Top 7 Creative Ways to Reward Your Army Team

Although the idea of rewarding Soldiers and leaders for performing beyond their duties, responsibilities and expectations seems obvious, most leaders avoid the practice.  Maybe it’s because they feel that showing appreciation undermines their authority…or perhaps they want to avoid stirring up jealousy in other Soldiers. Perhaps they even feel they don’t have the time to do it, or they feel embarrassed praising people openly.  This is a shame, in my opinion…

The most successful military leaders are those who recognize and reward their Soldier’s extraordinary efforts. This not only builds trust, but it strengthens loyalty as well. Retention issues are oftentimes much lower in units that have a strong bond with their leadership.  Bottom line, rewarding Soldiers for their accomplishments is a good thing.  That being said, here are my Top 7 Creative Ways to Reward Your Army Team.

To begin, it is essential to be consistent when rewarding your Soldiers – Consistency is vital. For example, if you praise often during one IDT, and then skip the next month entirely, your unit will wonder what’s going on. Creating a culture of recognition and reward is important – so once you start, make sure you continue.

Something that I like to personally do is take your team out to lunch or breakfast– and then, as a last-minute surprise, give them the rest of the day off.  Anytime one of my Soldiers beats me on the APFT, I take them out for breakfast and then give them the rest of the day off.  Just a simple motivator to do well and allowed me to get to know some of my Soldiers at a more personal level…win-win for me.

Depending on the size of your Armory parking lot, a good parking spot may come at a premium. Reward Soldiers by assigning them a stellar parking spot for a month or so. Consider dedicating a permanent parking space for this very purpose and rotate it among your star performers.  Nothing can boost a Soldier’s motivation to do well than being able to park next to the Company Commander and 1SG.

In our Army’s bottom-line culture, we tend to focus on end results and not realize the effort involved in simply getting there. The best way to keep Soldiers trying hard and working toward success is to reward effort. Take a moment to discover who’s giving their all and find a small way to acknowledge those efforts personally…maybe even recognizing them in front of their peers at final formation.  I know I personally like to be recognized for the effort I am putting into things as opposed to maybe being commended once the end state is reached.

Reward dedicated Soldiers and leaders by offering flexibility. My personal experience with this lies in the fact that I live in DC, but drill in Pennsylvania (about 4 hours away).  My Commander appreciates the work I do and oftentimes will let me leave a little early, even if I have some work to do.  This vote of confidence in your Soldiers’ ability to self-manage and get things done can be a great acknowledgement and motivator.

If a Platoon or your entire unit continues to knock your socks off, have a party. Our Battalion loves to have their yearly dining-in and other events but Soldiers rarely get to celebrate their success as well.  In my opinion, the very best parties (the ones that truly feel like a reward) are “planned surprises.” Clear some time on the training schedules for an hour or two in the afternoon to prepare for a Company or Platoon meeting that’s really a party.

Lastly, a simple and heartfelt “thank you” goes a long way. Taking the time to call a Soldier into your office for the sole purpose of thanking them or sending a handwritten note is a personal and profound gesture. In our hectic, abbreviated and automated world, don’t forget the more human connections that make people feel valued.

Final Thoughts

In summary, these are my top 7 creative ways to reward your Army Team.  At the end of the day, your job as a military leader is to get things done through your Soldiers.  It’s also your job to motivate and recognize your Soldiers.  You owe it to your Soldiers to SHOW THEM that you care about them and appreciate their efforts.  You can do that by following any of the advice listed above, or come up with some other creative methods on your own.  The bottom line is to make sure that you do it.

What are your thoughts?  What do you do to reward your Soldiers?  Leave a comment and let us know.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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9 thoughts on “Top 7 Creative Ways to Reward Your Army Team”

  1. I think rewarding our soldiers for their good work is important. Although bad behavior is always addressed, it’s nice to give some regard to when people do the right thing. Humans are imperfect in nature, and we all make mistakes, but it’s important to recognize a job well done – and I’m sure any soldier could get behind a meal out or a great parking spot!

  2. It is true that people need to feel valued and appreciated, above and beyond any paycheck. The more personalized this recognition can be made, the better. If you take the time and make the effort to get to know your subordinates, then you will know what rewards will really motivate them. They probably won’t need to be anything expensive. (Remember; deserved compliments are always free.)

  3. You know, I was really thinking about some other great ways to reward. I believe that every soldier would love a gift certificate for a dinner for two to a very nice restaurant. Giving that to the soldier who performs far above expectations will fire the others up. Yes, there is cost in something like this, but….

    When it comes to rewards, just thinking about your team of soldiers and what they all are interested in may give you some great ideas.

  4. Some people believe that money is the best reward; I tend to disagree. We all like a simple “pat on the back” at times.

    Justin, I especially like the parking spot for those who have earned it. The lunch or dinner with time off is also very good.

    One of the main things I must mention is to not hand out rewards like pieces of candy. If you over do it, they will mean nothing. Make sure the reward is for going above and beyond. I don’t believe rewards should be given for responsibilities that are part of the soldier’s required duties.

  5. A soldier’s need to be rewarded and appreciated in ways outside of pay is greatly underestimated. Whether you are full time active duty or in the reserves, it takes a great deal of commitment and the physical, mental and emotional toll can be overwhelming for even a seasoned soldier. Letting your soldiers know that they’ve done a good job doesn’t cost anything, but the rewards are endless. You will help instill confidence in your squad and they will in turn look to you with admiration and respect!

  6. Candace Ginestar

    One thing that stuck with me is Chuck’s way of writing a handwritten Thank You note each drill for one Soldier that stood out above the rest in their training. I think that is an awesome gesture and goes a long way. Soldiers can tell who cares about them and it’s nice to reinforce that in other ways.

  7. Recognizing your Soldiers’ achievements is a very important part of your job. Unfortunately, most leaders are lazy and don’t do this well. If you supervise people, make it a point to recognize 1-2 Soldiers every drill weekend, with some type of award (formal or informal). Send 1-2 Soldiers a written thank you note after every drill weekend. During drill weekend, give an “atta boy” or “job well done” do another two to three Soldiers. I suggest you look for the good in people and do what you can to recognize that behavior as much as possible.

    Getting praised never gets old. Soldiers love it. It doesn’t cost you anything and it’s one of the easiest and fastest ways to boost morale and performance in your unit.

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