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2016-03-31 | Human resources and volunteer management

Human resource management is the management of the people who work in an organization. They can be managers, employees, project officers, field workers, coordinators and also volunteers and interns. Since the organization is run by these people, they are considered to be a “resource” – ‘a human resource.’

Like we use funds to manage a project, we also need to use these ‘human resources’ or the ‘people’ to manage the organization.

Human resource management is the management of the people who work in an organization. They can be managers, employees, project officers, field workers, coordinators and also volunteers and interns. Since the organization is run by these people, they are considered to be a “resource” – ‘a human resource.’ Like we use funds to manage a project, we also need to use these ‘human resources’ or the ‘people’ to manage the organization.

The importance of Human Resources (HR) in a non-governmental organisation (NGO) as a means of ensuring sustainable growth for an organisation cannot be overemphasised, as it is the fundamental strength upon which people, strategies, processes and operations are based. Effective employee management should be on top of the list of priorities for progressive improvement of an organisation. A NGO must strive to attract, develop and retain qualified and enthusiastic employees as they are the key to the success of one’s business. HR in a NGO is no different to HR in any other sector.

Staff, the heart of any organization

It is not enough just to have a dedicated team for an organization. It is fundamentally believed that unless the team is not properly managed, motivated and performed, the organization will not achieve its goals and objectives.

Staffing decisions are among the most important decisions that nonprofit organizations make. Just as businesses and organizations of all sizes and areas of operation rely on their personnel to execute their strategies and advance their goals, so too do nonprofit groups. It follows, then, that nonprofit organizations need to attend to the same tasks as profit-seeking companies do when they turn to the challenges of establishing and maintaining a solid work force.

"An effective non-profit manager must try to get more out of the people he or she has," wrote Peter F. Drucker in Managing the Non-Profit Organization. "The yield from the human resource really determines the organization's performance. And that's decided by the basic people decisions: whom we hire and whom we fire; where we place people, and whom we promote. The quality of these human decisions largely determines whether the organization is being run seriously, whether its mission, its values, and its objectives are real and meaningful to people..."

The process of managing, motivating and making the staff perform involves setting up of systems, including building plans and policies. These systems fall under human resource management. A human resource manager is a strategist, builder and catalyst.

Here is an interesting introductory video from the Society for Human Resource Management that explains how important it is to develop human resources to achieve progress.

Assessing organizational /personnel needs, workforce planning

A key component of any endeavor to build a quality core of personnel is an honest assessment of current and future internal needs and external influences. Leaders and managers of nonprofit organizations should study workload history, trends in the larger philanthropic community, pertinent changes in the environment in which they operate (layoffs, introduction of a new organization with a similar mission, legislative developments, etc.), personnel demands associated with current and planned initiatives, operating budget and costs, and the quality and quantity of the area worker pool, both for volunteer and staff positions. Moreover, all of these factors need to be studied within the framework of the organization's overarching mission statement. As many nonprofit leaders have noted, adherence to other general business principles (sound fiscal management, retention of good employees through good compensation packages, etc.) is of little solace if the organization loses sight of its mission—it's reason for being—in the process.

Several fundamental business principles concerning assessment of personnel needs that apply to nonprofits as well. These principles include:

  • Fill positions with people who are willing and able to take on the job.

  • Providing accurate and realistic job and skill specifications for each position helps ensure that it will be filled by someone capable of handling the responsibilities associated with that position.

  • Written job descriptions are essential to communicating job expectations.

  • Employees who are chosen because they are the best available candidates are far more likely to have a positive impact than those who are chosen on the basis of friendship or expediency.

  • Performance appraisals, when coupled with specific job expectations, help boost performance.

"The process of selecting a competent person for each position is best accomplished through a systematic definition of the requirements for each job, including the skills, knowledge and other qualifications that employees must possess to perform each task". "To guarantee that personnel needs are adequately specified, 1) conduct a job analysis, 2) develop a written job description, and 3) prepare a job specification."

Conduct a job analysis

To perform a job analysis you need as much data as possible to then develop a job description.

The job analysis may include:

  • the job responsibilities of current employees;
  • Internet research and sample job descriptions online or offline highlighting similar jobs;
  • an analysis of the work duties, tasks, and responsibilities that need to be accomplished by the employee filling the position;
  • research and sharing with other companies that have similar jobs, and;
  • articulation of the most important outcomes or contributions needed from the position.

