01/20/2012 09:30 am ET Updated Mar 21, 2012

Great Awards for Federal Workers -- And a Good New Year's Resolution for Their Leaders

Even though we've already rung in the New Year, there's still time for federal leaders to add one more resolution to their plans for 2012 -- recognizing and rewarding employees who have made significant contributions to our country.

The vast majority of federal workers -- more than 90 percent, according to the 2011 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings -- believe that their work is critical to strengthening our country. Unfortunately, the analysis also found that fewer than 50 percent believe they receive adequate recognition for a job well done.

I know tightening budgets will limit traditional rewards like spot bonuses, but that doesn't mean there are not alternative methods (some would argue even better methods) for recognizing employees than cash. Just this past month, I spent time exploring these ideas with more than 200 federal leaders participating in my organization's, the Partnership for Public Service's, Excellence in Government Fellows program. They generated literally hundreds of worthy ideas for recognizing the folks on their teams.

One idea that came up repeatedly was nominating an employee, or a team of your employees, for an agency-specific or government-wide awards program. As far as New Year's resolutions go, everyone should be able to check this one off of the list before the end of January.

For starters, almost every federal agency has an awards program designed to honor their employees' hard work. The fact that you would take the time to submit work performed by your employees sends a message in and of itself.

Beyond agency-specific programs, you can also check out programs like the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), or if you're in the field, many Federal Executive Boards (FEB) have awards programs that honor federal employees working in specific cities or regions.

We're not done yet! There are several external awards honoring federal employees too. For example, the Partnership's Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals (Sammies) awards program recognizes outstanding federal workers in nine different medal categories ranging from Career Achievement to Call to Serve, which is for federal employees under the age of 30. The nomination process is easy, but you need to hurry -- the deadline for submissions is Jan. 18.

Looking to academia, the Innovations in American Government awards at the Harvard Kennedy School's Ash Institute promotes creativity and excellence at all levels of our government including the federal, and the Arthur S. Flemming awards, run by George Washington University, honor up to 12 outstanding federal employees every year.

Last, but not least, a few media outlets also offer well-regarded awards for exceptional federal employees, including Federal News Radio's Causey Awards, as well as Federal Computer Week's Federal 100 and Rising Star awards.

While winning is always nice, the old cliché that "it's an honor just to be nominated" is true as well. I encourage you to click on a few of these links, find a program that fits your employees and team, and submit a nomination. Then, let them know that you've submitted an application and find the time to recognize their hard work in a team meeting. With the Sammies awards, every nominee receives a letter of recognition about their nomination. Even if your folks don't receive an award, they'll know that you value the hard work they are putting in to improve our country.

If you know of other awards programs that federal leaders should check out, please share your ideas by posting your comments online or sending me an email.

Originally posted on The Washington Post's website.