The Role of Quotas in Employee Recognition

I recently received an email newsletter from Bob Nelson in which he advocates strongly against recognizing people on a quota. His point is:

“You can’t manage by a formula. It just doesn’t work. You have to manage from the heart. You have to e real in real time, which can be a messy thing, not something you can simply check off your ‘to do’ list. You have to be honest and open, giving of yourself to others in a way that isn’t a fine-tuned, manipulated image. As Ken Blanchard used to say, ‘Management is what you do with people, not what you do to them.’”

While I agree with the sentiment of Bob’s message, it is idealist – especially if you as a leader are working to foster a culture of recognition across your workplace. As I wrote about the effective management method of Trust and Track, yes, you have to trust your employees to do what is right (even in recognizing others as Bob suggests), but then you must also track their efforts and success in doing so.

Trust and track is a two sided equation. Rest only on one side and while being idealist, you run the risk of being foolhardy. As management guru Peter Drucker famously said: "If it is not measured, then it is not managed."

The logic behind this is not about setting hard goals (nor quotas) for recognition, but rather setting guidelines or parameters for where you expect the level of recognition to be to achieve your strategic program goals. Leave managers to their thing with recognition (from the heart), but collect and share the data of the power of that recognition.

It’s truly incredible what happen out of simply sharing the data. Managers want to track well against what they perceive to be best practice. Steve Kerr speaks well about the power of a quota in overcoming the irony of scarcity in his recent book Reward Systems: Does Yours Measure Up?

In this case, careful definition of terms is important. Setting hard quotes, if understood as penalty inducing, is certainly not appropriate. However, setting guidelines/parameters is very important, as is bringing tremendous visibility to that data afterwards. If instead the word quota is understood to mean "use it or lose", then it is worthwhile. For example, tell managers their available budget for recognition and to use it or lose it! No one wants to leave value on the table.

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