The more information you can gather, the easier the actual task of developing the job description will be.

Develop a written job description

Develop job descriptions to help you articulate the most important outcomes you need from an employee performing a particular job. Job descriptions are a communication tool to tell coworkers where their job leaves off and the job of another employee starts.

They tell an employee where their job fits within the overall department and the overall company. They help employees from other departments, who must work with the person hired, understand the boundaries of the person's responsibilities.

Finally, job descriptions are an integral piece of the performance development planning process.

Your goal in hiring is to find the brightest, most competent, flexible, reliable, multifaceted employees you can find. A job description, if not viewed as a straight jacket, helps your successful recruiting in several ways.

A job description:

  • causes the manager of the position and any other employees already performing the job to agree on the responsibilities and scope of the position;
  • helps Human Resources know the knowledge, skills, education, experience, and capabilities you seek in your new employee, so an effective recruiting plan is formulated;
  • informs candidates about the duties and responsibilities of the position for which they are applying;
  • informs employees who are assisting with the interview process about the questions to ask candidates and what you seek in the new employee, and;
  • may protect you legally when you can demonstrate why the candidate selected for a position was your most qualified and suited applicant.

Gather the appropriate people for the task. The manager to whom the position will report takes the lead in developing a job description, but other employees who are performing similar jobs can contribute to its development, too. Additionally, if the position is new and will relieve current employees of workload, they should be part of the discussion.

For all new positions, a written job description should be established and include the following elements:

  • position summary;
  • description of duties and responsibilities;
  • conditions of work;
  • qualifications.

Recruitment for a new or vacant position can be opened for internal and/or external competition. For external recruitment, positions in the professional category can be advertised publicly through newspapers if they are regular positions, or if there is a limited tendering process for consultation. The positions should also be advertised on the own website and through the own network and cooperation partners.

Notice of a new or vacant position must be approved by the Board before it is released publicly.

Write the job description. Your organisation may have a format for job descriptions so check with the responsible department/staff.

These are the normal components of the job description:

  • Overall position description with general areas of responsibility listed.

  • Essential functions of the job described with a couple of examples of each.

  • Required knowledge, skills, and abilities.

  • Required education and experience.

  • A description of the physical demands.

  • A description of the work environment.

  • An employee development plan.

Your process may vary, but these components give the employee clear direction.

  • Review the job description periodically to make sure it accurately reflects what the employee is doing and your expectations of results from the employee.

  • Use the job description as a basis for the employee development plan (PDP). An employee's job description is integral in the development of his or her employee development plan.

  • An effective job description establishes a base so that an employee can clearly understand what they need to develop personally, and contribute within your organization. Develop job descriptions to provide employees with a compass and clear direction.

Example of a Job description template

Position Description:

Write a one sentence description of what the position does within your organization. Example: The Human Resources Manager guides and manages the overall provision of Human Resources services, policies, and programs.

Major Areas of Responsibility

Use bullet points to list the major areas covered by your job. For example, a Human Resources Manager might list responsibilities that include, but are not comprehensive, such as these.

Major areas of responsibility include:

  • Develop the Human resources department;
  • Advising managers about issues relating to managing people;
  • Employee orientation, development, and training;
  • Performance management and improvement systems;
  • Organization development;
  • Employment and compliance to regulatory concerns;
  • Policy development and documentation.

Primary Objectives:

Beyond what the person in the position actually does, list the primary goals and objectives of the position for its overall contribution to the organization. For example, a Human Resources Manager might list items such as these:

Specific Responsibilities of the Job

Take each of the items listed in the Major Areas of Responsibility and flesh out the details. Start by using the listed major area of responsibility and add the details necessary to make job expectations and products clear in each major area of responsibility. For example, an HR manager might detail a responsibility, Development of the Human Resources Department, like this:

Development of the Human Resources Department

  • Oversees the implementation of Human Resources programs through Human Resources staff. Monitors administration to established standards and procedures. Identifies opportunities for improvement and resolves any discrepancies.

  • Oversees and manages the work of reporting Human Resources staff. Encourages the ongoing development of the Human Resources staff.

  • Develops and monitors an annual budget that includes Human Resources services, employee recognition, sports teams support, company philanthropic giving, and administration.

  • Selects and supervises Human Resources consultants, attorneys, and training specialists, and coordinates company use of insurance brokers, insurance carriers, pension administrators, and other outside sources.

