How to Recognize Employee Mastery

by Allan Peretz

There are many ways that employees can distinguish themselves but few are as important as mastery. While some are born with leadership or creativity, mastery is a different animal – it must be earned with practice, experience, and self-development. So how do you develop rewards and recognition for mastery? Here are some ideas...

Certify Them
To recognize mastery you have to be able to measure it. This likely means testing and certification based on highly objective standards. In some cases, an industry will establish these – the legal Bar exam, for example, or the CPA certification for accountants. In other cases, however, you'll have to develop the certification yourself.

If you are developing your own certification program, consider getting outside help. The right consultants can make fast work of this and will bring in outside perspective that can make your program stronger. Also consider how you will keep your certification program up to date – a program that’s based on outdated approaches or knowledge can do more harm than good.

Show Them The Money
When employees in invest the time to earn their certifications, they are helping you. Make sure they are also helping themselves if you want your program to work. The most obvious reward is money. You can incentivize mastery by giving a cash reward for achieving / maintaining a certification. You can also adjust salary – this will of course have a bigger impact and bigger expense long term. Make sure you also reward outside certifications – an employee who has gotten one of these is likely more marketable and you now have to work even harder to keep them.

Help Them Up The Ladder
Perhaps more impactful than cash alone is title: tying the certification to promotion criteria. Becoming a “senior customer service rep,” for example, may require you to take a test on customer handling approaches. Tying a certification to supervisory roles will also make sense in some settings – especially those where the supervisor needs high levels of technical expertise like in a manufacturing facility or in a lab, for example.

Call Them Out
Public recognition can be a powerful thing – if you're running certification programs consider a ceremony to award newly anointed experts with their certificates on a monthly basis. This doesn't have to be formal or stiff. Just get the team together and celebrate.

Get Them More Training
If your employee demonstrates Mastery, it means two things: first, they have the aptitude to learn new things and second, they are INTERESTED in learning as well. Give these employees opportunities to learn more – not just in house but also at trade shows, conventions, seminars, and even college level courses. This can be amazingly motivating to the employee both because they enjoy the opportunity and because they know that each milestone is making them more valuable to the organization.

However you choose to reward Mastery, it's critical that you do. Unlike other employee attribute, Mastery is fully controllable… it’s up to you as a leader to make sure your organization has enough!