Recognition doesn't have to be formal to be effective--in fact, it can be as informal as encouraging your managers to provide timely, sincere, and specific praise to people who are performing well. Here's an example of how one manager for the City of San Diego, working with limited time and resources, almost single-handedly developed a culture of informal recognition within her department.

When Elsie Tamayo first started in her position as training director for the City of San Diego's Department of Social Services, employee morale was low and the group had little identity in the organization. There were no existing recognition programs or, for that matter, any resources or budget. Nonetheless, Tamayo was determined to transform morale.

To address the identity problem, she met with her 13 employees and asked how they wanted to be perceived by the organization. The group developed its own identity as a "Training and Development Center," created a logo, and painted it on the outside and in the lobby. Everyone also got business cards with the new logo.

Tamayo identified every number she could use to increase the visibility of the group--the number of employees trained each month, cost-saving ideas--and hung flip charts to publicly track progress toward different goals. She awarded "masters degrees" to people who trained 1,000 hours.

Rewards & Recognition Tamayo also decided to earmark half a day each month as a "Reward and Recognition Day" (R&R Day), for which the group would think up activities to do together--visiting a museum, shopping in Tijuana, going to the zoo.

At each department meeting, she solicited the help of one employee to come up with a fun way of rewarding another employee in the group. For example, to announce one employee's promotion, the group made a parade through the building. Another time, they presented an employee "who kept going and going and going" with an Energizer Bunny. She also started each meeting by reading any letters she received praising the department or people in it.

She used barter to find training slots for her group, or facilities for off-site retreats. She hosted a fake run "marathon" with all project members, and even had T-shirts made. There, she awarded "records"--actual LPs with new labels and jackets promoting the achievements--which she handed out during a mock celebration.

Tamayo frequently used spontaneous rewards, such as quick handwritten notes or a note on a flip chart posted on a person's office door that read "You really handled the meeting well yesterday."

All of this was done with little or no budget. The result? After several months, morale in the department skyrocketed-- as did the department's visibility within the rest of the organization.

* Start with a clear goal in mind--If you set goals with others (as opposed to announcing goals to employees), you'll gain their support and commitment.

* Remember, you don't need a lot of cash--Be creative in how you recognize your employees, and you'll be surprised at what you can do. Spending $1 on something clever and unique is better than spending $50 on something ordinary and forgettable.

* Involve employees in deciding recognition activities--Let them decide what would be meaningful to them.