  • Conducts a continuing study of all Human Resources policies, programs, and practices to keep management informed of new developments.

  • Leads the development of department goals, objectives, and systems.

  • Establishes departmental measurements that support the accomplishment of the company's strategic goals.

  • Directs the preparation and maintenance of such reports as are necessary to carry out the functions of the department. Prepares periodic reports for management, as necessary or requested, to track strategic goal accomplishment.

  • Develops and administers programs, procedures, and guidelines to help align the workforce with the strategic goals of the company.

  • Participates in executive, management, and company staff meetings and attends other meetings and seminars.

  • With the CEO and CFO, annually plans the company's philanthropic and charitable giving.

Required Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities

In this section of the job description, list each essential responsibility that the job holder must be able to perform satisfactorily to do the job successfully. Note that these requirements are representative, but not all-inclusive, of the knowledge, skill, and ability required performing this job. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable individuals with disabilities to perform the essential functions.

Job Requirements

  • Broad knowledge and experience in:

  • Above average skills in:

  • Excellent skills in:

  • Demonstrated ability to:

  • Demonstrated ability to:

  • Demonstrated ability to:

  • General knowledge of:

  • Experience in:

  • Other:

Education and Experience

  • Degree or equivalent experience:

  • Years of experience:

  • Specialized training in:

  • Active affiliations:

  • Other requirements (certifications and so forth):

Physical Demands

These physical demands are representative of the physical requirements necessary for an employee to successfully perform the essential functions of the job. Reasonable accommodation can be made to enable people with disabilities to perform the described essential functions.

Example: While performing the responsibilities of the job, the employee is required to talk and hear. The employee is often required to sit and use their hands and fingers, to handle or feel. The employee is occasionally required to stand, walk, reach with arms and hands, climb or balance, and to stoop, kneel, crouch or crawl. Vision abilities required by this job include close vision.

Work Environment

Example: While performing the responsibilities of the job, these work environment characteristics are representative of the environment the job holder will encounter. Reasonable accommodations may be made to enable people with disabilities to perform the essential functions of the job.

While performing the duties of this job, the employee is occasionally exposed to moving mechanical parts and vehicles. The noise level in the work environment is usually quiet to moderate.


This job description is intended to convey information essential to understanding the scope of the job and the general nature and level of work performed by job holders within this job. But, this job description is not intended to be an exhaustive list of qualifications, skills, efforts, duties, responsibilities or working conditions associated with the position.

Job Description and Job Specification

Prepare a job specification

Also known as employee specifications, a job specification is a written statement of educational qualifications, specific qualities, level of experience, physical, emotional, technical and communication skills required to perform a job, responsibilities involved in a job and other unusual sensory demands. It also includes general health, mental health, intelligence, aptitude, memory, judgment, leadership skills, emotional ability, adaptability, flexibility, values and ethics, manners and creativity, etc.

Purpose of Job Specification

  • Described on the basis of job description, job specification helps candidates analyze whether they are eligible to apply for a particular job vacancy or not.

  • It helps the recruiting team of an organization understand what level of qualifications, qualities and set of characteristics should be present in a candidate to make him or her eligible for the job opening.

  • Job Specification gives detailed information about any job including job responsibilities, desired technical and physical skills, conversational ability and much more.

  • It helps in selecting the most appropriate candidate for a particular job.

Job description and job specification are two integral parts of job analysis. They define a job fully and guide both employer and employee on how to go about the whole process of recruitment and selection. Both data sets are extremely relevant for creating a right fit between job and talent, evaluate performance and analyze training needs and measuring the worth of a particular job.

Recruitment process

Recruiting personnel

An NGO believes in equal employment opportunity to each individual, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, disability, marital status, veteran status, or any other occupationally irrelevant condition. This policy applies to recruitment and advertising; hiring and job assignment; promotion, demotion and transfer; layoff or termination; rates of pay and benefits; selection for training; and the provision of any other human resources service.

Staff recruitment is the process of hiring staff to carry out various activities in an organization. In NGOs, staff recruitment is mostly determined by the availability of ongoing projects and how they have been budgeted. Nevertheless, staff recruitment is essential because many donors seek to know what policies grantees have adopted in terms of hiring personnel for projects funded by them.

It is the responsibility of the managing team and the Board to fill vacant positions as well as new regular positions and new temporary positions of a duration exceeding more than six months. The Board must make sure that the positions can be filled under the organizational budget.

