Do Companies Practice What They Preach? Most companies talk about recognizing their employees, but do most companies have a formal recognition program? When Corporate Meetings & Incentives asked readers that question in a recent e-mail survey, 129 said "yes," and 155 said "no."

That's not what proponents of employee recognition say. "I know that well over 80 percent of the Fortune 500 have, at a minimum, service award programs," claims Greg Boswell, a board member for the National Association of Employee Recognition and manager of market research with the O.C. Tanner Co. (www.octanner.com) in Salt Lake City, a provider of employee recognition solutions.

"I'd say that nine times out of 10, companies have formal recognition systems," reports Rita Maehling, HR manager at Tennant Co. (www.tennantco.com), a Minneapolis-based manufacturer of floor cleaning products. "Many, though, have set up systems on their own, not fully realizing what they've done."

Perhaps the different statistics stem from the definition of "formal." At Tennant Co., a formal program is defined by objective criteria that are tied to business strategy and to a clearly defined nomination and selection process.

Tennant has a long-standing, successful program. In place since 1982, the program is "linked to business strategy," an important element for success. Two additional success factors are a peer-driven process (individual performers and teams are nominated by their peers) and measurable criteria.

Measuring program results is critical. At Priceline.com (www.priceline.com), an online source of discount services, Jill Pfefferbaum, HR generalist, says that even "intangible" benefits can be measured. "If you see people prominently displaying awards on their desk, you know you've made an impact." Companies can also keep a file of comments that have been received from employees, she says. Priceline.com also does annual and "as needed" employee surveys, with certain questions tied to rewards and recognition.

Once a company is a believer in the value of formal recognition, as Priceline.com is, it tends to enhance its efforts, reports Debra Sikanas, president of Baudville (www.baudville.com), a Grand Rapids firm that markets award and recognition solutions. "We're seeing tremendous growth in formal and informal programs," she says, noting that companies that have read about or experienced the benefits of recognition are now taking it to the next level.

Warm evenings, slowly turning fans, water slipping beneath the keel. Two specialty U.S. cruise lines now offer river and coastal cruises aboard newly built vessels that can be chartered for corporate groups.

RiverBarge Excursions, out of New Orleans, (www.riverbarge.com) operates the 198-passenger River Explorer, a river barge built for cruising the country's rivers and inland waterways, including the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, and Missouri rivers as well as the Louisiana-Texas Gulf Coast. With 98 identical outside staterooms and a full complement of public facilities (including a spa), the River Explorer also has a number of spaces that do double duty as meeting rooms.

American Classic Voyages, the company that operates the Delta Queen and Mississippi Queen stern-wheelers, is launching Delta Queen Coastal Voyages (www.coastalvoyages.com) aboard two new ships in May.

Coastal vessels Cape May Light and Cape Cod Light, designed to resemble the classic coastal ships of the late 1800s, each have 114 staterooms, of which 88 percent are outside. They will visit ports on the Great Lakes, the East Coast, and the Canadian Maritime Provinces.

"Here's a chance to do something completely different from the Caribbean," says Sean Mahoney, director corporate, charter & incentive sales. "And because the ships are U.S. registered, the cruises are tax deductible."