by Roy Saunderson | May 08, 2012
When we’re trying our best to give rewards, travel and incentives the positive light they are due after the 2008 financial crisis, it was sad to see how a case within the Government Services Agency cast a dark cloud on the great work our industry has fought to regain. But for every negative experience there are lessons to learn from and things we should never be caught doing if we’re to demonstrate the integrity behind well designed rewards and recognition programs. 

1. Never let people think rewards are just given away. Articulate a clear rewards and incentive strategy for how tangible rewards will be used to reinforce and leverage achievement of organizational goals. Define the purpose for the rewards and how they will be earned. 

2. Never give people rewards for non-defined performance. Spell out in actionable details the specific behaviors warranted before any incentive or reward is merited. This is simply the “if-then” paradigm in action – “if” you do X action, “then” you will get Y reward, and a person earns a reward only when performed.

3. Never have willy-nilly reasons for rewards – measure results! Metrics have to be determined so everyone can know exactly how to measure the achievement of the desired performance. That way everyone can know if someone actually achieved the goal. No questions should be raised by a performance or reward received.

4. Never let the media be the sole voice of what is right. Develop a transparent process with value limits for small amounts of incentive currency – such as points - where no approval is required such as peer-to-peer nominated awards and also set limits on value amounts that always require identified manager approval.

5. Never use rewards when recognition alone will do. Some reports on the GSA situation indicated employees received points for behaviors such as a quality work product to “simply brightening the workplace and being a pleasant person”. You reward results. You recognize or express appreciation for living any code of behaviors.

6. Never give rewards you can’t afford to be giving. Reward people for doing the right things, yes, but also use the right kind of rewards. Apparently items given in the GSA debacle exceeded the acceptable limit allowed of $99-per-item limit on gifts. That infraction is a negative attention grabber.

7. Never have a business conference without strong business purpose. Whether a team building exercise on assembling bicycles was the right kind of reward at a staff conference is uncertain. After the 2008 financial crisis business purposes became an important business meeting fixture after previous Las Vegas excursions.

8. Never plan an event without some measurable business impact indicators. What do you want to achieve form the conference? Do you have some business objectives to be achieved that will justify the expense? How are you going to measure the ROI of this event? Will we be able to give a report on the outcomes we achieved within 30 days?

9. Never let an exotic location blind you from achieving proper meeting goals. Always question the location of any off site facilities for conferences, meetings or training events. No matter how nice a place may look and actually be, justification must be triple checked and signed off on to eliminate all negative perceptions…especially before going to a casino. 

10. Never triple your proposed budget if you want another business meeting! Seems initially a $300,000 budget was approved for the 4 day, 300 manager conference which may have been more acceptable. In the end the authorized amount of $823,000 showed incredible scope creep and a lack of accountability for tax payers’ monies. 

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.