Recruitment can be done internally (through referrals or inventories) or externally (through open job advertisements or employment agencies). In both cases, it is necessary to specify that a policy is in place to manage these processes.

For many nonprofit organizations, publicizing its very existence is the most important step that it can take in its efforts to recruit staff and volunteers alike. This is especially true if one wishes to encourage volunteers to become involved. Volunteers are the life-blood of countless nonprofit organizations, for they attend to the basic tasks that need performing, from paperwork to transportation of goods and/or services to maintenance. Writing in Quality Management in the Nonprofit World, Larry W. Kennedy noted that "they supply valuable human resources which, when properly engaged, can be worth tens of thousands of dollars in conserved personnel costs to even the smallest organizations."

Nonprofit groups rely on two basic avenues to publicize their work and their staffing needs: local media (newspapers, newsletters, radio advertising, billboards, etc.) and other community organizations (municipal governments, churches, civic groups, other nonprofit organizations, etc.) Many nonprofit groups have found that contact with some community organizations, particularly churches and civic groups, can be particularly rewarding since these organizations already have members that may be predisposed toward lending a hand.

Screening personnel

As a general rule, a selection committee comprising of, at least two members shall be assembled for filling all positions.

The committee will go through the applications received, retaining those that show the best qualifications. It will evaluate each candidate’s application with the help of an evaluation form created beforehand, containing well-defined criteria.

A list of the candidates chosen to be interviewed will be shortlisted by the Selection Committee. The interviews will serve to make a final choice and also to establish a database of potential future candidates.

The interviewing process is another essential component of successful staffing for nonprofit groups. This holds true for volunteers as well as for officers, directors, and paid staff. Indeed, Larry W. Kennedy remarked in his book that "volunteers should be recruited and interviewed systematically the same way you would recruit paid staff. An orderly and professional approach to volunteer management will pay off handsomely for your organization. What you do in the recruitment phase of your work will set the standard for volunteer performance. If you are disciplined and well organized, you will often attract more qualified volunteers."

Managers of nonprofit organizations should make sure that they do the following when engaged in the process of staffing, screening and selection:

  • Recognize that all personnel, whether they are heading up your organization's annual fundraising drive or lending a hand for a few hours every other Saturday, have an impact on the group's performance. Certainly, some positions are more important than others but countless nonprofit managers can attest to the fact that an under-performing, unethical, or unpleasant individual can have an enormously negative impact on organization morale and/or organization reputation in the community. This can be true of the occasional volunteer as well as the full-time staff member.

  • Use an application form that covers all pertinent areas of the applicant's background.

  • Ensure that your screening process provides information about an individual's skills, attitudes, and knowledge.

  • Try to determine if the applicant or would-be volunteer is interested in the organization for legitimate reasons (professional development and/or advancement, genuine interest in your group's mission) or primarily for reasons that may not advance your organization's cause (loneliness, corporate burnout, etc.).

  • Objectively evaluate prospective employees and volunteers based on criteria established in the organization's job specifications.

  • Be realistic in putting together your volunteer work force. "Managers cause most of the problems with volunteers by making unreasonable assumptions about their intentions and capabilities," wrote Kennedy. An organization that sets the bar too high in its expectations of volunteers (in terms of services provided, hours volunteered, etc.) may find itself with a severe shortage of this potentially valuable resource.

  • Recognizing that would-be volunteers and employees bring both assets and negative attributes to your organization, nonprofit groups should be flexible in accommodating those strengths and weaknesses. "If you want people to perform in an organization, you have to use their strengths—not emphasize their weaknesses," said Drucker.

Organizations that pay attention to these guidelines will be likely to enjoy positive and lasting relationships with their volunteers and staff. As Kennedy said, "the time to begin evaluating the probable reliability of human resources is prior to their insertion into your internal structure."

Selecting and hiring personnel

Once the recruitment of staff is finalized, an appointment letter needs to be issued, which comprises of the information about the final selection. On acceptance of the letter, the new employee will be signing an employment contract with the organization.

The employment contract comprises of the following:

  1. Duration of the employment: whether it is for a fixed date or not.

  2. Termination of agreement: how to terminate the agreement from either side.

  3. Duties of the employee: based on the job description given.

  4. Hours of work: number of hours to be given by the employee to work with the organization like for example, 40 hours per week.

