#284 from Innovative
Leader Volume 6, Number 7
Fun With Reward and Recognition
Mr. Weinstein is President of Playfair, Inc., (Berkeley, California; phone 510-540-8768) that presents innovative team-building programs, focusing on the use of fun and humor. His latest book is Managing to Have Fun (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1997, from which this article is adapted. www.Playfair.com
with a standardized reward and recognition program is that it is a
completely impersonal process.
Instead of thinking about the specific people involved, the
company provides the same generic rewards to everyone.
But when an element of fun and play is added to a financial
reward or bonus, the experience becomes personalized and much more
memorable for the award recipient.
additional expenditure, the reward can become even more
meaningful. When you
incorporate an element of fun and play into your corporate rewards
program, your employees will be delighted not only by the reward
itself, but also by the way the reward is presented to them.
If you can make the reward and recognition process fun,
then your employees will be talking about the event long after it
has ended, and you will have multiplied its team-building impact
by many, many times.
One month, Dr.
Alexander, of the Youthful Tooth dental office, calculated that he
could give a two hundred dollar bonus to each member of his staff.
But Dr. Alexander knew that if he just added two hundred
dollars to each of their paychecks, his staff members would have
been excited about it for a little while, but then they would
probably use the money for something “practical.”
So he invested a bit more time, energy and creativity, and
found a playful way to use the bonus money—a way that had a much
more lasting effect.
closed down his office for two hours one afternoon, and took all
thirty-five members of his dental practice to a shopping mall. He gathered the staff around him in a circle, and handed them
each an envelope containing two hundred dollars in cash.
“This is not
your money,” he told them.
“This is my money. But
anything you buy for yourself with this money, in the next hour,
is yours to keep. Here
are the rules: You
have to spend all the money on gifts for yourself.
You have one hour to spend it, and you have to buy at least
five different items. Any
money you haven’t spent in the next hour comes back to me.
Go get ‘em!”
reported that his employees spent the next hour dashing wildly
from one store to the next, yelling back and forth to each other
about the treasures they’d found.
“If I had just given them the money, they would have put
it in the bank or spent it on paying bills,” he said.
“This was a real treat for them—and it gave me a great
feeling, watching them having fun.”
At the next staff meeting, everyone brought the presents
they had purchased for themselves for a show-and-tell session with
By adding an aura
of unexpected excitement to the presentation of the bonus money,
Dr. Alexander was able to create a special team-building
opportunity for his staff. The
trip to the mall gave his employees the chance to interact with
each other in a positive social situation completely separate from
the normal working environment.
His basic concept
can be easily adapted to fit a more modest budget.
Catherine Jackson, the director of a college food service,
was inspired by Dr. Alexander’s story, and took her own
secretary out to lunch at a restaurant at a nearby office. “During lunch I told her what I appreciated about her.
Things I hadn’t taken the time to tell her before.
Then, after lunch was over, I gave her fifty dollars and
said, “Take the next hour off, cruise around the mall, and buy
yourself a present from me!”
And on the
opposite end of the financial spectrum, the Ford Motor Company
spent more than a million dollars in one memorable evening,
demonstrating that Dr. Alexander’s idea can easily be adapted to
fit a more extravagant budget as well.
Ford rented out Nordstrom’s department store in downtown
San Francisco from 6:30 p.m. to midnight one evening, and gave
$5,000 in spending money to each of its 250 top-selling sales
managers, who were in town for a national sales meeting.
Ford hired sports celebrities Walter Payton, Tommy Lasorda
and Julius Erving to accompany the sales managers on their
shopping spree. According
to San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen, “Payton had a
ball in the shoe department, acting as a salesman to the Fordniks….”
Like the staff of
the Youthful Tooth, and like Catherine Jackson and her secretary,
the Ford sales managers created some “shared history” together
that evening, a history filled with playful memories that they
could all reminisce about together in the months, and years, that
No matter what
your budget, you can make the reward and recognition process fun.
Fun at Work
Here are some
innovative ways company’s are making the work environment fun:
Hold a lottery
where the winner gets driven to and from work one day in the
company (or a rented) limo. (Security
Life Insurance of Denver)
Create a “Laugh
a Day Challenge” where employees are encouraged to bring
in a joke or a cartoon to share every day for a month. (Bank of America)
Give employees a
choice of unusual rewards, like “a menu item named after
you in the company cafeteria,” or “The Chairman or President
does your job for a day while you train and supervise.”
(Wells Fargo Bank)
Bang a gong
every time you make a sale, to let your coworkers know the good
Tape a candy bar
to the middle of a long memo. (Measurex)
Bring in champagne
to work on alternate Fridays, and toast the successes of
the past two weeks. (General
Pick up a lottery
ticket on the way to work and attach it to the handle of
the broom at the back of the store.
The first person ambitious enough to sweep up wins an
unexpected prize. (Crate
Sponsor an ugly
tie/ugly shoe contest for your employees—and let your
customers and suppliers by the judges.
Send pizza to the
home of an employee who has worked overtime, so she
won’t have to cook dinner after work.
(Great Speakers Bureau)
Bring in a bouquet
of flowers one day and present it to one of your
coworkers. Tell him
or her, “I want you to keep this on your desk for the next
half-hour. Then pass it on to someone else and tell him to do the
dress days, or Hawaiian Dress Days, or Suspender Fridays.
(U.S.F. and G. Insurance)