by Roy Saunderson | October 04, 2011
Last week on the popular TV show The Office, the new manager challenged his workforce to double sales by implementing a customer rewards program. However, his staff wasn't motivated to increase sales to claim small prizes for themselves, but rather were only motivated when the boss upped the ante to personal humiliation for himself. This satirical theme on employee rewards reminds us that just implementing a rewards program doesn't result in success unless it's done right. Below are the top 10 things not to do when designing your employee rewards program.

Mistake #1: Ignoring your history
Don’t create a reward program without knowing your company’s past history with rewards. Rewards can be misused and misdirected, and if a negative view is held, you need to correct that image.

Mistake #2: Neglecting to measure before you apply
Do not select the financial/tangible rewards or incentives without first identifying the appropriate behaviors to be rewarded. Some results require financial or tangible rewards and some behaviors can be changed only with social reinforcement.

Mistake #3: Basing KPIs on assumptions
Don’t presume you know what behaviors should be rewarded to produce the desired business results. Observe and speak with the frontline manager and employees and observe their performance to identify the behaviors you need to address.

Mistake #4: Ignoring objective metrics
Know both the objectives of your reward program and how you will measure them. Make sure you look at objective metrics, as well as subjective measures of effectiveness.

Mistake #5: Rewarding the wrong behaviors
Don’t reward the wrong things. Is it safe practices you want, or on-time safety reports with reduced accidents? What you reward is what you’ll get.

Mistake #6: Not getting feedback from employees
Reward programs work best when they incorporate employee and manager input. Find out if the reward makes an impact with the employees. Ask the recipients what is or is not working and apply these key principles to correct for the future.

Mistake #7: Not paying attention to results 
Don’t create a problematic reward system. If you are not getting the behaviors you want, you are not using the right rewards or awarding them in the right way.

Mistake #8: Not connecting the dots
Provide individuals who earn rewards for exceptional performance with the specific reasons for the rewards. Knowing why you received a reward encourages future positive behavior.

Mistake #9: Not giving recognition uplift
Don’t forget to provde meaningful, sincere recognition with rewards. Tell the recipient specifically what they did and how that made a difference.

Mistake #10: Not presenting rewards well
Don't just make rewards a transaction. Take the time to honor the recipient publicly or in person to build relationships.  

Incentive columnist Roy Saunderson is author of Giving the Recognition Way and president of the Recognition Management Institute,, which consults companies on improving employee motivation that leads to increased productivity and profit. He can be reached at [email protected] Also, tune in every Tuesday to his radio show, Real Recognition Radio