Fissure News: Recognition and Rewards

Jesse Freese

Jesse Freese

I’m writing this on a 747 flying between Minneapolis and Singapore. It is my first trip to Asia and I am very excited. I will be in Singapore providing project management training for one of our long-standing clients. I don’t often get a chance to fly outside the US. When these opportunities have come up in the past I have elected to have one of our highly qualified instructors take advantage of going someplace new and exciting. As the leader I have thought it would be bad form to cherry-pick the trips. I didn’t want to send the message that I would take all the exotic trips and leave the mundane trips to the other instructors. In thinking about this I realize that I started this practice many years ago when I was managing my very first project at a large computer company. It was a small software project (7 team members) developing the radar tracking capability (i.e., processing radar returns from aircraft and computing their direction and speed) for an Italian radar system. The project was complex and had a very challenging schedule. I knew I needed two or three key people if I was going to be successful managing this project. The key person I needed was Harry (not his real name); he was “Mr. Tracker” in our organization. Fortunately for me I was able to jump the many staffing obstacles put in front of me and Harry became the technical lead on the project.

Over the next year and a half I contributed technically in the development and actually became quite knowledgeable on radar tracking and knew the software almost as well as Harry. Towards the end of the project an opportunity came up for someone to go Italy for about three weeks to work onsite with the actual radar and our Italian counterparts. Even though this was a technical meeting, the Italians are very good hosts! Although I could easily do the work I sent Harry. What really surprised me was the fact that almost everyone in the organization was shocked that I was not going myself! Many people, including people I respected for their leadership abilities, asked why I wasn’t taking the assignment myself. Even Harry was surprised and asked me why I wasn’t taking the once-in-a-lifetime trip? It was just expected in the company at that time that “management” would take the choice assignments and I started to question my decision to not go myself.

I can’t tell you exactly why I didn’t take the trip myself, I can only say that something inside me said that it was the right and fair thing to do and I would do it again given the same decision. Giving Gary the trip was recognition of the value he brought to the team and a reward for all his hard and excellent work (many extra hours). The rest of the team had high respect for Harry, knew how critical he was to the team and was motivated by the fact that Gary was the right person to benefit from the opportunity. If I had taken the trip it would have been de-motivating to the team. One important lesson I learned is that it is important that whatever type of recognition program you use, it is critical that the team members feel that however gets the award really deserves it. If this is the case an award can be a motivator if not it tends to be a de-motivator.

In Fissure’s leadership training we always have great discussions around individual recognition. What is the best way to recognize the contributions of the people on the team? Is it better to give money or a non-monetary award? Is it better to give the recognition in private or in front of the team? What works best for each person and each situation? Making consensus even more difficult on these questions is the fact that every organization has varying degrees of ability and options when it comes to recognition for teams and team members. Some organizations have extremely limited options, while others make it very easy. I really enjoy facilitating these discussions and you can imagine the amount of energy and emotion created when talking about recognition.

If you have your own answers or want to share your personal positive and negative experiences on team and team member recognition I will compile the responses and share them in the next newsletter.

Rewarding team members is critical to performance, but it doesn’t mean you have to give away all the good trips – I’m looking forward to my time in Singapore

Related to rewards and recognition, I received the following email from a participant in a recent workshop. It is not often that we instructors receive feedback from students after they have returned to the office and this feedback is what we hope for from a learning experience – I know most of you will be able to relate to his situation and you can also see how rewarding it was for me to receive:

I just wanted to tell you about the latest project Mark L. and I have been working on. Unfortunately the simulation your company runs in the project Management class is coming true for Mark and me. 

It started with the executives receiving complaints from the field concerning this project. This resulted in our immediate boss being called into the executive’s office. Remember the term that stuff floats downstream, Mark and I are treading water. We also ran into the personnel issue with people not getting along with each other.

The simulation is coming true but with our great instruction, Mark and I will prevail!!

Take Care,

Paul V.

Program Manager 

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Thanks for reading and enjoy the summer.

Jesse 1st nameTrans

Jesse Freese

Fissure, President