Decades before now, some HR gal (that’s what we were called back then) came up with a plan: Here’s a thought! We’ll pick one employee every month and crown that person Employee of the Month! We’ll put his picture on a wall and give him a gift certificate to Sizzler! And then another middle-manager, Frank, a guy plucked from Anchor Man reeking of musk and a lunch of gin martinis, chimed in: Not only will we have an Employee of the Month, we’ll go all out and have an Employee of the Year! No guts no glory, right? And then everyone patted each other on the backs and agreed that the Employee of the Year would get a gift certificate from Montgomery Wards, and his or her name would be eternally engraved on a plaque. Two or three names later, the plaque was taken off the wall and replaced with a thermostat.
You’d think that in 2015, we’d have all realized that these sorts of programs do little to improve or recognize employee performance. Most of all, they almost always fail at creating a paradigm for what an organization wants from its employees, mainly because different positions and departments require different skill sets. What makes Joe in shipping a good employee is entirely different from what makes Cindy in marketing a good employee. In 2015, you’d think we’d have all read the Harvard study about these sorts of programs being de-motivators. They only reward a few people, sometimes at great expense. They come off as popularity contests. They reinforce—occasionally—the belief that management is unfair.
Let me toss out one more reason—the best reason—to avoid these programs: they are old fashioned. They reek like Frank’s musk. They are dusty and creaky and tired. If you are an organization that wants to stick around for the long haul, you need to always—in every single aspect of your organization—stay fresh. To start one of these programs sends a message to your staff that you are stuck in a rut and your business needs bifocals and a cane. Up to you, of course, but I’d ditch these programs fast, unless that’s the message you want to send.