing funding is to go forward with the research, not to recognize the employee. Yet the employee will feel recognized. That is inherent recognition— recognition that is built right into the work and workplace.

For the line worker who is motivated by affiliation and achievement, the supervisor can have a positive impact by supporting the team in its efforts to improve performance. The line supervisor might champion his team's suggestion to change workflow in order to reduce the defect rate simply because he wants to see a reduction in the defect rate. Yet the employee motivated by affiliation and achievement will feel recognized because of the inherent recognition that comes from the supervisor's support.

Recognizing Purpose and Quality

Purpose is a powerful motivator. The inherent recognition in having a common purpose comes from seeing progress toward goals that have a positive effect. Just ask the employees of most nonprofit agencies devoted to providing social services. If they know what their agency is trying to achieve and they believe they are making a contribution to those goals, they feel a strong sense of satisfaction. Many work willingly for much lower pay than they would in private industry because they believe they're making a difference.


Excerpted from MAKE THEIR DAY! by Cindy Ventrice Copyright © 2009 by Cindy Ventrice. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Making Recognition a Priority 1
Pt. 1 Employees Want to Love Their Work
Ch. 1 Recognition That Works 11
Ch. 2 Recognition Is Inherent in the Work 21
Ch. 3 Recognition Is About Relationships 34
Pt. 2 Recognition - Whose Job Is It Anyway?
Ch. 4 Managers and Supervisors Have the Greatest Impact 49
Ch. 5 Leaders Provide Vision, Visibility, and Momentum 65
Ch. 6 Human Resources - Best Department in a Supporting Role 75
Ch. 7 Recognition Is the Responsibility of Every Employee 85
Ch. 8 Self-Recognition - An Innovative Concept 98
Pt. 3 Making Recognition Work
Ch. 9 A Lesson from a Fortune Cookie 111
Ch. 10 Measure for Results 124
Ch. 11 One Size Doesn't Fit All 134
Ch. 12 Recognition Is a Work in Progress 153
Resources 175
Notes 178
Index 182
About the Author 189
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