You’ve Been Caught – Doing a Great Job!

September 19, 2018 in
By Kristin Price

It’s human nature to want to be recognized and praised for doing a good job – it makes you feel appreciated, boosts your self-confidence and self-worth, encourages you to keep doing what you’re doing, and motivates you to do even better. In a nutshell, it boosts morale that results in a happier and more productive “YOU”! And happier, more productive “YOU’s” are who contribute to the mission and goals of an organization, and what makes it successful! So, let’s continue our conversation this month about employee recognition and talk about different types of awards that organizations, federal and private sector, can utilize to recognize and reward staff.

Generally speaking, there are two forms of recognition: formal and informal awards. Formal awards usually have defined award criteria, guidelines, and processes established by an organization. Managers are required to follow organizational procedures and guidelines for giving an employee a formal award. A great example of formal awards are those available to agencies and individuals within the federal government, as listed here on the Office of Personnel Management’s website, most of which are government-wide and require a formal nomination process.

In addition to public recognition, most formal awards come in the form of money or hours of time off from work, and the value of the award is based on award criteria and guidance that is established by the organization. While private sector organizations have the greatest flexibility in determining awards, the federal government also has a variety of award types available, largely coinciding with the primary methods of formal awards that we’ll discuss here.Types of formal awards that FMP has found to be extremely effective for all types of organizations in recognizing employee accomplishments include:

  • Spot or On-The-Spot Awards. The Spot Award does just that – recognizes an employee for a one-time, short-term effort that results in exceptional performance or service. Spot Awards are typically lower value cash awards ranging from $50-$500. This timely recognition makes the accomplishment and award more relevant and “immediate” for the employee, reinforces positive behavior, and lets employees know their efforts are noticed and appreciated. The “on-the-spot” nature of Spot Awards means that they are given at an irregular frequency, which can be highly effective when it comes to engaging and motivating employees. Spot Awards are described best in this article by the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM), “these small, spur-of-the-moment gifts to employees, are becoming increasingly popular as retention tools because their positive impact on employees can far outweigh their cost to the company[1].
  • Superior Achievement Awards. Spot Awards may be the perfect answer to quickly recognize short-term efforts by your employees, but what about that team member who successfully completed a project or assignment that had high visibility (internally and/or externally) and significant impact on the organization’s ability to meet its objectives and fulfill its mission? This type of accomplishment may warrant an award a bit “bigger” than the Spot Award. A Superior Achievement Award may be your solution. These awards are often monetary awards, but larger in value (as much as $3000) and recognize an employee’s noteworthy and exceptional accomplishments for work performed on a demanding assignment, high visibility project, or under complex or difficult circumstances, typically over an extended period of time. Within the federal government, agencies have considerable freedom to implement these awards, more frequently called cash awards, which are typically “granted to an employee, individually or as a member of a group, in recognition of accomplishments that contribute to the efficiency, economy, or other improvement of Government operations[2].
  • Time Off Awards. Of course, there’s nothing better than sleeping in, playing a round of golf, getting pampered at the spa, and taking that afternoon nap that we all yearn for everyday – except when it’s supposed to be a work day! Time Off Awards can offer just that – an opportunity for employees to take time off from work/duty, without loss of pay or charge to leave. Time Off Awards can range from just a few hours (4 hours) up to 40 hours, and the criteria and guidelines for giving Time Off Awards are often similar to that of the Spot Award (for 1-2 days of Time Off) and Superior Achievement Award (3-5 days of time off). So now I’m sure you’re asking, “how do I determine whether to give my employee a cash award (e.g., Spot or Superior Achievement Award) or Time Off Award?” That’s a great question and we have a few recommendations for determining whether to give a Time Off or cash award:
    • Consider budget constraints. No doubt your organization has a set budget for cash awards that are given out across the organization. And, many times, this budget may be further allocated to teams, divisions, or offices. Regardless of how it’s allocated, if there are budget constraints for giving cash awards, then presenting a Time Off Award might be a more financially viable option for your organization.
    • Consider scheduling needs. Did your team just lose two members, resulting in being short-staffed and needing “all hands-on-deck” for the next couple of months? Perhaps giving a Time Off Award isn’t the best option if there are a number of restrictions for when the employee can use it. In these types of circumstances, perhaps a cash award would better suffice.
    • Consider the employee’s preference. If there are no budget or scheduling constraints to consider, it’s OK to ask the employee for their preference of award type. Don’t assume that just because you would want cash or time off that your employee wants the same. Ask for their preference and, if possible, try to accommodate their request; not only does this promote healthy, positive conversations with your employees, but it also shows them that you listen and care about what they want!
  • Team Awards. “There’s no ‘I’ in team” – this phrase couldn’t be more true! Organizations don’t succeed because of the stellar work from one or two individuals. Sure, every organization has great leaders and individuals, and we don’t contend that they shouldn’t be rewarded with individual awards like a Spot or Superior Achievement Award. But, the success of any organization is usually not attributed to individual efforts, rather it relies on team efforts of employees who work collaboratively and effectively to improve productivity, realize significant cost reductions, streamline operations, and accomplish the strategic goals and mission of the organization. The importance of team efforts and team recognition is illustrated best in the Harvard Business Review article, “Reward Your Best Teams, Not Just Your Star Players”. The author references an ESPN documentary with famed University of North Carolina basketball coach, Dean Smith, whose teams won two national championships and an Olympic gold medal, and how Smith used simple but effective methods to cultivate and recognize team efforts. For example, when a player scored points, they were expected to point to the last player who passed them the ball, and some scorers even pointed to the last two teammates who assisted. Players on the bench were expected to stand up, applaud, and ‘high-five’ teammates coming off the floor for rest or a time-out. These seemingly trivial gestures were central to reinforcing a culture of team work and that all teammates deserved to be acknowledged for their contributions. In other words, don’t take people’s assists, assistance, and support for granted. In fact, this author even contends that for every “above and beyond” award given to a dedicated individual, there should be comparable recognition to the support team [3].

