Are you recognizing your employees effectively?
Judge by merit
The reality show called "The Voice" is competing against "American Idol", "The X-Factor", "America's Got Talent" and several other talent based shows. The show has an intriguing central concept: the four main judges listen to singers but can not see them. The design implies that removing visual clues will lead to a more accurate selection of the best voice.
This illustrates the inherent difficulty in this maxim, judge by merit. It's often hard to do. Appearance, environment, history, politics, and what's going on in someone's personal life all shape how we judge others. So the real challenge for managers is to be fair in determining what exactly "merit" refers to when a he or she recognizes, rewards or meters out consequence.
The most successful organizations we know try to develop and foster a meritocracy as part of their culture. To do this they develop measurement systems and tools and management behaviors that reinforce accountability throughout the organization. Meritocracy, by definition, only exists when stronger performers are rewarded and weaker performers are challenged to improve. At a department level, in order to effectively judge by merit you must develop key performance indicators that measure what your department is trying to achieve. The more concrete and objective these indicators are the better chance you have of creating a fair and consistent environment where strong performers can flourish.
Organizations that shy away from differentiating performance usually steer towards average and declining performance. The better performers are not inspired to lead and the weaker performers are not challenged to improve so average performance inevitably deteriorates. So as difficult as it is to be consistent and fair, it is very important that managers, and organizations, try to judge by merit.