Before I continue with this post, allow me to pre-emptively address some criticism: I know to some people I’m already “cussing in church” when it comes to the title! I am well aware that I’ve already offended those of you who invest so much in the hallowed tradition of making sure that just one of your employees feel special every month. You maybe have clicked on this post just to object! If that is you, then I’d ask you to bear with me. I realize I have a strong opinion about this topic and I’d like to make a case for my opinion. I also respect your strong opinion to the contrary and if you write a post or comment in support of your position, I promise to read and consider it. With that said, let me tell you why your “Employee of the Month” program—and a few other things you do in the name of recognizing your people—may be doing you more harm than good.
I will never forget the look on my kids’ faces the first time they were served a summons to appear in court. They were about 9 and 10 years old. The letters addressed to them arrived in the mail. Somewhat excited and surprised that they had received official looking correspondence in the mail, they opened them and started reading: “You are hereby summoned to appear in…” That’s when they started to get a bit concerned. Bewildered by the idea that they would need to go to court, they handed me the letters, hoping that I could explain what was going on and whether there had been some sort of mistake. As it turned out, there hadn’t been any mistake at all.
When I first started my professional career as an entry level engineer at a manufacturing plant, my operations manager—my boss’s boss that is—was well-known as someone who made things happen. He had been plateaued at his level in the organization for quite some time, but rumors circulated that apportioned him with more clout than most of his superiors. I later learned that he had made a name for himself in start-ups, which he had led by spurring people into action and making things happen in the short-term, but he was not necessarily known for leading ongoing operations where he had to put sustainable systems in place and demonstrate consistent leadership behaviors. I’m sure we all know a leader or two like that!