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Lessons Learned from Awards Study

Lessons Learned from Awards Study

An Office of Personnel Management study of Federal awards programs provides useful information about how well these programs are administered and how they are perceived by employees. It also includes recommendations for improvement. The study summarizes the results of a 2-year review of awards programs in 15 Federal agencies.


The study surfaced many positive findings about awards programs, including:

  • awards distributions show no evidence of inequities based on race, sex, national origin, or other non-merit factors; and
  • intentional abuse of the awards authority is rare.

But some shortcomings emerged as well:

  • large segments of the workforce do not have confidence in awards programs;
  • awards programs suffer from inconsistencies in funding and funding practices; and
  • agencies appear to pay little attention to monitoring and evaluating awards program results.

Employee Preferences.

Although the study found mixed employee opinions about awards programs, it also found notable agreement on what employees do like, such as:

  • peer involvement in designing and evaluating awards programs, nominating individuals for awards, reviewing nominations, and recommending award amounts;
  • special act and on-the-spot awards because they are more timely and are not based on appraisal ratings that have low credibility;
  • group/team awards where the predominant mode of getting the work done is through formal and informal teams;
  • standard formulas for determining awards budgets and individual award amounts;
  • prestigious honorary awards to recognize extraordinary professional or personal efforts that best represent the organization's values and reflect great credit on the organization, its mission, and its workforce; and
  • public recognition to demonstrate management's support and confidence in the validity of the awards decisions and to reassure everyone that deserving employees will be rewarded for high performance.


This study recommends strategies for improving awards programs:

  • Link performance recognition programs and decisions to strategic plans, goals, and results.
  • Establish balanced, flexible recognition programs that feature a variety of group and individual awards, rather than focusing on one or two types of awards.
  • Consider making more use of competitive and prestigious nonmonetary (honorary) awards, with provisions for peer nomination and peer involvement in deciding award recipients.
  • Improve publicity about individual award recipients and awards program activity.
  • Publish and disseminate to all organization levels annual awards policies, expectations, and funding guidance for the year as soon as practicable at the beginning of each fiscal year.
  • Consider employee concerns - including inconsistency in distribution, non-credible bases for awards, and awards given unfairly - when developing policies related to award practices and funding.
  • Establish accountability systems to monitor adherence to awards policies and expectations, to spot problem trends, and to identify opportunities for program improvement.


Good lessons are available in this study for anyone managing awards programs. In order to improve these programs, the study encourages agencies to more systematically monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of awards programs and policies.

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