We all struggle with how to present information. Whether good or bad, information can be interpreted in drastically different ways by the recipient due to the delivery by the presenter. The different perceptions of the recipients of the same information, based on the delivery, has been coined the “Presenter’s Paradox” by consumer behavior research professor, Dr. Kim Weaver. I had the pleasure of collecting data for Dr. Weaver’s research as a consumer behavior research assistant at Virginia Tech. At the time, I saw the value in the data, but could have never predicted how applicable it would be in my profession.

Dr. Weaver, and her colleagues at the University of Michigan, has identified a common misuse of gifts in which a “more is better” mentality prevails. Often, those who design rewards and recognition programs fail to anticipate how the full program will be perceived in determining if the cost of program will be outweighed by the benefit of employee behavior. Determining the potential benefit starts with determining how employees will perceive the entire program in terms of value. While those giving rewards often feel that “more is better,” Dr. Weaver’s research indicates that the overall bundle of rewards is evaluated and that “more” is not always better.

Receivers of gifts and rewards use an averaging technique when evaluating the full program. For example, a reward for completing training for a new process implementation may include a $500 bonus and an umbrella displaying a company logo. While this is a nice incentive and reward, the research suggests that the value of this reward is less than if you excluded the umbrella from the reward. Receivers of rewards and gifts use an averaging technique during evaluation, and therefore the value of the $500 is perceived to be less because the bundle includes the umbrella, which devalues the bundle as a whole. As a presenter of the reward, one would often believe that “the $500 bonus is great and why not throw in a nice umbrella?” Save your money and drop the umbrella.

Rewards and Recognition are valuable tools when motivating teams and employees through process improvements and organizational change. Rewards are recognition are mentioned in many Six Sigma and Lean references due to the value of proper utilization. An effective rewards and recognitions plan can have significant benefits, such as more motivated employees, improved morale, and a reinforcement of the company goals and objectives. Due to the importance of a rewards and recognition, any project moving employees from a current to future state needs to have a plan which considers how rewards and recognition will be leveraged, and must consider the psychology behind giving and receiving awards.

The “presenter’s paradox” should also be considered when planning communications, as combining multiple messages into one piece of communication can dilute the message. Extremely important messages can be diluted by less important ones if included in the same piece of communication. When communicating results of a transition from current state to future state, there can be large accomplishments and “quick wins.” Displaying these in the same piece of communication or within the same slide of a presentation can mean decreasing the significance of the large accomplishment. Consider separating the communications, and err on the side of over communicating.

Dr. Weaver’s research article, “The Presenter’s Paradox,” has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Consumer Research, and has been featured in major news outlets. The research finds strong application in seven different product categories. The “presenter’s paradox” should be considered when utilizing rewards to lead employees through a change initiative, and when designing communications.