Thursday, November 19, 2009

Awards aren't retention tools? Or are they?

Here’s the situation:

A manager has got to choose a top performer for giving the quarterly/annual performance based award. Should be a cakewalk, no?

Since he must have mentored, trained, tracked, monitored and given feedback for each team member’s performance over the last one year. Each one of them must have contributed their bit and in cases even gone beyond their scope of work. The review exercise isn’t done just for the purpose of the awards. It’s a critical part of the annual review process. Every thing gets captured. These stats help a manager identify the top performer. Well, that’s the ideal situation.

Apparently, that’s not what happens in most cases. I’m a big fan of performance based awards. As the name itself indicates, it purely based on performance. Yet, I’ve often come across managers who want to give out performance based awards to employees who show signs that they would quit soon (offer in hand!) or have started looking for better job opportunities with a competitor. That’s something that I strongly disagree with. Awards then serve as just another retention tool. I’m averse towards managers who use it for that purpose alone.

Yes, there are folks who do suggest that awards are part of retention strategies. That’s valid if you do have well defined criteria/parameters to judge performance and reward accordingly. Everyone on the team then is aware of their standing and hence decision making is a lot more transparent.

Here’s what an award really shouldn’t be:

  • Lucky draw. You have one award to give; put names in a hat and pull out a lucky one! It’s just plain ridiculous. No. I’m not kidding. It’s happened.

  • Make the award a cyclic trophy. This year Employee A gets the award, next year it’s Employee B’s turn!

  • Popularity contest. Truly, this one takes the cake. I’ve been part of discussions where manager’s wanted to give performance based awards to their fave team member, who also happened to be popular among other team members. Again. It’s plain ridiculous.

  • Have as many award categories as possible. It makes a manager’s job easy when he can choose multiple people from the same team for different awards! Sounds crazy?
All of the situations mentioned above do exist.

Employee recognition makes a huge difference and it is a big deal. Period. However, employees will take it seriously if it’s done in a transparent manner and managers play a vital role in deciding a recipient of the award. It’s obvious that the repercussions of an incorrect choice could be drastic. It’ll end up hurting team morale, causing rifts between team members, brings down productivity and not to mention the obvious, lot of exits.

The role of HR in this process is to ensure that key parameters for awards revolve around being fair, transparent and consistent. Get managers to stick to these parameters. If not, get rid of the awards. It's better to not have them, when it causes more issues.

  • Have you received an award recently? Or anytime in your career?

  • You felt you deserved to win that award that your colleague won?

  • What has your experience been with performance (or anything similar) awards?
Would love to hear your thoughts. It will help other folks to deal with situations better. It will also help me to share your thoughts with people who frame criteria for identifying performance awardees.

That would make life at work a whole lot better.