The Perks of Not Offering Perks: the Challenge of True Recognition

If you google peer-to-peer recognition, you’ll quickly be inundated with countless tools and ways you can start a recognition program. As much as it makes a marketer’s job harder, it's a testament to the human need for acknowledgment and appreciation. When it comes to recognizing and celebrating team achievements, HeyTaco takes a unique twist. We use tacos as gratitude currency, we are silly and fun, on purpose, but the most counter thing about us is our stance on rewards and how to use them. The simple concept of sharing 'tacos' as a form of peer-to-peer recognition has made waves through modern office cultures. But there's a debate worth having, especially for those looking to implement HeyTaco in their workplace: Should you start with or without rewards?

The Draw of Rewards

In the business world, rewards are the gold standard for motivation. If a new initiative like HeyTaco is on the table, it's almost a reflex to think of what you can give as an incentive. The logic is clear and well-tried — rewards entice, rewards engage, and rewards get (quick) results. They work in customer loyalty programs, they should work in employee motivation platforms, right? Wrong. At least, we believe so.

Rewards have an undeniable charm. They make a recognition program fun, and they can very tangibly reward good work. But in the rush to show value and get employees on board as fast as we can, we often overlook an essential aspect of recognition — the intrinsic one.

The Pavlovian Pitfall

The problem with starting HeyTaco with rewards is the conditioning it fosters. Just like Pavlov's dogs salivated at the sound of a bell (even when no food was around), employees learn to expect reward rather than savor the raw flavor of recognition. It's not long before the 'taco' loses its meaning, swapped out, too easily, for the real and more immediate gains of rewards.

Introducing rewards is easy; we have ready scripts for that. But what if, for once, we embraced the paradox that to truly engage people, sometimes we need to withhold what we've conditioned them to expect? What if, instead of 'here's a taco, here's a reward,' the message was 'here's a taco, that's it'?

The Case for Intrinsic Motivation

We think that HeyTaco is best adopted as a new practice without rewards. This approach can cultivate an environment of genuine, unrewarded appreciation. It’s a radical stance in the incentive-addicted age, but it's one that prioritizes the emotional investment in recognition over the material.

Starting HeyTaco without rewards sends an implicit message – the act of recognizing a colleague is rewarding in itself, not because of the points it may accrue, but because it's the right thing to do. And with HeyTaco, it is also fun and it feels good. What we're aiming for is a community built on intrinsic rewards — the sense of pride, satisfaction, and belonging that comes from within. These are the kinds of motivations that don't burn out.

Employees who recognize others when there’s no extrinsic motivation to do so become the best advocates for a culture centered around it. By starting without rewards, you empower these 'champions of recognition' to spread the message organically. It's not a top-down mandate; it’s a movement that grows and evolves with the team.

Personal Experiences and the Power of the Unrewarded Taco

In my own encounters, I've seen the impact of the intrinsic approach. We recently had a customer switch to using HeyTaco after having used a system that for years incentivized recognition with monetary rewards. They decided to make a change from the expensive incentive system and opted to first embed a culture of gratitude. The results were nothing short of remarkable.

After the switch, it was as if an invisible barrier had been removed. Instead of waiting for a reward, people started celebrating each other for no reason outside of the pure satisfaction of doing so. The tacos they gave weren’t merely tokens for points; they were statements of connection and unity.

The lack of rewards didn't deter adoption; instead, it fueled it. People found joy in recognizing one another without the transactional back and forth. Before long, the recognition shared through HeyTaco became a staple of their communications, almost as ubiquitous as Slack itself.

The Counterargument and Why It Misses the Mark

The counterargument is often the same — "but rewards make it more fun." I don't dispute the fun of a little competition or the joy of winning a prize. What I disagree with is the emphasis we place on those external drivers. If we want a recognition program that is truly woven into the fabric of our culture, it has to be more than just fun; it has to be fundamental.

When rewards are in play, they become the focus. We work not for the recognition but for the endgame — the prize. HeyTaco in this context becomes just another gamified task, at odds with the very essence of recognition it seeks to embody.

Intrinsic Rewards, Invaluable Culture

For those considering HeyTaco or any other recognition platform, I encourage you to take a moment and ask yourself what you truly value — the act of recognizing or being recognized, or the rewards that follow. If it’s the former, then why risk diluting the message with pricing?

Implementing HeyTaco without rewards can be a radical step toward building a culture rooted in genuine appreciation. It may not be as immediately gratifying as a points system, but its long-term impact on your workplace's morale and cohesiveness is immeasurable. After all, isn't the point of recognition to make everyone feel like a winner, without needing a prize?

In a world where the line between genuine appreciation and transactional engagement is often blurred, starting without rewards may just be the most rewarding step you take. And if/when you do add (fun) rewards later on, they become a cherry on top and not the main reason people engage in sharing recognition. 

As with anything with HeyTaco, there isn’t a one size fits all. This is simply one of best practices we have seen countless teams use to build a true culture of appreciation and recognition, one that far exceeds any possible reward you can get. 

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