The power of 15 minutes of fame can’t be denied, either. “People often value the recognition more than the reward,” says Provenzano. The awards are given in front of the whole company and documented on the company intranet. That was certainly true at Knight Capital, which offers a $2,000 award to one employee per month. With each department getting approximately one shot a year, the winner from finance last year “was in tears” when the CEO announced her award, Quall says. The employee had done a lot of cleanup work on books and records after a colleague left abruptly, but “she told me, ‘It was only when I got that companywide recognition that I really felt like I accomplished something,’” he says.
Keeping the threshold high for awards is key, says Gochman, as is making sure that they reward the right behavior. “A lot of companies have realized that people were giving spot awards for doing a job well versus doing something extraordinary,” she says. Now, more are starting to write guidelines and philosophies of recognition, wrestling with such questions as what constitutes extraordinary work and whether to reward teams or individuals.
And finance executives shouldn’t lose sight of a quicker and cheaper fix that is perhaps equally as effective: a verbal or e-mailed thank-you. Singling people out for praise at an all-department meeting, or inviting them in for a meeting in the C-suite, can do wonders for making people feel good, Gochman notes. As Hosein says: “Throwing money at the problem is not always the answer.”
Building on research that shows that employees are less likely to leave a company if they feel they have friends on staff, many companies are aiming to step up their team-building activities. Community-service projects are one popular way to do this, says Jodi Chavez, senior vice president at Ajilon Finance.
At Odyssey, Alberico is currently spearheading an effort to get his finance team, along with the rest of the company, to work together on a community-service project instead of simply donating money to a cause. “We believe that an employee who is involved in a good project sponsored by the company will feel good about belonging to the company, so indirectly, it should translate into better retention,” he says.
A longtime member of the organization Junior Achievement, which puts business executives in K-12 classrooms, Alberico now has a cross-functional team coming up with recommendations on which not-for-profit organizations would be the best fit. He says the company’s philanthropy budget is likely to stay the same, but expects to get a lot more bang for the buck.
Some Fixes Aren’t Quick
A word of caution: setting up these programs can take time and may not be immediately fruitful. “You may not get a huge turnout the first time, but the people who do it will probably come back with great stories about how they were touched, and you’ll likely get more next time,” says Dernavich. It’s also important to figure out whether people are willing to do such projects on their own time, after work hours, or if they need to be scheduled within the 9-to-5 timeframe.