Recognition Gone Wrong * Thanks, but No Thanks

And finally, our Grand Prize Winner in the Recognition Gone Wrong contest:
“Here’s a great example about recognition gone wrong. I was working for a large, international company and hit my five-year anniversary. On the day of my anniversary, my boss just hands me this envelope. I open it up and the first thing I find is the instruction letter addressed to HIM that provided instructions on how he should have presented this “gift” to me...whoops! Okay, so he missed the boat on the thank yous. The next thing I find in the envelope is a gift catalogue. I thought, “Well, at least I can pick out a nice gift.” That notion quickly changed when I looked through the catalogue. It was filled with page after page of stuff that no one would want -- all emblazoned with the company’s logo --– ugly watches, desk tchotchkes, cheap travel bags, even jewelry that had the company’s logo on it. I was so hard pressed to find something that I showed it to my wife to see if she wanted anything. She looked through it and gave it right back to me. There was literally nothing in there for either one of us. The whole experience was a let down. This milestone moment became an empty moment. I think I would have been happier if the company just didn’t acknowledge it at all.”

I’ve heard similar stories from countless people over the years about the insult of trinkets and trash. In their recent webinar, Intuit told how employees were upset on behalf of the company as they thought Intuit was getting a bad deal on over-priced, outdated merchandise. Others have agreed corporate logo-wear was not a gift of choice and destined for the local charity shop.

But to me, that’s not the real insult in this story of wrecked recognition. It’s that the boss couldn’t even be bothered to take five minutes to personally and sincerely thank the employee for his five years of effort and contribution.

How to make this right?
* First, the manager should have made a point of acknowledging the five year anniversary directly to the employee and possibly in a team meeting or similar public arena. In today’s workplace, many employees don’t last five years. If you want to keep your top performers (who will have many more options when the recovery comes), you had better show appreciation for their time investment with your organization.
* Second, give the gift of choice. Let the person choose what matters to them. Perhaps this employee works long hours to get projects done on deadline, causing him to miss plans with friends for weeks on end. Let him choose to treat them to a fancy dinner. Or maybe his kids mean the world to him – let him choose to buy them a backyard playset and watch them play while works from the home office.

It really is as easy as that. Make it personal; make it meaningful; make it relevant.

4 comment(s):

At May 07, 2009 1:16 PM, Maryposa said...

Does anyone have any recommendations for recognizing an employee's milestones when the company just doesn't have the funds to spend?

At May 07, 2009 5:50 PM, Anonymous said...

A sincere, hand written note of appreciation and congratulations and an invitation to lunch (does not have to be expensive) paid for by the company or supervisor will go a long way. Probably miles beyond trinkets, logo "stuff", etc. People just like thank yous not matter what the circumstance is.

At May 08, 2009 8:51 AM, Derek Irvine said...

Agreed, Anonymous. Trinkets and trash will never carry the emotional weight and value as a sincere thank you.

At July 15, 2010 8:16 PM, Anonymous said...

A handshake from the boss and a sincere thanks beats a form letter with instructions to pick a gewgaw from a catalog any day. Our process has no indication that a real person is involved, just a database and some automated mailing apps. Thanks can't be automated.