How to reward, recognize, and encourage strong performance

Financial rewards, such as merit increases and bonuses, are often the first thing that come to mind as ways to motivate and reward good performance. When financial rewards are limited or unavailable, many people wonder what to turn to. You may ask yourself: how can I motivate people to do good work? How can I give strong performers rewards and recognition that will keep them engaged?

Research shows that using money as a reward for performance often reduces motivation because it’s an extrinsic reward. Instead, the most powerful motivators are intrinsic rewards—personal enjoyment and satisfaction of making progress toward meaningful goals. These are very powerful drivers of motivation that are often overlooked.

So, what does this look like? Research indicates that strong performers are more likely than average or below-average performers to be motivated with things like support for advancement, greater authority, and feedback and coaching.

Here are specific ways to affirm their performance, keep them motivated, and ensure job satisfaction.

Stretch Assignments. Setting meaningful goals and making progress toward them is highly motivating and evokes feelings of satisfaction and engagement. Talk with your employees about their professional interests and work with them to create challenging goals that align with those interests. Challenging and meaningful goals will require your employees to tap into their internal motivations to achieve their goal.

Ask yourself:

  • What do my employees find most challenging and fulfilling in their work?
  • What am I doing to help talented, ambitious employees remain challenged and satisfied at the University?

Coaching and Feedback. Regular feedback is one of the biggest drivers of performance because it is how you help your employee make progress toward their goals and priorities on a day-to-day basis. When feedback and coaching helps people make progress, it creates motivation and engagement. Feedback and coaching should, at different times, address both positive and negative behaviors. Be specific about behaviors and explain why a behavior was effective or ineffective. Describe the situation, the behavior, and the impact of the behavior on progress toward goals.

Ask yourself:

  • What kind of feedback do I give to employees and how often do I give it? How do I know if it’s effective?
  • How often do I discuss performance and give feedback to faculty and staff?
  • How do I know my feedback is fair, timely, and specific?

Greater Authority. Give faculty and staff the authority they need to ensure their work is successful. Employees who are trusted to make impactful decisions respond with better performance and engagement.

Ask yourself:

  • How do I know whether employees understand what decisions they can make?
  • How can I drive decision-making into lower levels within my unit?
  • In what ways do I delegate challenging work and give employees the authority to complete the work?

Career Planning and Support. To remain motivated and productive, employees need to grow in their jobs—and perhaps grow beyond them. Get to know your employee. Ask them about their goals and the type of rewards they find meaningful. Here are some questions that will help you understand their goals and give you ideas on how to support them.

Ask yourself:

  • Have I discussed with my employees their desire for career advancement and development and the opportunities that exist?
  • How do I support employees’ career development and what they need to do to advance?

Ask your employees:

  • Where do you see yourself in 3 years?
  • What do you find most challenging and fulfilling in your work?
  • What are some of the obstacles/barriers that prevent you from being even more successful?
  • What are other avenues of learning (such as mentors, self-directed options, cross-training, stretch projects, skill development, etc.) could be utilized as development resources?
  • How can I allow you to focus on your work at the time and place where you can be most productive?
  • What do you look forward to when you come to work each day?

Flexibility. Flexibility can be a reward for a job well performed, and many people have come to expect flexibility from their employer. First, consider the needs of the position—some positions require the employee to be at a specific place and time. However, if the work allows and your employee is meeting expectations, the opportunity to work outside of normal business hours or the office can be rewarding and motivating.

Ask yourself:

  • How can I be more supportive of employees who have personal or family matters to attend to?
  • How can I allow my employees to focus on their work at the time and place where they can be most productive?

Recognize good work. Recognizing your faculty and staff should not be a one-size-fits-all technique. Find out how each of your employees would like to be recognized. Some may prefer to be recognized publicly, others are more comfortable with praise during a one-on-one conversation or a personalized note. Regardless, affirming good work is sure to encourage more good work.

Ask yourself:

  • How do I give and share credit for success?
  • How do I recognize faculty and staff, either individually or as a team, for doing a good job?
  • Is the recognition I provide meaningful to the employees?

Remember, faculty and staff who feel valued are more engaged, productive, and committed employees.