At Cooley, spot recognition takes many forms

Company: Cooley.

Location: The District and Reston.

Employees: 400 locally; 1,690
worldwide.

Shannon Pelikan remembers how her employer, Cooley, used to handle spot recognition awards in the old days: Each office received a big box of department store gift certificates that managers could dole out when someone performed exceptional work.

But Pelikan, a 20-year veteran of the law firm who is now its chief human resources officer, said that system had some downsides.

“We’d be worrying about, gosh, does this person even shop at Macy’s?” Pelikan said.

So today, Cooley has a much wider range of ways to recognize accomplishments. One of the most popular is known as a “snooze or cruise” certificate. Employees who receive this award can choose a day to either come in two hours late or leave two hours early. The idea first came from one of the firm’s secretaries, an example, Pelikan said, of the collaborative approach she and her team try to take to designing employee benefits.

The Way to Go program is a way for rank and file employees — not just managers — to recognize outstanding work. If a staffer believes someone else has gone above and beyond at work recently, he or she can fill out a Way to Go certificate (available electronically or on paper) explaining that person’s achievements. All of the nominees are acknowledged each month in a company-wide e-mail, and then one is selected in a drawing to win a gift card. Pelikan said staffers take pride in their Way to Go certificates, with many of them displaying the certificates at their desks.

Managers at Cooley may also offer spot recognition in the form of a weekend getaway or dinner at a local restaurant.

Pelikan said having this flexibility in a reward system allows the firm to show appreciation for talented workers in a way that will be most meaningful to each individual.

“It really is not that difficult to take a program and try to figure out where you can be more creative,” Pelikan said.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.

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