I am a Special Snowflake

April 30, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

I know that headline might sound sarcastic, but I assure you it’s quite sincere. You see… I *am* a special snowflake. I am utterly unique, like no other employee you will ever have. I have different skills. I have different needs. I have different motivations.

And guess what? The same is true for you. And every employee on your payroll. We are all special snowflakes.

Which is why I am always baffled when employers use one-size-fits-all reward solutions.

A few years ago, I had a well-meaning boss who used to hand out small denomination gift cards for a local coffee shop. It was a really nice gesture. But honestly, I gave most of them away. (I do still have one in my wallet, but I’m a Starbucks girl. I doubt I’ll ever use it.)

It wasn’t my manager’s fault. It’s just really tricky to hit the target with a one-size fits all reward. We all want to reinforce recognition in a way that is going to have significant impact for every snowflake in our organization. It’s hard to do that by treating us like snow drifts.

We are all driven by different things, and we all find different things meaningful. What to me is a useless piece of plastic in my wallet is a week of caffeinated bliss to the person one cubicle over. (This, incidentally, is why some companies revert to cash. But that doesn’t work either, because studies show that cash awards disappear into paychecks and get spent on mundane expenses like filling the tank with gas.)

I thought about this the other day as I was opening a package with my own little special snowflake, my daughter Nell. (“My name is Nell, but my friends call me Eleanor,” she tells people.) In the package was a ballet outfit and a pair of ballet slippers.

You see, I signed Nell up for ballet lessons this spring, but the lessons were pretty pricey, and I was a bit worried I might not have money to buy her a costume to wear. Luckily, one of the vendors in our reward network carries ballet costumes for little kids. She was so excited that she put it right on. And I snapped the picture above, of her and Bunny Bunny, to share with the co-workers who had given me the recognition award that helped me get this special treat for my daughter.

Whenever I see Nell dancing around the house it makes me feel good. About my recognition. About my co-workers. About my company. That’s what makes a meaningful reward so important. It lasts.

But it is also what makes choice so important. Because you can never predict what will be the most meaningful reward to someone else. Who would have known I needed toddler ballet clothes?

Here are a few more examples that some of my co-workers were kind enough to share:

Picture of Chris’s St. Croix with a fishChris’s St. Croix Legend Elite  

Chris is one of the high fliers on our business development team. He sports cool sunglasses and a cheeky grin. The other day I caught him delivering a speech on the nuances of scented candles. (Yes, he will totally admit this.) What did he spend his rewards on? A St. Croix Legend Elite fishing rod. Turns out, Chris is a pretty avid sport fisherman. Who knew? (I’m still skeptical that he actually caught that fish, BTW.)

Picture of Carole KeensCarole’s Keens

Carole is our rep in the Rockies. She’s a transplant from the Southeast–a consummate pro with an urban fashion style. In fact, you can pick her out of a crowd by looking for beautiful black and white geometrics and sharp, well-cut blazers. So it was a surprise to me to find out that on weekends she likes to throw on hiking gear and tramp around the Colorado hills with her family. Her reward of choice was a new pair of Keen hiker boots.



Picture of Noel's kitchenNoel’s Kitchen

Noel is an IT God in our Dublin office. Because I don’t sit by him from day to day, I don’t know much about him except that he’s super smart and equally nice. Turns out, he’s got a son, Adam, who is a budding chef. According to Noel, Adam has “a Michelin star in his future.” I gave Noel recognition earlier this year, but I would never have known that he wanted to buy a kitchen for his son. And even if I had, I’d have had little idea how to get him one, from across the pond. But luckily, he knew—and that’s what he used his awards for.

Jess' CouchJess’ Couch

Jess is our talented creative director. You would be hard pressed to find someone with more refined taste. (This picture, I swear to you, is her ACTUAL living room, not a catalog.) Even if you knew she was saving toward a couch—well, lets just say you are a much braver person than I am if you would presume to choose an artist’s furniture for her. This exquisite new couch was Jess’ choice. (Yes, seriously… it really is her living room.)

Smoothie BlenderJulie’s Smoothies

Julie is one of the shining stars on our product team and kind of a generally awesome person. She wrote to me: “Here is my picture of the Vitamix and my favorite smoothie. I am not a great photographer! It was a splurge I would never have made without my awards – and not one anyone else would have bought for me. I use it nearly every day after my morning workouts.” Because Julie chose her award for herself, she was able to choose something that would be a lasting reminder for her.

By the way, I was able to wangle us a copy of Julie’s smoothie recipe:

Julie’s Chocolate Banana Smoothie Recipe

One frozen ripe banana (or one unfrozen banana and a few ice cubes)
One cup organic chocolate soy milk
One scoop chocolate protein powder
1/2 cup vanilla yogurt
1/2 tablespoon baking cocoa powder (optional)
1 tablespoon Udo’s Oil (optional)

These are just a few examples out of hundreds here. The truth is, every co-worker I asked was willing and even excited to step up and share their reward story with me. Because for every one of them, the recognition moment was reinforced, extended and made manifest by the reward they chose for themselves. A reward no one else could have chosen for them, because each of them—each of us—is a special snowflake.


If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy these companion posts: