From the Washington Post

The right way to reward federal employees

This week’s questions come from federal managers at the U.S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Please continue sharing your ideas and questions by emailing me at

How can I reward a high-performing employee without making other employees upset? -Federal manager (GS-14) at the U.S. Small Business Administration

It’s important that you support and reward your high performers. But as a leader, you also need to consider team dynamics and the impact these rewards will have on others.

When deciding to reward your employees, consider these three variables: whether the criteria for the reward are clearly defined; whether the reward is for an individual or a team; and whether you want to publicize the reward.

First, if your decision for rewarding your high performer is unclear, other employees may feel slighted and overlooked. Make sure you clearly define to your team the criteria for which you make an award.

Second, determine if this is an individual or team award. If others can claim partial credit, you may want to consider recognizing the whole team. Even if your high performer is primarily responsible–and thus deserving of a bigger reward–others may deserve a reward as well.

Finally, consider whether the reward needs to be publicized. The conventional wisdom is to recognize your high performers publicly so you can demonstrate the behaviors, performance and results that are most valued to the team and the agency. However, this does not take your unique team dynamics into account. If you think that the reward is better delivered in private, then you should do so.

At the end of the day, you must stand by your high-performing employees. Without them, your team and your agency will not succeed.

What is the best course of action when a peer–who is a manager–does not manage her staff well? Her employees fail to show up for meetings on time and perform joint tasks that affect the work of my team. – Federal manager (GS-15) at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

You must talk with your colleague directly about her team’s behavior and their effect on your team’s performance. It’s a difficult conversation to have, but here are a few steps to help you prepare:

• Approach the conversation with an open mind and a joint approach to problem-solving. It is possible that your colleague may be unaware of the situation. Start the dialogue by letting your colleague know about their team’s behavior, how it’s affecting your team’s performance and that you need help to fix the situation.

• Do your homework and have a set of very specific examples of your colleague’s behavior and its impact on your team. Quantitative measures are always better than qualitative, but both are necessary to make an effective case. Again, you don’t want to approach the conversation in an accusatory tone, but your colleague will undoubtedly need some specific examples around which she can provide guidance and coaching.

• Prepare a joint plan of attack around communication with one another and the members of your teams so that feedback is delivered in real-time. This will ensure that everyone understands what success looks like and will prevent frustrations from building over time.

If your colleague is unwilling to work through the problem, approach your manager with a plan for resolving the issue. I suggest that your plan includes finding a mediator to help your teams engage in a healthy, productive conversation about working together more effectively. Whatever your plan, you’ll need your manager’s support to make it work. Good luck!

Link to original article and many public comments: