Street Fighting business owners do everything they can to attract and keep good talent. Surprisingly, money isn’t the best way to inspire performance and loyalty. Numerous studies have pegged lack of praise and recognition as the most common reason good employees leave— ahead of poor compensation, limited authority and personality conflicts.

Napoleon Bonaparte once observed, “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Poorly fed French soldiers marched barefoot into Russia in the depths of winter under his leadership. If you want your employees to go the extra mile for you, give them tangible evidence of your appreciation.

Bestowing awards is a powerful way to make deserving employees feel important and respected, according to Matina Zenios, assistant general manager/sales manager of Columbus-based Artina Promotional Products, which helps companies create morale-boosting award programs. “Long after the presentation is over, awards continue to express an organization’s values,” she said. She offered these tips for developing an effective recognition program.

Define goals and rewards. The best goals have something in it for the employee, as well as the organization. Ask employees what they would consider as a fair reward if they achieved certain milestones in their performance. Don’t assume you already know.

Award early and often. Remind employees as often as possible that you are a great company to work for. Give Employee of the Month awards as well as Employee of the Year. Start longevity awards at the end of the first year. Make sure that every employee who meets the stated objectives receives a reward.

Don’t make cash the king of your program. Cash doesn’t sit on the employee’s desk or hang on the wall to provide on-going reinforcement. Studies show that after winning a cash award most employees use it to pay bills and quickly forget where they got the extra money.

Make the thought count. Select awards with the care you devote to choosing your spouse’s birthday gift. A good promotional product distributor can help you choose popular and cost-effective items that reflect the character of your organization and the tastes of your recipients.

Put your stamp on the awards. Anything that your employees will keep should carry your company name and logo. Many employees take pride in wearing clothing and using business accessories with the company insignia.

Make powerful presentations. Amaze recipients with the way you celebrate them in front of their peers. Make sure top management is there, but choose an award presenter who can talk about the recipient’s contributions in a personal way. To reinforce behavior you want to encourage, hand out awards soon after the behavior occurs. Send out press releases to the local media about award recipients and write stories about them in your newsletters.

Be spontaneous. Vary your established program with an element of surprise. If you always do the same thing, employees come to expect it and appreciate it less.

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