AS READERS OF THIS COLUMN will know, some of the most effective forms of recognition cost little or nothing at all. So it should come as no surprise that the most popular award at Total System Services, a subsidiary of financial services holding company Synovus, Columbus, Ga., is a pink flamingo with a bow tie.

The award is called the Standing Tall Award. It is given out quarterly at TSYS, with no limit on the number of people who can receive it. (In a recent quarter, 39 people won the award.) Employees nominate those whom they see going way above the scope of their jobs. A committee decides the winners. Each quarter, the CEO and other senior officers host a luncheon and present the awards — $100 and a day of paid vacation.

But the most popular aspect of the Standing Tall Award is that recipients each receive a tacky pink flamingo with a bow tie to proudly display in their cubicles. The cost: $3.47 each.

Silly? Marty Grueber, director of team enhancement at Synovus, doesn't think so. “The power in this is that their peers see the flamingo and know they've been recognized. The visual, public recognition really makes a difference. A letter from your boss is nice, but no one may know about it but you.” He must be right, because initial nominations for the program numbered 65, but once the flamingos started popping up in the workplace, nominations quickly more than tripled to 250.

In fact, the award is right in line with one of the organization's corporate goals: to promote teamwork and have fun. Says Grueber, “If you're going to be successful and have happy customers, it's critical that employees feel good too.”

That's what effective recognition does. It creates a buzz and excitement. Although recognition is more of an activity than a thing, the trophy value of the flamingos provides a lasting effect. Sometimes, the wackier, the better.

Might the program get stale once the novelty wears off? “We've had a variety of programs over time,” says Grueber. “They run their course, and we do something new. Employees are a great source for creative ideas, and they are always ready to share their thoughts when it comes to recognition.”

Bob Nelson, PhD, is president of Nelson Motivation Inc., San Diego; best-selling author of several books, including 1001 Ways to Reward Employees and Managing For Dummies; and a frequent speaker. For more info, visit