Recognizing Top Performers: The Workforce Institute Weigh-In

The Workforce Institute Weigh-In for January 2023: What’s the best way to recognize a high-performing employee?

“One thing to keep in mind is that the best approach to recognition will depend on the circumstances. Some people would love public recognition, others would be embarrassed and would prefer something quiet. In cases where a high-performing individual was part of a tight-knit team, then you need to ensure there is some recognition for the team, not just the individual. This speaks to the importance of getting to know your employees as people. The more you know about the people involved, the more likely you are to come up with an appropriate recognition award. Lastly, I’d like to summarize my thoughts on the topic with a haiku:
High performers thrive
With praise, rewards, and new challenges
Helping them to soar.
This is courtesy of ChatGPT. [Editor’s Note: Check out David’s recent article on using AI for HR, to learn more about the role AI platforms might play in the future.]” — David Creelman, CEO, Creelman Research

“High-performing employees are often difficult to manage because they give so much of themselves and often expect that same effort from those around them, especially leaders. Although they may say they don’t require recognition, they do — and often more than the average performer. High performers often demand a wide range of recognition not limited to the financial. The challenge is how to recognize them. This recognition can come in a variety of forms. The ‘currencies’ of recognition may take the form of additional training, greater decision rights, and overall trust and autonomy. Be careful that the recognition lifts them up while not ostracizing them from their peer group.” — John Frehse, senior managing director, Ankura, and co-host, “No Suits, No Slides!” video series

“Like my colleague David pointed out above, managers should know how their employees want to be recognized. And if they don’t, they should ask. There’s nothing worse than recognizing an employee in a way they don’t personally appreciate. For example, an employee might not enjoy recognition in front of large groups. So, the manager that decides to recognize an employee during the weekly staff meeting comes across as being insensitive and out of touch, instead of doing what they intended — recognizing great performance.” — Sharlyn Lauby, author, HR Bartender blog

“One of the most important responsibilities of a manager is to identify behavior and performance that exceeds expectations in a meaningful way, and, when that outcome occurs, deliver an ideal reward to the employee in a timely manner. The ‘best way’ to recognize and reward high-performing employees is to start with the understanding that an employee is a unique individual, and, as such, the manager must embrace the fact that different people have different needs, different values, and different motivational triggers. As a result of this individual uniqueness, it is essential for the manager to fully align their specific recognition and/or reward with what is valued by the employee. When rewarding employees, a one-size-fits-all approach is simply ineffective.

And, if you are wondering what the employee will value most within the context of recognition and rewards, simply asking the employee is the best place to begin the process. For example, some high-performing employees might truly appreciate money, paid time off (PTO), or a trip for two to someplace exotic. Some might be seeking out a promotion or other career advancement opportunities. Others might appreciate the opportunity to stand on stage at a companywide meeting to get their kudos for a job well done along with some face time with the CEO. Other employees might prefer to avoid public recognition altogether, have no desire to spend time with the CEO, and might prefer to just have lunch with the boss, or take some extra PTO for family time.

There are plenty of books written about ways to recognize and reward high-performing employees, but, unless the manager knows what the employee values most, the recognition or reward applied may not actually provide positive reinforcement necessary for repeat occurrences of high performance, and, in fact, may have the opposite effect of positive reinforcement. So, however you choose to recognize high-performing employees, make sure you know what the employee values as a reward before delivering such a reward.” — Dennis Miller, assistant vice president of HR and benefits administration, The Claremont Colleges

“The best way to recognize a high-performing employee is to create a fair and inclusive environment where pay-for-performance is fully realized. The second-best way is to foster a culture where manager feedback is focused on skills and contributions — not bias or unfounded opinions.” — Laurie Ruettimann, host, Punk Rock HR podcast

To learn additional strategies for building a people-centric culture of trust and belonging for all employees, download the new Culture Playbook from UKG and Great Place To Work.