  5. Compensation, Benefits and Taxes.

  6. Evaluation.

Orienting new employees to the organization/training

Deploying personnel

Work environment and conditions

Depending on available funds, NGO should foster the professional development of its employees in order to be as effective as possible in its activities. The training programs chosen should address the actual needs identified and expressed during performance evaluation sessions.

Performance management

Monitoring performance and providing feedback

The annual performance evaluation is the analysis, based on documentation from previous stages of the process, of an employee’s work record. The evaluation addresses two fundamental questions. The first relates to the past and involves verifying what was accomplished qualitatively and quantitatively during the year. The second relates to the future and consists of identifying means to be considered to ensure the employee continues to grow and develop.

The performance evaluation form should include all the sections needed for the evaluation. This includes a section relating to performance evaluation in relation to the objectives established at the outset and in relation to the responsibilities of the position, a section that specifies or targets what is needed for the employee’s development and finally a section allowing the employee and the evaluator to express their comments and affix their respective signatures. The form should also include a performance level classification and a definition of each of these levels.

The annual performance evaluation does not have any financial impact on salaries. It is first and foremost a tool to evaluate the employee’s performance and take remedial action if necessary.

Simple Format for Human Resource Information System for NGOs:

1. Employee Identification Surname:  
Middle Name:  
Last Name:  
2. Personal Details Gender:  
Date of Birth:  
Marital Status:  
3. Present Contact Information Address:  
Telephone number:  
4. Permanent Address Address:  
Telephone number:  
5. Family Information Next of kind:  
Number of Dependents:  
6. Location or Base Head Office:  
7. Job History Previous Position held:  
Previous Job Dates:  
Previous Employer Details:  
8. Qualification Degree:  
Professional Courses  
9. Competencies Competencies:  
Language Skills:  
10. Salary and Benefits Salary:  
11. Development Trainings required  
Skills required  

Providing supportive supervision

Beyond simply overseeing employee's responsibilities and tasks, managers can play a key role in making their employees feel supported and motivated and, as a result, more productive. Particularly in challenging environments where resources are scarce and the needs of the community are vast, making employees feel valued and supported is essential.

Supportive supervision is a key way to achieve this. By employing supportive supervision, managers can not only create a healthy work environment, but can improve and sustain the performance and satisfaction of their most valuable asset: the people in their organization. Using a few key skills and tools—and with a little practice— managers can create a dynamic relationship with staff and subgrantees to help them grow as individuals and organizations.


To effectively provide supportive supervision and help staff accomplish their goals, managers should consider the following guidelines:

Set clear expectations from the beginning.

Supportive supervision can begin as soon as a person is recruited to work for your organization. The first step is providing your new employee with a clear job description.

This ensures that both the manager and the employee have a common understanding of the expectations and responsibilities of the position. As time goes on, the manager and employee should work together to periodically review and revise the job description to develop “SMARTER” goals that align the employee’s work with the organizational mission.


Specific and clear about what needs to happen and who needs to be involved;
Measurable, with clear targets against which progress can be measured;
Aligned with the organization’s mission and vision;
Realistic and can be accomplished;
Timed so that there is an appropriate sense of urgency;
Evaluated periodically and, if necessary, adjusted;
Rewarded when accomplished.

A related tool regularly used in supportive supervision is a tailored Checklist outlining exactly what will be assessed and what is required for employees to get a positive assessment. The checklist should be made available to staff ahead of their actual supervision session. This ensures that people see that they are being treated fairly and assessed objectively.

Provide regular feedback. Supportive supervision is not a once-a-year performance review; it involves continuous performance assessment. This means making time and space for the supervisor and employee to regularly communicate about job performance. Managers should employ active listening skills and provide feedback in an open and respectful manner to facilitate a dialogue about improving behavior and job performance over time.

Active Listening Skills

  • Eliminate distractions(such as phone calls) and avoid having physical barriers (sit in comfortable chairs rather than having a desk between the two of you).

  • Listen carefully to the main ideas, and let the speaker finish his or her thoughts without interruption.

  • Ask open-ended questions that show that you are interested in the speaker’s ideas and interpretations (for example, “What are your suggestions about how we should address this problem?”).

  • Do not judge, critique or get defensive while the speaker is talking; instead, focus on understanding his or her experience and perspective. Verify your understanding by repeating key points back (for example, “If I understand you correctly, you are saying...”).

