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Reward and recognition: The power of the carrot

How intentional are the reward and recognition systems within your business? We’ve all heard the old carrot and the stick analogy on punishment and reward, but let us ask you a question: how healthy are your carrots?

Your answer will probably fall into one of three categories. First, “we don’t really utilise rewards systems as well as we could”; second, “we have rewards systems, but they are mostly decorative and don’t hold much weight within the business”. Or the third category, “we have solid reward systems which have been consciously set up to drive the exact types of behavioural change we want to see in our employees”. Be honest, which category does your business fall into?

It is easy to diminish the importance of rewards in business, but to do so would be to miss a massive trick in reaching your behavioural change goals. When your goals and processes are aligned with the desired change – and there is incentive and recognition for leaders who exemplify this change – then everything gets easier.

We have broken down some ways you can implement this, based on your own organisational goals.

More collaboration

If you want to encourage more collaboration between individuals or teams:

  • Ask teams to set shared objectives and goals, write these down, and come back to them in meetings. Collaborative goal-setting helps individuals to feel aligned in their efforts with their co-workers, and creates a benchmark for the team to refer back to time and time again.
  • When a team reaches a goal, how is that team currently rewarded? If it’s something you’d like to improve, try introducing team-based incentives where rewards are tied to collective achievements.
  • Evaluate how you are currently rewarding personal performance, and ask: does it encourage a culture of collaboration or of competition? If the latter, does this impact the productivity of the team as a whole positively or negatively? A competitive culture can be a great thing, if everyone in the team is in agreement about who the competitor is.

Innovation and creativity

If more innovation and creativity is needed:

  • Encouraging employees to think creatively and take risks can be difficult in a society that rewards consistent results. Instead, implement rewards systems that recognise and celebrate this type of thinking, such as creative challenges, or innovation-focused employee recognition programmes.
  • Set up an idea sharing platform, in which employees are encouraged to speak freely, spark ideas off one another, be curious, and where fear of sounding ignorant is eliminated.
  • Plan meetings where creative thinking is the goal. Take time to share thoughts, with a general policy that ideas get explored not dismissed. Switch up the meeting environment to see if this inspires new thinking. Ensure that you recognise those who take time to prepare, and embrace the experience.


If integrity is a focus::

  • Fostering a strong ethical culture within an organisation doesn’t just happen – it is vital that the ethical standards employees will be held to are communicated with clarity, and repeated often.
  • Implement recognition systems that reward individuals who exemplify high integrity and align their actions with the company’s values.
  • This does not need to be official or systematic, which may seem inauthentic, but instead can be infused into the culture of the organisation; for example, if somebody shows significant integrity, they should be shouted out on your chosen communication platform. Do this intentionally and often.

Customer service

If you’re developing customer-focused leaders:

  • Do your current customer satisfaction metrics clearly display the employees responsible? Do your employees take full ownership for the quality of their service, thereby adopting a genuine customer-centric mindset?
  • Ensure you are tying rewards to performance in this area, recognising employees who consistently deliver exceptional customer service, exceed expectations, and effectively build long-lasting relationships with clients.

Learning and development

If you want to build a culture that celebrates learning and development:

  • Providing opportunities for skill development and personal growth such as training programmes, mentorship initiatives and coaching is the first step, but it will not work in isolation. For these initiatives to produce impactful results, we need to start recognising and rewarding employees who actively engage in learning activities and demonstrate a commitment to self-improvement.
  • Do this through certificates or digital credentials that can be showcased on profiles or resumes, monetary bonuses, additional time off, or other tangible rewards.
  • If you have a mentorship or coaching programme, ensure that you are recognising both mentors and mentees for their participation, through spotlight features, public acknowledgement, or special events.
  • Create a peer-to-peer recognition system in which employees can celebrate their peers who contribute to internal knowledge sharing, or who are seen to actively be applying their learning in a way that positively impacts the team.
  • Make learning goals a key part of performance reviews. Help employees to set specific objectives related to skill enhancement and personal and professional growth, and assess their commitment to these during performance reviews. Consider their commitments and achievements in promotions, salary, or career advancement opportunities.
  • Make learning the reward. At Ivy House, we always suggest to our clients that development programmes should be positioned as rewards in themselves. This stops this kind of deep learning being taken for granted. Application processes help create a culture that actively strives for growth.

The bottom line is this: our reward and recognition systems should be highly intentional. They should contribute to the forward motion of an organisation, by delivering genuine behavioural change. Otherwise, their value is lost.

As experts in behavioural change, we speak from experience when we say that creating change is both an art and a science. If you want to explore how to really make this happen with your organisation – and start growing some serious carrots – you can get more inspiration below.





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