Few activities have as much impact on employee morale and performance as a good recognition program. By good, I don't mean expensive: The success of a recognition program depends more on doing something unique and memorable than on how much you spend.

Getting Creative at Honeywell At the Electro-Optics Division of Honeywell Inc., headquartered in Minneapolis, Minn., financial difficulties were causing a serious dip in morale that was leading to additional problems. The company needed to turn the situation around, but had to do so on a very low budget. So program director Deborah van Rooyen developed a creative solution: a recognition program titled Great Performers.

"The division was looking for top performance from its employees," she explains. "Top performance comes from top performers, and that got me thinking about top performers everyone is familiar with."

Van Rooyen spent a month in the local library, researching the lives of great performers in politics, education, social work, business, science, and the arts. All the people she selected had one characteristic in common: They succeeded by overcoming obstacles. Her idea was to put together a program in which the well-known accomplishments of these individuals would be celebrated alongside those of division employees. In theory, the possibility of being named a great performer would inspire employees to put forth their best effort.

"Turnaround begins with small accomplishments," van Rooyen says, "so we wanted to convey the idea that every job is important. For example, we wanted to encourage secretaries to type a letter only once, or employees in the shipping department to be careful enough that nothing would get broken, and so forth."

Management accepted the idea, and van Rooyen worked with the division's staff to finalize the list of 40 celebrity Great Performers, being careful to include men, women, minorities, teams, and historical figures.

Employees as Celebrities She began with a teaser campaign, featuring posters of the celebrity Great Performers with notable quotes from each. Then, employees were invited to nominate Great Performers within the organization, and asked to explain the reasons for their nomination. A committee of volunteers reviewed the nominees, and all were given pins in the shape of the letter "G" (to signify their greatness). In addition, the five employees that the committee thought best exemplified the spirit of the program were interviewed and their stories were used on posters that looked just like the ones featuring the celebrities. Each poster featured the employee's photo, a quote from the employee, and copy describing the employee's achievements and contributions.

"The posters were a visible way to help boost self-esteem," says spokesperson Chuck Madaglia. "The idea was to catch employees doing something right and get them feeling good about themselves."

The response was overwhelmingly positive. The Great Performers became corporate celebrities overnight, and everyone wanted to be one. Subsequently, five new employees were selected each month during the year the program was in place. Morale improved dramatically, and the ongoing program encouraged employees to make changes in work habits, create successful proposal bids, begin recycling scrap, and improve quality control. Within six months, the division experienced a financial surge, attributable in part to the success of its greatest performers.

STARTING A RECOGNITION PROGRAM? *Remember that effective recognition doesn't have to be expensive--There's a time and place for large, comprehensive, and expensive incentive programs, but you can do a lot for less.

* Use a theme to create synergy--Creating a theme improves communication and makes the program more effective and more memorable. In the case of Honeywell, posters, quotes, and award pins all reinforced the desired message in an integrated manner.

* The best recognition programs involve those individuals you are targeting--As much as possible, ask employees to help design the program, make and evaluate nominations, and select and present awards. When employees get involved, they become committed to the program's success.