Remember: You have two ears and two eyes... but only one mouth.

So let your ears and eyes do twice as much work!

Sustaining an environment that supports productivity

There are different supportive supervision mechanisms available to sustain, monitor and improve quality and productivity of staff:

  • joint expectation-setting,
  • mutual feedback,
  • joint problem-solving,
  • training,
  • incentives.

Deciding compensation/recognition issues (incl. volunteers)

Tangible Benefits

As Ted Nicholas noted in The Complete Guide to Nonprofit Corporations, nonprofit corporations may establish fringe benefits programs for their employees. People that can be covered under these programs include not only staff personnel, but also directors and officers. "The benefits," wrote Nicholas, "can be as attractive as those provided by for-profit business corporations. In addition, the benefits can be far more economical for the corporation and beneficial to the employees than any program that could be offered by unincorporated organizations. The nonprofit corporation can establish an employee pension and retirement income plan. It can provide for sick pay and vacation pay. It may arrange for group life, accident and health insurance coverage for its officers and employees. It can elect to cover its employees' personal medical expenses that are not covered by the group insurance plans, provided that the corporation can pay all or part of the cost of the various employee benefits it sets up. It can require some contribution from the employees covered by the fringes."

Bruce Hopkins observed in his Legal Guide to Starting and Managing a Nonprofit Organization that "there is a tendency in our society to expect employees of nonprofit organizations to work for levels and types of compensation that are less than those paid to employees of for-profit organizations. Somehow, the nonprofit characteristics of the organization become transferred to the 'nonprofit' employee." Hopkins goes on to note that while this perception may indeed be a reality because of the budgetary constraints under which many nonprofit organizations operate, in other instances employees do not feel entitled to compensation levels that are offered to employees of for-profit businesses. In fact, some nonprofit groups feel no obligation whatsoever to provide comparable levels of compensation in terms of salary, benefits, etc., relying instead on the altruistic leanings of those who become involved. Organizations that operate under these assumptions are short sighted and run the risk of losing out on many talented people. Indeed, Hopkins pointed out that "many nonprofit organizations, particularly the larger ones (universities, hospitals, major charities, and trade associations), require sophisticated and talented employees. Because these individuals are not likely to want to be 'nonprofit' employees, nonprofit and for-profit organizations compete for the same pool of talented persons. This competition extends not only to salaries but also to benefits and retirement programs."

Experts indicate that although the compensation packages that are offered by nonprofit organizations are constrained by the so-called private incurement doctrine, which holds that the profits realized by a nonprofit organization can not be passed along to private individuals (as dividends are passed along to shareholders in a for-profit enterprise), they can still offer attractive compensation packages to employees provided that they are judged to be "reasonable." When weighing whether it considers compensation to be reasonable, the Internal Revenue Service studies whether compensation arrangements exceed a certain percentage of the organization's gross revenues. Excessive compensation can be penalized by imposition of additional taxes and fines, but the most damage to organizations who do this can often be found in the realm of reputation; few allegations are more damaging to a nonprofit organization's community standing than the charge that it is bestowing excessive compensation (in the form of salary, country club memberships, etc.) to top executives or others.

Intangible Benefits

Successful managers of nonprofit organizations recognize that the people who compose their organizations' work force—volunteers, employees, officers, and directors alike—are often participating in the group at least in part for altruistic reasons. Indeed, Drucker noted that "although successful business executives have learned that workers are not entirely motivated by paychecks or promotions—they need more—the need is even greater in non-profit institutions. Even paid staff in these organizations need achievement, the satisfaction of service, or they become alienated and even hostile. After all, what's the point of working in a non-profit institution if one doesn't make a clear contribution?"

Leaders of nonprofit organizations, then, need to always be on the lookout for ways in which they can show their paid staff, their volunteers, and their leadership how their involvement in the organization is making a difference, whether the group is involved with ministering to the economically disadvantaged or devoted to protecting a beloved natural resource. As Father Leo Bartel, Vicar for Social Ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, told Drucker, "We give [volunteers] opportunities to deepen in themselves and in each other the sense of how important the things are that they are doing."


Prioritize employee recognition and you can ensure a positive, productive, innovative organizational climate. Provide employee recognition to say thank you and to encourage more of the actions and thinking that you believe will make your organization successful.

People who feel appreciated are more positive about themselves and their ability to contribute. People with positive self-esteem are potentially your best employees.

