Donald B. Stephens is a 30-year senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. Here, he offers tips for how management can establish recognition programs that truly work — without ruining the moment. 

“They all got it – every one of them.”

The service techs shook their heads in disbelief. It was the end of the annual kick-off meeting, when the year’s top techs would be announced (and given a five-day vacation on the company’s dime). But that particular year, a new recognition committee made up of one service tech from each team had determined the award criteria. And — surprise! — each committee member was a winner. Is it any wonder that this was the one and only year that service techs created the benchmark for superior service?

Recognition programs can take many forms. Some inspire everyone to work harder, others leave all but the recipient scratching their heads. The question is: How do you pick the right program to maximize your recognition dollar? Here are five tips to get the most from your service force:

1. Service is Not Sales

Creating a competitive environment for a sales force is a proven way to motivate and energize sales. But in field service, this can have a disastrous result. Programs that pit one service tech against another, with only one taking home the prize, can lead to distrust, bickering and jealousy. They divide a workforce, if not carefully constructed and monitored. The better option is to have a team award that rewards cooperation, but still triggers competition between service teams.

2. Less is Often More

Sure, everyone loves to win trips to tropical locations, but that sort of extravagance isn’t really needed to reward and inspire a team. One of my most memorable “awards” was when my manager called me out of the blue to take me to lunch. He told me that he knew how hard I was working and just wanted to say, “thank you.” We had a pleasant lunch and I wanted to work even harder for him when we were done.

3. Informal Rewards Trump Programs

Some companies are moving away from formal recognition programs, and for good reason. Merit-based pay programs now motivate us to perform at a higher level and reward us for doing so. But there is still a need for individual recognition. A free lunch here, or a gift card there, can go a long way to let your employees know they are valued. Field service can be a very under-appreciated job and your employees are likely wondering if they are doing well. A manager who makes it a habit to find someone to reward with a small token of appreciation is a wise leader.

4. Avoid the Pep Talk

If you are going to have a formal awards program, please don’t use it as an opportunity to rally the troops — especially if significant others are in attendance. Recognition is supposed to be a pleasant experience. I’ve had many stressful evenings wondering if my wife will ever forgive me for dragging her to a dinner of long-winded managers praising the company.

5. Spread the Wealth

Everyone wants to be appreciated for what they do. Even your poorest performer is doing something right. Every parent knows that the way to motivate children is to tell them they are doing a good job and give them a cookie. All service managers know that their techs can act like children at times. Do the math.

Recognition plans are effective ways to reward hard work and motivate other employees to keep up the pace. If yours have turned into popularity contests or avenues to reward the boss’s pet, then it might be time for a change.