Offering Official Rewards

Learn about the importance of official rewards, such as title changes, increments, and bonuses, as well as how to approach these rewards.

Within this section “official” rewards, as a classification, are those that require involvement from the HR department and/or company leadership to carry them out. These are often going to be more “formalized” and long-lasting rewards, and more subject to formal company policy and procedure to deliver—for that reason, as a manager, you should be researching what it will take to do any of these things for your team members as soon as you take your role, so that you can be aware of the timeframe and procedures involved.


Although it may seem trite—and certainly the Silicon Valley has seen its share of “custom” titles that developers love to select for themselves—the title assigned to a role can make a non-trivial difference to members of your team, particularly when (not if) they leave the company and move to a new role.

Chief Bench Warmer: At one consultancy at which I worked, it was considered a “perk” for consultants of a certain level to be able to choose their own titles for their business cards. Unfortunately, it led to quite a few nonsensical ones, such as “Chief Bench Warmer” and “Chief Dispenser of Pleasantries” and other empty collections of words. Eventually, the company ended up standardizing its titles as they grew larger, and the “quirky” titles were moved over to being internal nicknames and inside jokes.

Often the title can be a reflection of a nuance in the individual’s role, such as the difference between “Program Manager” and “Project Manager.” Or it can signal a particular direction of the individual’s efforts: “Technology Community Manager” conveys better detail than “Program Manager” about the direction, scope, and intended audience of the programs this individual will manage. Within the developer world directly, for example, we’ve seen the rise of titles like “Site Reliability Engineer” (SRE) as a preferred replacement for the more anachronistic “System Administrator”. In some cases, your engineers may be all-over-themselves-happy if you give them a formal title of “Full Stack Engineer,” rather than just “Software Engineer.”

In many cases, titles will come hand-in-hand with promotions and/or salary adjustments, but not always, so make sure to check with your HR and/or leadership to see what your company’s policies are around titles. Find out what degree of latitude and control you have over your direct reports’ titles, and when it seems appropriate, go the extra distance to create the new title inside the company’s position catalog. Regardless of your success in doing so, making the attempt can often send the important signal to your team that they’re worth the effort.


They say that “Money can’t buy love.” They also say that “money can’t buy happiness.” Much psychological and behavioral research has gone into the positive or negative qualities of throwing money at your team as a reward for a particular task (a topic which we visit in the “Motivation” chapter of this course). But salary remains an important tool by which your team members are able to live the lives they desire, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Although there are still some places of business in which the salary discussion remains entirely between manager and direct report, that is fast becoming a rarity. It is far more common that salary raises are done only in conjunction with the HR team, so one of your first goals when accepting a new management role should be to identify your contact on that team and ask them what the process is for giving an employee a raise. In larger companies, this will also involve the “compensation team,” a group of HR professionals whose job is to compare the company’s internal salary levels and compare them with information gathered from other companies’. Keep in mind that most companies—particularly larger ones—regard this data as highly confidential, and you could face serious repercussions if you treat the data too lightly and/or share the data with others.

In many companies—once again, particularly in larger ones—salaries will often fall into “bands,” ranges of minimum and maximum salary for individuals within that particular band. Roles are sometimes (though not always) tied to a particular band, and bands will often overlap so as to allow a certain amount of flexibility in compensation discussions. If you are at a company that uses bands, take careful note where your employee is within their particular band (and if you don’t know their band, work with your HR team to find out): if the employee is at the bottom of the band, you have some “runway” to work with, and a salary bump can often be relatively easy to obtain. Conversely, if the employee is at the top of the band, you will face questions like, “Why isn’t this employee ready for a promotion” or “Can you justify why they should be making more than our band allows.” These are reasonable questions, by the way, and if you have an employee at the top of their band, you should immediately begin answering that promotion question for yourself, as well.

One crimp in the salary-boost-as-a-reward plan is that at many companies, salary adjustments can only be made at well-defined points of time during the fiscal year. If you try to give an employee even a modest salary bump outside of that well-established quarterly/twice-yearly/annual cycle (which is often tied very closely to performance reviews), you may face significant pushback, and it may be easier to push for a “spot bonus” instead.

Lastly, keep in mind that at some companies salary numbers are often weighed in aggregate and budgeted, so that if you are giving a salary adjustment to one team member, you may have less in your “salary budget” for other team members later. When talking to the HR team about salary adjustments, make sure to ask how much discretion you have in salary numbers, and if there is a finite pool of money from which your team’s salary adjustments are coming.


Bonuses are monetary currency given to an employee as a “one-shot” transfer of money, and don’t adjust the employee’s salary. Most compensation plans come with a bonus of some form (stock options, profit-sharing, or fixed amount) as part of the employee’s total compensation package. Thus, bonuses can come in two forms: the first being an adjustment/boost to the employee’s annual bonus (which will definitely require HR approval), and the second is a “spot” bonus, meaning it’s given “on the spot” as an incentive or reward (which may fall within your own budgetary discretion, depending on how your company handles team budgets).

Generally speaking, I find it better to offer bonuses as an up-front target/incentive to accomplish some particular task, such as the ubiquitous “bug bash” or “bug bounty” offered during the last few weeks before a Big Release. Depending on the company’s policies, you might offer the bonus to the team as funding for a Team Party (see the next section), as an evenly-split bonus to each individual, or you might structure the bonus based on contribution.


Recognition comes in a variety of different forms, but the most common one is that of public recognition, either as part of a meeting or celebration. It can vary widely in scope and planning, from a casual comment during a team meeting all the way up through a formal award given during a company all-hands meeting.

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