These beliefs about employee recognition are common among employers even if not commonly carried out. Why then is employee recognition so closely guarded in many organizations?

Why Is Employee Recognition Scarce?

Time is an often-stated reason and admittedly, employee recognition does take time. Employers also start out with all of the best intentions when they seek to recognize employee performance. But, they often find their recognition efforts turn into employee complaining, jealousy, and dissatisfaction. With these experiences, many employers are hesitant to provide employee recognition.

Employee recognition is scarce because of a combination of several factors. People don't know how to provide employee recognition effectively, so they have bad experiences when they do. They assume that one size fits all when they provide employee recognition.

Finally, employers think too narrowly about what people will find rewarding and recognizing. These guidelines and ideas will help you effectively walk the slippery path of employee recognition and avoid potential problems when you recognize people in your workplace.

Guidelines for Effective Employee Recognition

Decide what you want to achieve through your employee recognition efforts. Many organizations use a scatter approach to employee recognition. They put a lot of employee recognition out there and hope that some efforts will stick and create the results they want. Or, they recognize so infrequently that employee recognition becomes a downer for the many when the infrequent few are recognized.

Instead, create goals and action plans for employee recognition. You want to recognize the actions, behaviors, approaches, and accomplishments that you want to foster and reinforce in your organization. Establish employee recognition opportunities that emphasize and reinforce these sought-after qualities and behaviors.

If you need to increase attendance in your organization, hand out a three-part form, during your Monday morning staff meeting. The written note thanks employees who have perfect attendance that week. The employee keeps one part; save the second in the personnel file; place the third in a monthly drawing for gift certificates.

Fairness, clarity, and consistency are important in employee recognition. People need to see that each person who makes the same or a similar contribution has an equal likelihood of receiving recognition for her efforts.

For regularly provided employee recognition, organizations need to establish criteria for what makes a person eligible for the employee recognition. Anyone who meets the criteria is then recognized.

For example, if people are recognized for exceeding a production or sales expectation, anyone who goes over the goal gets the glory. Recognizing only the highest performer will defeat or dissatisfy all of your other contributors, especially if the criteria for employee recognition are unclear or based on the supervisor's opinion.

For day-to-day employee recognition, you’ll want to set guidelines so leaders acknowledge equivalent and similar contributions. Each employee who stays after work to contribute ideas in a departmental improvement brainstorming session gets to have lunch with the department head, for example. Each employee who contributes to a customer sale deserves employee recognition, even the employee who just answered the phone; his actions set the sale in motion.

This guideline is why an employee of the month-type program is most often unsuccessful for effective employee recognition. The criteria for results and the fairness of the criteria are not clear to people. So, people complain about “brown-nosing points” and the boss’s “pet employees.” These employee recognition programs cause discontent and dissention when the organization’s intentions were positive. It's one of common management mistakes in managing people.

As an additional example, it is important to recognize all people who contributed to a success equally.

Employee recognition approaches and content must also be inconsistent. Contradictory? No, not really. You want to offer employee recognition that is consistently fair, but you also want to make sure your employee recognition efforts do not become expectations or entitlements. As expectations, your employee recognition efforts become entitlements. Bad news.

For example, a company owner provided lunch for all staff every Friday to encourage team building and positive work relationships. All interested employees voluntarily attended the lunches. He was shocked when a group of employees asked him for reimbursement to cover the cost of the lunch on days they did not attend. I wasn’t shocked; the lunches had become an expected portion of their compensation and benefits package. Sincere recognition had turned into entitlement.

Inconsistency is encouraged in the type of employee recognition offered also. If employees are invited to lunch with the boss every time they work over-time, the lunch is an expectation. It is no longer a reward. Additionally, if a person does not receive the expected reward, it becomes a dissatisfier and negatively impacts the person’s attitude about work.

Be as specific as you can in telling the individual exactly why he is receiving the recognition. The work purpose of feedback is to reinforce what you’d like to see the employee do more of; the purpose of employee recognition is the same. In fact, employee recognition is one of the most powerful forms of feedback that you can provide.

While “you did a nice job today” is a positive comment, it lacks the power of, “the report had a significant impact on the committee’s decision. You did an excellent job of highlighting the key points and information we needed to weigh before deciding. Because of your work, we’ll be able to cut 6% of the budget with no layoffs.”

