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The 3-to-1 Rule to Recognizing Employee Performance

While a universal, magical formula doesn’t exist for every employee recognition scenario, a good mix of social acknowledgment and tangible reward follows the 3-to-1 Rule to reward employee performance appropriately. The rule says when people have consistently performed at or above expectations, and you have rewarded their performance with a social acknowledgment three times, recognize the next great performance by rewarding employees with a tangible reward to commemorate their excellent achievements.


The 3-to-1 Rule: When employees have consistently performed at or above expectations, reward their performance with a social acknowledgement (verbal praise, email, thank you note, etc.) three times. Recognize the next great performance with a tangible reward.

3-to-1 Rule in Action

In January, Mary Jo stayed late an entire week to finish an important report. Her boss, John, stopped her in the hall after her presentation, told her she had done an extremely thorough job as she was very well prepared for the presentation, and congratulated her on her efforts. (SOCIAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT #1)

In February, Mary Jo helped John prepare a speech he had to make at a local Chamber event. The speech went well. John wrote Mary Jo a note thanking her for her contribution. (SOCIAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT #2)

In April, Mary Jo made several popular suggestions in a group meeting on product development. John called attention to Mary Jo’s ideas in the group and recognized her creativity. (SOCIAL ACKNOWLEDGMENT #3)

By June, Mary Jo’s team had a working prototype of the new product she had proposed in April — developed in record time. John took Mary Jo out to lunch to discuss her ideas and recognize her achievement. He also told her that he wanted to do something to recognize her excellent performances over the past six months. He knew she was moving to a new apartment soon, so he offered her a three-day weekend for the date of her choice. (TANGIBLE REWARD)

Why the 3-to-1 Rule is Important
What does this example say about recognition? First, you should spread recognition over time. Performance rarely concentrates in mere days or even weeks. This real-world example shows that effective employee recognition can be public or private — or both.


Also, it shows recognition coming from management (Mary Jo’s boss) as the most effective kind of employee recognition. Because he is Mary Jo’s boss, John doesn’t wait until a month after the behavior to recognize. He always recognizes Mary Jo’s efforts right after the performance occurs.


Finally, to be meaningful, recognition must be personal. When John takes Mary Jo to lunch, he gives her a personal audience, a forum for her thoughts and ideas. He rewards her performances in a sincere and personal way. As a tuned-in employer, he realizes that an extra day off would be of great help to her in her move. He offers the day off as a reward for both her immediate efforts and the culmination of efforts during the last six months.


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