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7.3 Reinforce Peak Performance with Strategic Rewards and Recognition

7.3 Reinforce Peak Performance with Strategic Rewards and Recognition
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It is a primary responsibility of leaders to recognize and reward decisions and actions by team members that are in alignment with the organization’s Core Identity; leaders are responsible to also openly address perceived violations. Doing so provides a supportive Reinforcing System for peak performance for the long-term and the transparency of the standard builds trust among team members. In the recognition, include specific acknowledgment of how the Purpose, Vision, and/or Guiding Principles of your organization’s Core Identity have been honored.

University of Michigan Football Coach Bo Schembechler was famous for addressing in-bounds and out-of-bounds behavior to create a team with a shared identity. Like most coaches, Bo was always teaching; he could not stop himself. He had a team of dedicated players who wanted to improve, and they sacrificed daily to do so. Bo rewarded and challenged players openly, always loud enough for all to hear. No one was denied the opportunity to benefit from his coaching. The more talented the athlete, the more he would challenge them. In Bo’s first year, he met with the most talented athlete on the team, Dan Dierdorf, and told him,

“You have more talent and more upside than any on this team. For that reason, my expectations of you are going to be higher than anyone else. Nothing you do will be good enough. The whole team is going to be watching to see how I treat you, and if they feel I’m showing favoritism to you, I’ll lose the team. And that can NEVER happen.”

Dan went on to be a member of both the Collegiate Hall of Fame and the National Football League Hall of Fame. Bo wanted all to know it was his responsibility to instill a disciplined effort to become your individual best for the team.

Formal and Objective Recognition

Too often, we see leaders hurt the organization either by a lack of strategic recognition or in how the message is delivered. What is the message we want to send on exemplary behavior to be modeled for the future of the organization? Formal and objective recognition include the following categories:


Tangible perks include an upgraded office, a flexible work schedule, and additional vacation days.


Too often, compensation is a direct reflection of sales, which can downplay how we execute sales in a way that honors our Identity. In enduringly successful organizations, compensation is aligned with honoring the Core Identity, setting the stage for the system to create sales as a byproduct of how we do our business. Talent, skill, and knowledge contribute to success and the resulting compensation, but it is just one component of their performance evaluation, not the only one.

Promotions, Titles, and Certificates of Accomplishment

While a promotion or a change in title is often accompanied by an increase in compensation, in some cases, an adjustment of a team member’s title is in and of itself a perk that acknowledges accomplishment. It can be particularly meaningful if the new title better aligns with the work performed or recognizes a higher level of mastery of responsibilities.

Likewise, certificates of accomplishment recognize the mastery of the heart of a job. Being really good at something is one of humankind’s prime motivators. We like to do things well and it is especially meaningful to be recognized for being exceptional. Many organizations provide certificates of mastery that are deeply meaningful to the team members even though no compensation is tied to them.

Subtle and Subjective Recognition

It is important to make clear why someone is being recognized, even during informal conversations between a leader and a team member. Saying “Good job” leaves them to guess what they accomplished and did well. Leaders reinforce alignment when they specifically invoke elements of the Core Identity, such as the Guiding Principle of Respect. For example: Steve, I am very impressed with the way you demonstrated respect for the customer, even when they became short with you. Thank you for demonstrating who we are when we are at our best, especially when we are under such pressure.

In our work, we find that leaders underestimate the awareness team members have in observing their subtle recognition of other team members. Receiving positive recognition is appreciated, but recognition given to others is noticed, felt, and remembered even more. So be purposeful in what you reinforce.

We must regularly ask ourselves, At all times, are we reinforcing what we look like at our best? Do we have any reinforcing systems that may be confusing team members?

The Strategic, Disciplined, Purposeful Leader

When a leader is strategic, disciplined, and purposeful in all that they do, the organization gets better with each reinforcing interaction. It is vital that leaders understand the significance of:

  • what they say and how and when they say it
  • what they do and how and when they do it

Great leaders are great role models, and they hold their team members responsible for conducting themselves in a manner that honors the culture of their organization when at its best. But all human beings make mistakes. Leaders who recognize their own violations of the organization’s Identity and address it quickly send a loud message. They too are not perfect, but the high standard for the organization applies to all, and they hold themselves to the higher standard that honors the organization. We have found that leaders who admit mistakes are valued, trusted, and respected much more than those who do not address mistakes they have made.

Leadership Questions

Each of us is a leader to someone. Are we conscious of how we reinforce our culture?

  1. Setting the tone for the day – How do you enter your organization in the morning? Are you setting the environment you desire for the rest of the day? (See Primal Leadership)
  2. Energizing the organization during the day – How do you acknowledge work well done? Verbally (in public or in private), via handwritten notes, or by organizational awards? (See Multipliers)
  3. Challenging perceived out-of-bounds behavior respectfully – Do you ask growth-oriented questions when you perceive the organization’s standard may not have been met? Do you do so in a way that the team member knows you care about them and their personal development? (See A More Beautiful Question)

This post is part of series drawn from Fritz Seyferth’s upcoming book on the Foundation of Greatness.

Executing the Foundation of Greatness 2019, February 1-2, 2019
Theme: Building a Culture of Responsibility