Offer employee recognition as close to the event you are recognizing as possible. When a person performs positively, provide recognition and a thank you immediately. Since it's likely the employee is already feeling good about her performance; your timely recognition of the employee will enhance the positive feelings. This, in turn, positively affects the employee’s confidence in her ability to do well in your organization.

Specific Ideas for Employee Recognition

Remember that employee recognition is situational. Each individual has a preference for what he finds rewarding and how that recognition is most effective for him. One person may enjoy public recognition at a staff meeting; another prefers a private note in her personnel file. The best way to determine what an employee finds rewarding is to ask.

Use the myriad opportunities for employee recognition that are available to you. In organizations, people place too much emphasis on money as the only form of employee recognition. While salary, bonuses, and benefits are critical within your employee recognition and reward system - after all, most of us do work for money - think more broadly about your opportunities to provide employee recognition.

Ways to Show Appreciation to Employees:

  • Praise something your coworker has done well. Identify the specific actions that you found admirable.

  • Say thank you. Show your appreciation for their hard work and contributions. And, don't forget to say please often as well. Social niceties do belong at work. A more gracious, polite workplace is appreciated by all.

  • Ask your coworkers about their family, their hobby, their weekend or a special event they attended. Your genuine interest - as opposed to being nosey – causes people to feel valued and cared about.

  • Offer staff members flexible scheduling for the holidays, if feasible. If work coverage is critical, post a calendar so people can balance their time off with that of their coworkers.

  • Know your coworker’s interests well enough to present a small gift occasionally. An appreciated gift, and the gesture of providing it, will light up your coworker’s day.

  • Almost everyone appreciates food. Take coworkers or staff to lunch for a birthday, a special occasion or for no reason at all. Let your guest pick the restaurant.

  • Create a fun tradition for a seasonal holiday i.e.a gift grab at the annual holiday party.

Ways to Say Thank You at Work

  1. Effective employee feedback is specific, not general. For example, say, "The report that you turned in yesterday was well-written, understandable, and made your points about the budget very effectively." Don't say, "good report."

  2. Useful feedback always focuses on a specific behavior, not on a person or their intentions.

  3. The best feedback is sincerely and honestly provided to help. Trust me, people will know if they are receiving it for any other reason.

  4. Successful feedback describes actions or behavior that the individual can do something about.

  5. Whenever possible, feedback that is requested is more powerful. Ask permission to provide feedback. Say, "I'd like to give you some feedback about the presentation, is that okay with you?"

  6. When you share information and specific observations, you are providing feedback that an employee might use. It does not include advice unless you have permission or advice was requested. Ask the employee what he or she might do differently as a result of hearing the feedback. You are more likely to help the employee change his approach than if you tell the employee what to do or how to change.

  7. Whether the feedback is positive or constructive, provide the information as closely tied to the event as possible. Effective feedback is well timed so that the employee can easily connect the feedback with his actions.

  8. Effective feedback involves what or how something was done, not why. Asking why is asking people about their motivation and that provokes defensiveness. Ask, "What happened?, How did that happen? How can you prevent that outcome in the future? How can I have done a better job of helping you? What do you need from me in the future?"

  9. Check to make sure the other person understood what you communicated by using a feedback loop, such as asking a question or observing changed behavior.

  10. Successful feedback is as consistent as possible. If the actions are great today, they're great tomorrow. If the policy violation merits discipline, it should always merit discipline.


  1. Feedback is communication to a person or a team of people regarding the affect their behavior is having on another person, the organization, the customer, or the team.

  2. Positive feedback involves telling someone about good performance. Make this feedback timely, specific, and frequent.

  3. Constructive feedback alerts an individual to an area in which his performance could improve. Constructive feedback is not criticism; it is descriptive and should always be directed to the action, not the person.

  4. The main purpose of constructive feedback is to help people understand where they stand in relation to expected and/or productive job behavior.

  5. Recognition for effective performance is a powerful motivator. Most people want to obtain more recognition, so recognition fosters more of the appreciated actions.

Change management

Change management is the process of helping individuals and your organization transition from the current state to the desired state. It involves tools, skills and best practices in areas that include:

Change management is therefore first and foremost about people and their capacity to adapt to change. The management needs to ensure that employees are motivated to undertake the change and participate in the change management program. For this to happen, the organization needs to recruit the right people who can think out of the box and can bring a fresh perspective to the table.


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