Formal awards are excellent for recognizing employee accomplishments – who doesn’t like a few extra dollars in their bank account or a few hours away from the office?! And while you may think that these types of cash and time off awards are the real drivers of employee motivation, much to your surprise, it’s a combination of both formal and informal awards that prove to be effective in maintaining a highly motivated, engaged, and hard-working workforce [4]. Informal rewards generally require very little to no funding to implement and maintain – it’s the spontaneity, sincerity, and creativity that makes using them so effective. If the award has significance or meaning to you and your team, the nominal value, size, or aesthetics of the award is of little concern! For example, we’ve seen a manager present deserving employees with a “Paper Plate Award” for their willingness to take on additional duties and responsibilities to complete a project. Yes that’s right, the award is a round piece of cardboard, probably worth no more than a penny. But it’s this goofy and fun way of acknowledging an employee that can be equally as effective! For this reason, we not only encourage our clients to use all types of informal recognition as part of their rewards program, but we practice what we preach. Here are just a few of the informal awards we use to recognize FMP employees’ achievements:

  • Featuring Staff in Employee Spotlights. This is one of our favorite ways of recognizing the unique, talented, and dedicated people that make FMP Consulting a great organization and great place to work! Check out previous blogs from this month for some of our Employee Spotlights!
  • Celebrating “kudos.” Whether it’s beginning each all-staff meeting by reading client kudos that were given to an employee who went above and beyond to delight a client, or publishing kudos from clients, project managers, or team members to a deserving employee or team in the weekly newsletter, FMP Consulting uses all forms of kudos to celebrate employees’ successes and achievements!
  • Giving creative awards and certificates. Our project managers and team leads look for creative ways to acknowledge team members for their contributions and achievements. No matter how goofy or silly it may be, it’s the shear acknowledgment of a job well done that encourages a team member to keep doing what they’re doing and motivates them to do even better!

Come back next week to pick up some quick tips and strategies you can use to effectively recognize your employees for their achievements!

If you’re interested in learning more about FMP’s experience developing employee recognition and award programs, please contact or reach out to the author, Kristin Price (

About the Author: When Kristin’s not supporting clients in the development and administration of their employee rewards and recognition programs, she enjoys going out for a good run – whether it be on the roads, trails, or even a treadmill!

Photo of FMP employee Kristin Price 


[1]Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). On-the-Spot Incentives. Retrieved September 13, 2018, from

[2]Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Incentives and Recognition. Retrieved September 17, 2018, from

[3] Harvard Business Review (HRB).Reward Your Best Teams, Not Just Star Players.Retrieved September 14, 2018, from

[4] Human Resources Management Practice (HRMP). Informal Ways to Reward Your Employees.Retrieved September 14, 2018, from