March 1, 2022
January 20, 2021

How to Find Staff Recognition Ideas That Work Best for Your Team

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On November 2, 2016, the Chicago Cubs broke the longest title drought in American professional sports when they defeated the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in Game 7 of the World Series. In addition to on-field talent, a lot of what finally made the Cubs World Series champs again was due to manager Joe Maddon.

First, Maddon is not your typical major league baseball manager. His unconventional recognition and appreciation methods range from hiring a magician pre-game amid a five game losing streak to bringing zoo animals into Wrigley Field to reward and motivate players during a tight divisional race. Maddon’s wacky and easygoing approach was the best way to appreciate and recognize his young core of players.

Brayden King, a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, further explains, “What Maddon wanted to do was create a culture that rewards players for good work but doesn’t limit their inventions and individuality.” More so, Maddon's recognition tactics conveyed the trust he had with his players. Even after barely winning a pivotal Game 5 of the World Series, Maddon encouraged his players to stay in Chicago the next day (Halloween) and take the time to trick or treat with their families before flying to Cleveland for Game 6 and 7. He knew an extra workout or batting practice wasn’t what his team needed—they needed to relax and spend time with their loved ones. The players had all the tools and strategies in place for the two biggest games of their careers.

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So, how can you become the Joe Maddon of your organization and find recognition tactics that are unique and, more importantly, work for your team? Read our tips below.


No matter if you just started a company or are a part of an established business, you need to fully understand your employees and the company culture—or have a good idea of the culture that you want to create. Sit down with employees for informal visits to understand what they want from their job and from their careers. Find out what really motivates them and helps them find purpose at work. Through these meetings, you can build a program that caters to your employees and not a program your employees adapt to.

If you don’t have time to sit down and meet with employees, send out surveys that ask about how your employees want to be recognized (manager-to-peer, peer-to-peer, etc.). Be sure to include sections with free response so you can get specific ideas.

Revamp Company Culture to Incorporate Recognition

Chances are that if you are creating or revamping an employee recognition program, then recognition isn’t a huge part of your current company culture. But that's something that can be easily fixed! The sooner you start implementing recognition, the more motivated your employees can become each day. It may be awkward at first, but once your employees catch on to the recognition program, it will become a natural aspect of your organization.

Make Sure Criteria of an Award or Recognition Is Clearly Stated

No one likes ambiguity when it comes to recognition programs. In fact, when employees don’t know what constitutes winning an award within your program, they are more likely to not participate or worse, become disengaged. Be sure that your programs are clearly understood, both the measurable and unmeasurable criteria. Again, the actions and behaviors you are awarding should embody the established company culture.

Make Personalization a Priority

A key to Maddon’s managerial tactics was how he appealed to his players values—mainly giving them more free time to spend with friends and family. So, whether you implement gift lists or include handwritten notes, make the recognition or award individualized to the person.  

Rewards vs Incentives

"Easy choice. I've seen Snow White. I know how this plays out."

At Awardco, we offer an employee recognition platform where employers can reward employees with things that they actually want and will use. With Awardco's unique partnership with Amazon Business, you can offer millions of products to your employees to redeem. That way they can get something they actually want!


After you’ve implemented recognition tactics and programs, be sure to periodically check in with employees to make sure they are satisfied with the programs and what can be improved. Furthermore, your company culture and employees may change over the years, so chances are you’ll need to make some adjustments to your recognition programs as time goes by.

Through Maddon’s managerial tactics, he became the manager baseball players want to play for. You can do the same with your employees when you take the time and effort to create recognition and appreciation programs that relate and work best for them. Now that's a home run!

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