#437  from Innovative Leader Volume 8, Number 11          November 1999

FORUM—from our readers

The Employee-of-the-Month Award and Innovation

I shouldn’t be complaining about our Employee-of-the-Month Award since I’ve been a recipient.  I enjoyed the company-paid dinner for two (including wine) in an expensive restaurant.  However, I am afraid that this perk, instead of motivating the best of us, is instead becoming a demotivator.

The Employee-of-the-Month Award is given for the “most outstanding contribution during the preceding month.”  The company awards these at the departmental level.  We have eight departments.  Therefore, company-wide, there are eight Employees-of-the-Month awardees.  Each month, the Department Leader selects one person.

Wouldn’t you expect that, in a single department with about 25 staff members, at least a few of the employees would be selected as Employee-of-the-Month more than once each year?  This hasn’t yet happened.  The Department Leaders seem to have an informal rule that every employee will receive the award.  Therefore, most of the staff will receive the free dinner on the average of once every two years.

Sometimes it’s humorous when the reason for an award is announced in the company newsletter.  Here’s an example:  “Mike Loughton is the June winner!  Mike noticed that the vestibule is frequently quite noisy and distracting.  Its doors usually stay open.  He suggested that the doors be closed, and feels that now people close to the vestibule will be more productive.” 

I’m sure that Mike was happy to get the recognition and dinner.  We expect the award once every other year.  When it gets towards the end of two years, however, some people who haven’t received it, get nervous, wondering if they are about to be dismissed.  Maybe the award was meant to light a fire under our lowest performers.

But what about those of us who consistently make outstanding contributions? We’re not that pleased with the award.  Surely the award isn’t for the “most outstanding contribution during the preceding month.”  Instead, it’s really a perk to try to make people happy that they work here. 

You may see my complaining as just fussing over nothing.  However, innovation requires “outstanding” contributions.  If the company focuses on keeping everyone happy, ignoring special efforts and special contributions, it is likely that the incentive to do something outstanding is going to diminish.  Then, we certainly aren’t going to be very competitive--no matter how many doors are closed.


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