Recognition Programs: Transparency and “Gaming the System”

Collusion, cheating, gaming the system. We've heard it all before. 😰

Some people are still hesitant about recognition programs. The skeptics in the room think they may not be genuine or effective. Specifically, they believe employees want money—not praise—and will only use recognition systems to gamify their way to more prizes. 

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Peer-to-peer recognition: what not to do

The #1 question Bonusly receives from users, press, and social media is some variation of “What stops people from giving bonuses to their friends and vice-versa?”

First, let’s look at a peer bonus system where collusion was a problem. This article details a story where GSA's system of doling out rewards was flawed:

The “Peer-2-Peer” awards, which cost taxpayers $160,000…are among several flaws and violations of federal regulations…found in a review of the General Services Administration’s system of giving awards and bonuses and reviewing the performance of its top executives.

The GSA created an awards system where executives could give each other peer bonuses. Sounds good in theory, but the system was flawed in at least one key way: it was completely opaque. No one could see or review the bonuses that were being given, besides the giver and receiver.

Under the system, as the article reads “many bonuses and cash awards were not properly vetted and were made for questionable reasons." The practice went on for over two years before it was stopped.

Had the GSA implemented a system where all bonus activity was completely transparent, then such abuses would have been phenomenally difficult, if not impossible. Transparency is a powerful anti-corruption force, so much so that the world's leading anti-corruption organization is called Transparency International.

The takeaway

While it’s still possible to cheat in a transparent system, it is much, much harder. In fact, to date, no company has reported even a single incidence of collusion on Bonusly. In fact, data we gathered recently showed that reciprocity in bonus giving was even less common than random chance would have produced.

Share that with your HR and leadership teams 😀 and then take a tour of Bonusly.

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Originally published on January 29, 2014 → Last updated March 8, 2022

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Raphael Crawford-Marks

Raphael Crawford-Marks is the Founder and CEO of Bonusly, an enterprise platform that helps companies create high-performance, high-engagement workplaces. He's passionate about building products that help people connect with their work and each other in meaningful ways.


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