There are many myths surrounding innovations and ideas for operations improvement in organisations. One of those myths is: The best way in which to encourage ideas is to offer rewards based on the value of such ideas.
The reality is that most companies that offer rewards for ideas get into big trouble. A system where a percentage of the value of an idea is given as a reward backfires in all sorts of ways, often with dishonesty and fraud involved. The most effective and sustainable ‘ideas for improvement’ systems offer no rewards for individual ideas.
When a rewards-based system is discontinued due to “economic pressure”, or for other reasons, it results in demotivation, as a culture may have been created where the perception is that people are paid to think, and when a payment is no longer offered, the mindset could be “Why should we contribute?”
Recognition, however, can be effective. Praise, acknowledgement, and appreciation given to employees have proven benefits like increased productivity, lower absenteeism, better teamwork, and higher employee loyalty. This is partially due to the fact that the human brain loves being praised, whilst negative feedback and criticism have many negative effects on people, especially when criticism is delivered more frequently than praise. You should be very aware of the recognition you give, and find creative ways in which to recognise employees. Some ideas include the following:
- Open praise sharing. Don’t just give praise to your employees on a one-on-one basis; it would mean more to them to be publicly recognised and praised in front of peers and superiors.
- Wall of fame. Encourage employees to use an internal “Wall of Fame.” Leave notes of praise and thanks, encouraging quotes, and even photos of employees accomplishing great things.
- Award a travelling trophy. Have a trophy that employees award to one another for jobs well done. Each recipient keeps the trophy until they see someone else who deserves it.
- Handwritten letter. Write a handwritten letter to a person, explaining exactly why you are proud of him/her, and how he/she made an impact on the company. Such a gesture feels more personal than mentioning it at a meeting, or a picture on a wall.
- Company-facing praise. Praise publicly, starting with internal bragging. Use a newsletter, internal emails, or social media to praise employees, making sure that the company knows about a job well done.
- World-facing praise. Use the company’s website to recognise employees; not only will your employees feel good, but it will help to display your authenticity and success to your clients.
- Mug full of treats. Use a company-branded coffee cup, and fill it with little snacks, sweets, or small gifts. Leave it on an employee’s desk, with a small thank-you card.
- Morning coffee with the management team. It will be very special for an employee, especially in businesses where upper management has little interaction with the rest of the company.
- Show-and-tell meetings. If a team has recently done something well, call a meeting with the relevant people, just to show them off.
- Personalised praise. Remember the three rules for personalised praise; give the praise very soon after the event, make it very specific (what it is given for), and do it in the person’s workplace, face-to-face, and verbally.
You can expect that a particular idea might “fade away” after a while. In that case, consider implementing another one in order to keep on injecting energy into the recognition system. Having a motivated and engaged workforce is (still) one of the key requirements for an organisation’s success, for both operational excellence in day-to-day efforts, and the effective implementation of improvement programmes.