3 min read

Rockstar Recognition: 3 Surprising Ways to Reward Top Performers

Rockstar Recognition: 3 Surprising Ways to Reward Top Performers

Great employees form the backbone of a thriving organization. How do you identify, recognize, and keep people who are essential to the success of your mission?

After an Employee Engagement Survey debrief with a Best Christian Workplaces Ministry Partner, I received a question from the leader of the organization wanting to know more about how to effectively reward top performers. This area is part of the “Outstanding Talent” FLOURISH factor in Best Christian Workplaces research.

There are two aspects to growth in this area. First, we need to effectively identify top performers through a robust performance evaluation process. Then, once identified, we can consider a variety of meaningful ways to reward top performers. Some of these are monetary rewards, but there are also other effective ways to recognize and affirm people.

Identifying Top Performers

In the simplest form, performance evaluation includes two steps:

  • Define expected performance.
  • Observe and measure performance.

Some organizations carry out this process on an annual cycle, with an annual performance review. In this setting, people may be surprised about the feedback they get, since they haven’t had regular performance conversations throughout the year.

A better system is for more frequent performance reviews, such as quarterly. This cycle is paired with regular meetings (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) between an employee and their supervisor. In this pattern of regular listening and feedback, both the employee and supervisor can adjust along the way, to help guide growth. Both the supervisor and employee will be aware of areas of strength and needed improvements. Regular feedback and intentional conversations are a foundation for providing growth for outstanding performers and can prevent poorly performing employees from continuing to drag down results.

Underlying an effective performance evaluation system are clear and robust job descriptions. An employee’s job description should provide clarity on their specific functional responsibilities. In addition, there should be components of the job description that address organizational values, work norms, and commitment to the mission of the organization. Both aspects of performance are important, because an employee may accomplish a specific project or milestone, but on the way to that achievement, they may violate norms and values. The means are just as important as the ends. Top performers deliver great results, and they do it in a way that affirms organizational values and respects the people who also contributed to the outcome.

Rewarding Top Performers

Affirm both project achievement and support of values.

Since you are evaluating performance based on specific accomplishments and support of the values of the organization, you can recognize employees for each of these areas. Some organizations have a staff award for someone who personifies the values and mission of your organization. And you might choose different recognition for a project-based accomplishment.

By recognizing and affirming both aspects of performance, you demonstrate the importance of achieving specific goals, and of uplifting the mission and vision of the organization. This type of recognition is just as important in a business setting as for a nonprofit, church, or school.

Provide monetary and non-monetary rewards.

Often, we think just of monetary compensation as a means to reward outstanding performers, such as salary increases and/or bonuses. While monetary compensation is a part of rewarding top performers, there are many other ways to appreciate and acknowledge great people. Verbal and written appreciation is meaningful, especially when given in a timely manner related to achievements.

Giving a top performer new opportunities and inclusion in strategic processes is a significant way of rewarding great employees. In this case, it’s important to connect the dots for the employee. Let them know that they are being selected for an opportunity because they have shown their ability to provide excellent work.

In a recent Employee Engagement Survey debrief, I asked those participating if any of them had access to leadership coaching that was being paid for by their employer. Several people did. I said that this was an important investment in their potential. They weren’t receiving coaching because of deficits in their performance, but because their organization believed in their potential. Afterward, one employee came up to me and admitted he thought the coaching was because of an area of lack. His boss hadn’t connected the dots to show that investing in him was because of his potential, not out of a need to correct deficits.

Offer frequent affirmation.

Since employees and supervisors are having regular conversations, you can also affirm and recognize people frequently. Recognition can range from small, low-cost perks, to investment in individual growth. Think creatively so you have a range of appreciation and recognition strategies in your toolkit. Put reminders on your calendar if you are prone to go too long between showing appreciation.

Empower front-line supervisors and middle managers to carry out recognition on their own teams. As they build strong relationships with their staff, they will know what kind of recognition will be meaningful for different people. Pair this with broader affirmation from senior-level leaders. With acknowledgment of high performance coming from all levels of the organization, you reinforce the message that great performance is valued throughout the organization.

Each small and large act of appreciation and recognition builds energy and enthusiasm in your workplace. It’s an investment in your employees and in your overall mission achievement.

Next Steps

To make rewarding top employees part of your regular culture, make sure your performance evaluation system supports affirmation and recognition. If your job descriptions are out-of-date or don’t include organizational values and mission, updates are a good first step.

Provide resources and tools for supervisors, managers, and leaders at all levels of the organization to recognize and affirm employees on a regular basis.

For more ideas about ways to appreciate and recognize employees—download this Best Christian Workplaces resource: The Power of Appreciation and Recognition.


Growing Your Pipeline of Entry-Level Workers

Growing Your Pipeline of Entry-Level Workers

As an organizational leader, you may wish that you could figure out your recruitment challenges once-and-for-all, and then move on to other...

Read More
Attracting Top Talent: Your Employee Value Proposition

Attracting Top Talent: Your Employee Value Proposition

As I consult with Christian nonprofits, churches, and schools, I often hear them express concern that it is hard for them to attract top talent...

Read More
Keep the Momentum Going: Action Steps for Improving Workplace Health

Keep the Momentum Going: Action Steps for Improving Workplace Health

Congratulations—you had the courage and curiosity to assess your workplace culture through the Best Christian Workplaces Employee Engagement Survey....

Read More