Recognition at work: processes vs. results

The academic and professional world is replete with objectives, goals, and assessments: exams, grades, sales, ROI, conversions, KPIs, etc. These results systems accompany us throughout our lives and are an essential evaluation aspect of these systems.

Although it’s essential to set goals to avoid losing focus and define rewards to maintain the motivating factor, we tend to overlook others like processes, best practices, and critical roles. Crucial for the production and achievement of these objectives.

In a system that only rewards results: Is it worthwhile to reward processes as well? How?

Goal orientation

Before addressing rewards, we need to talk about goals and motivation.

We know that goals are essential to develop strategies, focus attention, encourage effort, and persist despite failure. However, they must be clear and realistic, as they are closely related to our motivation and attitude towards them. There are two types of approaches:

Learning or mastery goals: There’s interest in developing a new skill. Success or failure depends to some extent on oneself. Intelligence is developable.

These goals appeal to intrinsic motivations. Those that come from within; and give us personal satisfaction, passion, or fun. Performing the activity becomes an end in itself.

Performance goals: There’s a desire to succeed. Negative assessments are avoided; there’s a concern to proving proficiency. Intelligence is not developable, and success or failure depends on the outside.

These goals are closely related to extrinsic motivation, those that come from outside. Their attainment or failure comes with a reward or punishment. Performing the activity is a means to an end.

Although the intrinsic motivations approach might seem more positive, it’s crucial to clarify that both types of motivation are not mutually exclusive. Both can exist to a greater or lesser extent depending on the activity.

Rewards in the academic and professional world

Rewards are essential components. They reinforce desired behaviors and outcomes. And when given at the right timing, they can serve to retain talent, increase engagement and motivate continuous improvement.

Having learned about the types of goals and motivations, we can begin to look at other, more interesting approaches.

Between 2007 and 2009, economist Ronald Fryer conducted a study at several universities in the United States. One group of students received a financial incentive for getting good grades on their exams. The other group received a lower financial incentive when finishing reading a book.

At the end of the study, he found that students who received money for their high grades had minor improvements in their academic performance. However, students who received money every time they read a book not only scored higher in academic performance but have more developed skills and better final grades.

On the other hand, in the professional world, according to a survey conducted by Great Place To Work, a great reward system causes changes in attitudes and opinions regarding their jobs. Employees found promotions three times fairer and were twice as likely to feel that their jobs encouraged innovative thinking and allowed them to grow and develop in their careers.

Rewarding processes seems to be a more fruitful option. It appeals to intrinsic motivation, where the end is the process and its learnings. And if we set learning or mastery goals, we ensure an environment of trust, personal growth, and continuous learning.

What and how to reward processes?

Now that we know why it’s determinant to recognize processes, we need to answer what and how we can do it.

To answer What to reward?, we have based on five aspects to reward proposed by Jennifer Vecci, an expert in incentive and recognition programs:

●Relationships: The ability to generate working relationships with customers, suppliers, and others outside the company is highly relevant. It can generate word-of-mouth referrals, business opportunities, and prestige.

●Teamwork: Why reward only the salesperson who conducts the negotiations? Sometimes we ignore other people who made the process possible and were involved in making it all work. Rewarding the whole team that supported and maintained the process; gives a sense of worth and can be a seedbed to generate new talent.

● Effort: Rewarding only salespeople who bring in large clients and budgets ignores other valuable endeavors and skills such as maintaining multiple accounts and closing various deals simultaneously.

● Open doors: Sometimes, some processes or efforts lead to nowhere. However, new relationships or attempts can open new doors and opportunities for other areas in the company.

● Loyalty: Keeping customers for a long time is a complex task. Recognizing the people who make your organizational relationships worth keeping is essential to elevate a good service or product, especially with people along a purchasing or service process.

In terms of How to recognize?, we consider five tips from Great Place To Work:

● Be specific and relevant: Recognition is more meaningful when you explain why. It’s fundamental to indicate the attitude, process, or activity so that a relationship between behavior & reward is associated.

● Consider timing: Recognition has a pronounced impact when done at the right moment. Late recognition may seem inauthentic or too prepared.

● Recognition comes in many forms: Recognition beyond monetary is fundamental as well. A personalized gift, coupon, dinner, or trip may be an option. It shows that we know and recognize the human side of people.

● Don’t ignore the little details: Small details during the accomplishment of a goal can have an immense impact. A public acknowledgment: an email to the whole team, a note on the desk, or a group chat is a good start.

Recognition doesn’t necessarily have to come from a leadership position. Peer-to-peer recognition can be an even more valuable reward; it gives a sense of belonging and relevance to a team.

●Connect to something bigger: It’s important to let team members know they are part of the goals and achievements of the entire organization. Sharing the company’s performance in the industry and how each individual contributes to those larger goals is a good incentive that makes them part of something bigger.

How to reward may vary depending on the company. However, considering a recognition plan is essential to any organizational culture. 

Recognition appeals to the basic needs we all have as human beings in a competitive environment. And while it will always be significant to measure and reward results, focusing on processes too is betting on continuous improvement and professional development.

Edited by Santiago da Silva


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Content & typos creator. Rich runs Fuckup Nights blog & newsletter. He probably posted this blog by himself, and thinks it’s awkward to write his own bio. Fuckuppin’s mom.