For many employees, receiving recognition or rewards for a job well done is paramount to the satisfaction they get from their work.

The best way to create satisfied, loyal workers is to recognize and reward them for the exceptional things they do and to do it in a way they want.

Combine Rewards Start with a simple thank you. Go a bit further and send a letter of thanks to the employee's family if that employee has given extra time and effort to the job.

Recognize the desired behavior as soon as possible. Waiting diminishes the impact of rewards, and motivation to repeat the behavior declines.

Rewards should come frequently and in small amounts. If you only occasionally recognize the behavior, employees are less likely to behave the way you want them to. Reward often with large amounts, and it becomes costly.

Everybody likes cash, right? But cash rewards don't have memory value and may come to be expected. Often a cash reward is spent and forgotten. For non-monetary rewards, have something that gets, and keeps, employees' attention. If the award is something that can be enjoyed with the family, the employee never forgets it. The best merchandise rewards are practical and have positive, lasting value.

But the ideal system for rewarding employees blends money and gift awards. Mix cash, gift certificates, merchandise, travel, recognition plaques, trophies, fun events, and celebrations. Announce awards at special events, parties, or picnics.

Who Gets Rewarded Reward employees for exceptional behavior and for performance beyond your set standard. Never reward non-performers. Reward average behavior, and that's what you'll get more of. Give the most rewards to the best performers, and give everyone the same opportunity. Also, don't forget part-timers and temporary employees. Rewards must be available, fair, and equitable to everyone.

Spotlight those who show exceptional behavior or who have shown greatest improvement. Recognize that their contributions have made a valuable difference.

Creating a successful reward and recognition program is an investment requiring time and money. Your returns will include greater employee self-esteem, increased job satisfaction, improved morale, higher levels of innovation and creativity, and, best of all, a happy customer. —Bob Losyk is a Greensboro, N.C.–based professional speaker, author, and consultant to businesses of all sizes;