Recognising the value of recognition

If you run your own business, chances are you’re not entirely a one-woman band. You may have staff, but even if you don’t employ anyone, you probably rely on a variety of other people to help your business succeed – from clients and suppliers to volunteers, friends and family! Whether they help you out with advice and guidance, practical assistance, good deals or plugging your products and services, it all makes a difference. It’s important to thank people for their efforts and show them they’re appreciated, especially if you can’t pay them much (if anything) and you want them to continue with their support!

But it’s not just about being nice – it also makes good business sense. Try and be more strategic with your reward and recognition activities. For example, when you are conducting a performance appraisal (and you need to do this with your virtual team as well) try and reinforce or encourage behaviours, attributes, achievements etc. in specific areas that directly impact on and support your business aims and objectives. This could mean recognising and rewarding those who:

* particularly demonstrate or contribute to your core values or business ethics
*come up with outstanding ideas for improvement or that impact significantly on revenue or cost-saving
*share relevant knowledge and best practice with other members of the team that leads to marked improvements in performance
*connect you to new clients or customers.

So what are the best ways to recognise people’s contribution and make them feel valued?

Financial rewards allow people to buy stuff, which can be great, but money and gift vouchers etc. have their drawbacks.
They won’t affect people’s day-to-day experiences with you, or make the working day any easier.
It can be impersonal, instead of showing that some thought has gone into it.
Plus, they cost money and everyone is credit-crunched!
So instead, try and find ways of acknowledging people’s efforts that make being at work, or helping you out, a nicer experience, and/or have a more personal touch that makes people feel that bit special.

Here are a few simple but effective ways that some of my clients use to great effect:

  • Having an Employee/Helper of the Quarter/Month/Year award
  • Sending e-cards to people on special occasions – not only are these free online, but they’re environmentally-friendly (and often animated – who could fail to be cheered up by dancing hamsters?!)
  • Sending personal letters or cards of thanks, signed by key people
  • Giving extra days off, late starts or early finishes
  • Naming a meeting room, product etc. after someone
  • Giving little food treats – biscuits, cakes and pastries are usually well-received, especially at business meetings! Even if the budget won’t stretch to big business lunches, the way to most people’s heart is through their stomach…
  • Using websites such as Groupon or Wowcher to get good deals on staff gifts and rewards
  • Having a 10 minute ‘playtime’, where people can do something fun to unwind – one of my clients gives everyone in the office polystyrene ‘snowballs’ to throw at each other! (Yes, I thought it was bizarre too – but in a high-pressure environment, people appreciate the tension release apparently.)
  • Taking people as your guests to networking events or other business ‘do’s – a bit of boozing and schmoozing and an opportunity to benefit professionally themselves!
  • Starting a ‘Wall of Fame’ and add people to it – photos, cards and letters of thanks from clients, endorsements and commendations etc.
  • Giving people a car parking space near the front door for a month.
  • Having a prize draw for attendees of meetings and events as a thankyou for showing up
  • Having a special Awards Ceremony event periodically, to present certificates/prizes/commendations/thanks etc. to people. We’re not talking a black-tie evening do with a three-course dinner here – just a fun get-together over a few drinks and cupcakes will do the trick!

So get creative – maybe brainstorm ideas with your team and see how many innovative suggestions you can come up with. But don’t forget one of the cheapest, simplest but most effective way of acknowledging people’s contribution, which is plenty of praise and thankyous! Not only is this a key motivator for people, but the absence of simple thanks can actually have the opposite effect and cause people to take their ball in and not want to play with you anymore.

Or maybe you could try the simple act of reciprocation, and returning like with like. Take social media for example. If someone has left you a fab  recommendation on LinkedIn, rated your product highly on Amazon, retweeted some of your tweets or invited people to your event via Facebook, do the same for them sometime!

Another way of getting more strategic with your reward and recognition is to put a lot more thought and analysis into individual people that you really want to keep on board, and what would really appeal to them. Try to explore personal motivators in more detail – e.g. are certain people more motivated by financial reward, high-profile praise, ambition, work-life balance, contributing to business success etc.? If you can get a good handle on this, your new  knowledge can then be used to tailor individual rewards and recognition practices more effectively. (For more information on this, check out To tap even further into what motivates individual staff, you could even consider using a tool such as the Work Interest Inventory ( ) to identify individual motivators and drivers.

And don’t forget the impact of positive relationships and culture – great communications, involving people in decisions that affect them, and trusting them to do a good job are all things that make a great place to work, with minimal cost!

Finally, a word of caution when it comes to thanking clients – remember the Bribery Act came into force last year! You need to be aware of this, to avoid any allegations of sneaking a few backhanders or overdoing the corporate ents.  If client gifts, entertainments and other sweeteners are part of the way you do business, then it would be a good idea to look into this in more detail. And if you have subcontractors or other business associates, you’d be well advised to check with them that they also have something in place to ensure compliance– you don’t want someone else’s dodgy dealings coming back to bite you in the behind!

Overall then, remember that demonstrating your appreciation of someone’s contribution to your success isn’t limited to customers, and doesn’t have to be limited to financial rewards. Find entertaining, personal ways to thank anyone who has helped you and your business, and don’t underestimate the impact of the little gestures – even if your investment is in time and effort, you should see great returns!

Tara Daynes

Tara Daynes FCIPD, MSSP, is a fully qualified freelance HR and training consultant with 16 years’ post-graduate experience. She is a qualified Employment Law Paralegal & a registered Investors In People adviser/assessor. Specialising in employment law & business training, Tara helps organisations improve their business performance through how they manage & develop their staff. This includes start-up HR functions for SMEs, writing people management policies and procedures and staff handbooks, and providing training for line management and staff on key issues. Email or visit for more information. Connect with Tara at Linked In, Tweet her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook

Be the change that you want to see. Step into your leadership.