12 Ideas for Personalizing Employee Recognition


A job well done deserves to be acknowledged. But not all recognition carries equal weight. Formal recognition programs like year-end bonuses and employee-of-the-month programs can become lackluster and expected. Flip the switch to personalized recognition and let your employees know you notice and appreciate their efforts.

Good job!Like most people, I have a memorable recognition moment. A publishing company I once worked for had national trade associations as clients. Our job was to take their existing member magazines and make them profitable. While working on one magazine, I was fortunate enough to hit the ball out of the park selling advertising for them. There were various association staff that I worked closely with, but when the head of their department took the time to call me and thank me for my work, I noticed. He also called the owner of my company to recognize my work. And then, he bought me a yearlong racquetball club membership. He didn’t stop there, staying in touch periodically, asking my opinion on things … checking in … telling me about his golf games. He was extremely good at personalized motivation, making it very hard for me to get sidetracked on other projects.

If you manage a sales team, it’s usually pretty easy to measure performance—established goals, sales history and other salespeople’s results. And a set of bonuses and commissions go along with that performance. But for any job, including sales, recognition for exceptional work should go beyond these formal bonus and recognition programs.

Here are a few things to recognize:

  • personalized employee recognitionGood attitudes
  • Willingness to chart a new course
  • Helping others achieve goals
  • Exemplary customer service
  • Measurable performance indicators
  • Working off hours to complete a project
  • Top sales performance
  • New business acquisition
  • A great team player

While monetary bonuses are undoubtedly always appreciated by employees (and are usually part of the earnings package for sales), these often come with little thought. Established length-of-service awards, employee of the month, etc., also usually fall into this category of highly predictable, routine, and impersonal, explains James Kouzes and Barry Posner in The Leadership Challenge

Personalizing recognition means you have to get to know your employees—their likes and dislikes. You need to make the time to seek them out and personally thank them in a timely manner—or even on the spot. You need to use your imagination.

“Leaders get the best from others not by building fires under people but by building the fire within them,” recommends Kouzes and Posner.

good jobPersonalized recognition gives you a bigger bang for your buck. It increases an employee’s trust in you. It shows that you genuinely care about the employee. People work harder for someone they know and trust. Kouzes and Posner take this a step further by suggesting that you increase this trust by being open with others about yourself. “Tell people what you stand for, what you value, what you hope for. When people see that you have taken the initiative in laying things out in the open and making yourself vulnerable, they are willing to do so too.”

Recognition is also critical in times of uncertainty. If your organization is experiencing big changes or challenging times, support your employees. This can be as simple as asking them how they’re feeling.

Examples of informal, personalized rewards:

  1. Enable them to feel a sense of accomplishment
  2. A chance to be creative
  3. A chance to be challenged
  4. A cup of coffee after an especially hard day
  5. A heartfelt “thank you” on the spot
  6. A heartfelt question in the face of challenges: “How are you doing?”
  7. Recognition in a group for a job well done
  8. Having the boss’s boss recognize the work
  9. Offer training on a topic that will expand skills in an area they’re interested in
  10. A handwritten note
  11. Unexpected rewards personal to the employee, e.g., memberships, books, gift cards
  12. A truly thoughtful length-of-service award

Personalized employee recognition is not an established program. Make it fun! Pay attention so you see employees’ best work. Then, keep your recognition unique and thoughtful, personalized and sincere.


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