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How to Reward and Recognize Achievements in Partnership

Carole Erken is the human resources director at Panorama City Medical Center in Southern California. She is on the board of Recognition Professionals International and chairs its best practices committee. Here, she shares insights about creating a culture of recognition in a partnership environment.

Q: When it comes to rewards and recognition, what works? And what doesn’t?

A: Employees work best when they are have concrete goals and objectives that they and their supervisors can both measure and manage. These need to be linked to the bottom-line results of the organization. The criteria for recognition need to be clear and understandable, and you’ve got to distribute awards fairly. And it’s important that all employees at all levels—including supervisors and managers—be recognized for good work.

I ask new employees how they like to be recognized. It starts with managers knowing their employees and what motivates people. What motivates a 19-year-old part-timer struggling to pay tuition might not be what a full-time career-track manager views as recognition. Some people might appreciate flowers, others an opportunity to work on a specific project or go to a professional conference. What are employees’ hobbies? What are their pets’ names? Which sports teams do they root for? I encourage managers to know those things about employees. In my department, I know who likes which candy bar. And it’s a myth that everyone likes public recognition. You might not want to praise an introverted employee publicly.

Employees work best when they are have concrete goals and objectives that they and their supervisors can both measure and manage.

Carole Erken
Human Resources director, Panorama City Medical Center

Q: What’s a way you were recognized for your work that you really appreciated?

A: I was asked to make a presentation at a meeting of senior leadership at one of the hospitals. When I arrived, I learned that it was really a recognition event for me! An employee who I had helped solve a workplace problem had written a letter to the senior leadership about how grateful she was. The leaders gave me real details about how the person’s work life had improved. They were very specific. Another time, I got permission to take some frontline employees to a conference with me. I felt that supporting my request was a way to recognize me.

Q: Don’t reward and recognition programs cost a lot of money?

A: There are lots of low-cost and no-cost ways to reward and recognize. At Panorama City, we hold a drawing for a preferential parking space for employees with excellent attendance. It doesn’t cost anything. Other ideas include breakfast or lunch with senior leadership, plaques, and coupons or vouchers to our local farmers market. I’ve found it’s not really the money or the tchotske, it’s reaching out to say "thank you" that matters.

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