If you have any illusions that your organization is a business and not a club, don't ever utter the words "employee of the month".
Okay, having said that, I'm going to say exactly the opposite, and you're going to agree with me that both answers can coexist in the same space-time continuum without causing the annihilation of this universe, okay? Here's how it works if you really want to do Employee of the Month properly:
- Management has no say in who is nominated or who wins. Let's face it, management gets to choose winners and losers in everything else; they have no business here. Every nomination must come from someone who is not a manager, and only non-managers get to vote.
- As part of the process, each person who nominates a colleague must explain in their nomination why they believe the other employee is a lifesaver. None of this, "So-and-so is always so nice" or "Treats Customers well". They should be doing that all the time. Never reward someone for fulfilling their job description; it sends the wrong message. The nomination must be for something that was above and beyond the call of duty.
- If no one nominates anyone in a given month, there is no Employee of the Month. Period. The moment you jigger this, you're back to belonging to a club, and not running a business.
- Make the prize something of value to the recipient. And by value I don't mean something that costs the company a bundle. You know what most non-managers want? More time off. So award the winner an additional paid day off of their choice. Screw what HR says; the winner will truly appreciate it - it feels just like playing hooky - and their friends will want it, too, which generates more above and beyond behavior.
- Record it in some lasting way. A plaque that you add names to, if you're old school, or a permanent page on your blog, intranet, and / or FaceBook page. Something that the recipient can look at when they're having a bad day. Something that others can see is part of your organization's commitment to recognizing and rewarding extra effort (not popularity).
I throw these pearls out there so you can add them to your strands and shine. But it's up to you to pick them up, and to share what you've found on that beach with us, too. Got anything shiny?